The Woman Who Laid the Foundation of Seattle

Originally published December 11, 2657
By Dr. Tobias Leach
Temporal Anthropologist with the University of Oxford

Some years ago I, Dr. Tobias Leach, narrowed my focus of study to the forgotten world of the Ladies of the Evening of the Victorian World. This subject has propelled my books to the top ten list, making me the best selling Temporal Anthropologist in history, even outselling my great uncle, Sir Albert Leach. Other jealous Temporal Anthropologists call my work porn, but I think history should remember those memorable forgotten ladies.

The Victorians had a split personality when it came to vice. They would start great campaigns to abolish it, and then pretend it wasn’t there. The biggest problem was job opportunities were limited for women, and prostitution was the only one that really seemed to pay. It’s not as cushy a life as it might sound, but desperate women were willing to give it a go. For all it’s dangers it was far safer than working in most factories of the time.

Out of this army of street walkers would occasionally arise a woman of such talent and intelligence that she would become a force to be reckoned with. One of those was Madame Lou Graham of Seattle.

Lou Graham
Lou Graham was born in Germany as Dorothea Georgine Emile Ohben. (I’m not sure where she got “Lou Graham.”) She was short and plump and no great beauty, but she did have an air of confidence about her that made her very alluring. When she arrived in Seattle in 1888 she found a town in ruins. You see four years before the Washington Territory had given women the vote. They promptly cleaned up the place, outlawing liquor, gambling and prostitution. The city fathers were not just upset for personal reasons, the fines and licenses from these vices were the city’s main source of income! The city budget dried up. They had no choice but to revoke the vote for women and try to repair the damage.

Lou Graham approached the leading businessmen with a decent proposal. What Seattle needed was a brothel, but not just any brothel. This would be a first class establishment with fine furnishings and beautiful intelligent women who could discuss the news of the day. The men could gather here for drinks to discuss business and if they wished for a more active entertainment, the ladies had rooms upstairs. And of course all government representatives would get free drinks.

The men loved the idea. They loaned Graham the money which she quickly paid back. When her establishment burned down in the Great Fire of 1889, she built an even grander place in stone. Graham was making money in more than just her business. She was investing in stocks and becoming one of the richest people in Seattle.

Graham's 2nd Brothel
(later it housed the Mission)
The local banker, Jim Furth, who had been one of the gentlemen to help Graham get started, sent business her way. No, not customers for her ladies. Occasionally an entrepreneur would come to him with a great idea that the rest of the Board of Directors would reject. He would send them to Graham. She would make them the loan they needed at a little bit higher interest thus making her and her loan clients richer. She repaid Furth later during the Panic of 1893 when there was a. bank run. Everyone was pulling their money out of Furth’s bank, so Graham made a huge deposit thus keeping him afloat. She also made loans to others facing bankruptcy during this crisis and saved their businesses.

Graham was a generous woman, giving to local fund raisers. Here pet charity was establishing local schools. When she died in 1903 at the young age of 42, she left her entire fortune to the King County School District. Can you believe not one school was named in her honor?

It was great privilege to meet Lou Graham. She was indeed a most charming and fascinating women--and very talented in her profession. However I think her real talent is business and investing, the fruits of which she so big-heartedly shared with her city, helping this fledgling community thrive. One can truly say that Madame Lou Graham made Seattle--in more ways than one.

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