The first mass-produced clothing for women began to be available in department stores which were springing up throughout cities across the country and offering wares by catalogue. These tailor-mades were popular for women who walked rather than strolled, and had work to get to, whether paid or volunteer.
Annie McCune (?1845 - 1920)
We always hear stories of the "prostitute with a heart of gold", but cynically doubt the actual likelihood of that combination. However, one of Shreveport's most famous citizens was precisely that. From the 1880 census, we know that Annie McCune was born in Ireland of Irish parents, but we know little more about her early life than that. Sometime in 1865 she became a camp follower, and followed the Union troops from New Orleans to Shreveport. There were thousands of Irish immigrants pouring into New Orleans during the 19th century and Annie may have been one of them. As one source reports, "Among them, according to historians, were hundreds of young women who, arriving with no money, no jobs, no place to sleep or food to eat, were easily betrayed into prostitution as their only means of survival." That may have been Annie's fate. Or it may have been that she loved and even perhaps married a Union soldier and followed the drum, as some women did, to accompany a man who later either died or abandoned her. Well never know. What we do know is that she was arrested for streetwalking in Shreveport sometime in the 1870s. But here's where Annie began to differ from the pack; when she was ordered to either pay a five dollar fine or spend a day in jail, she hired a lawyer to appeal the sentence. Though she lost the appeal, the gumption and initiative she displayed were to make her rise above the common fate of women doomed to the street.
She made herself stand out in other ways as well. Though there's no way to authenticate the story, many of the people who knew Annie in later years, or heard her legend, reported that when a yellow fever epidemic hit Shreveport in 1873 and most people fled the city, Annie stayed behind and opened her house to victims whom she helped nurse. Already Annie was building the kind of civic goodwill that would later work to her benefit.
By 1897, the city directory was listing her as Madame Annie McCune and she was running a high-toned brothel located on the Strand in downtown Shreveport next to the riverfront. There are some suggestions that Annie may have had a husband named Carlile at some point with whom she had a daughter who died when only five, but that is chiefly speculation. What is certain is that in 1900 she married a man named B.C. Secord whom she divorced within a year after he ran off to Pine Bluff, Arkansas with another woman. Annie even ended up having to pay for the ring he gave her. Fortunately, she ran a profitable business.
In 1902 the city council began to deliberate about setting aside the area of the city known as St. Paul's Bottom as a red light district, so all the vice in the rather rowdy river port would at least be confined to one area. They chose St. Paul's Bottom because it was low-lying land which more well-to-do citizens avoided purchasing due to the potential for flooding. The ordinance was passed in February of 1903 and entrepreneurs like Annie began flocking to the new location. Annie got a prime spot - a house on Cane (now Baker) Street facing down the 900 block of Fannin Street, which happened to be the heavily traveled central thoroughfare of the district. Not coincidentally, her landlord was one of the councilmen who drew the boundary lines. Two other well-known madams set up nearby: the red-headed Bea Haywood, who owned the largest if least "tony" house of the three, and a former schoolteacher named Nell Jester. Nells house had a very select clientele and she didn't hesitate to turn the wrong element away from her door. According to one account, Nell had previously been married and had a son. When her husband abandoned them, she sent her son to boarding school and took up a more profitable line of work; she sent the money for her son through a third party so that he would never know how his mother earned their living. In a time when the middle class might make twenty dollars a week, Annie, Bea, and Nell all banked $20,000 a year or better.
Annie's house was very respectable as such houses went. She usually had eighteen to twenty girls and made sure that they had willingly embraced the life; when the innocent or desperate stumbled through her doors, Annie either steered them to a friendly clergyman or an orphanage. It was not only a question of charity; it was a question of good business. Happy girls make happy customers. Some said she ran her house like a strict sorority. Girls were held to high standards of appearance and cleanliness. Annie took them to her own seamstress for the latest fashions and to carefully chosen salons to be taught how to apply make-up. They were given regular medical exams and taught methods to prevent both pregnancy and venereal disease, something her gentleman clients highly valued. Once a week or so, Annie would get her girls together in their finest evening gowns and take them out to Shreveport's Grand Opera House. So regular and valued a customer was she that the theatre manager took out two seats in the middle of the first row of the balcony in order to install a special seat for Annie who, as she aged, also broadened. Not only were the girls entertained and rewarded with a night out, it was good advertising.
Many men and even a few women visited Annie's house. For one thing, it was a relatively safe place to enjoy a good time. If you chose to engage in its most notorious pleasure, the usual rate was three dollars; for ten, you could spend the night. But Annie had other sources of income; she had two player pianos that ran on quarters, and she sold mugs of beer for the same. Many men came there just for the beer and the dancing. In one famous incident, a young debutante talked her beau into taking her into the house. When Annie spotted her dancing around the piano, she promptly used her new telephone to call the girl's father. Without waiting for the chauffeur, the father grabbed an old horsewhip, jumped into his Pierce Arrow, shot downtown and burst into Annie's parlor; he horsewhipped the unfortunate boyfriend all the way down Fannin Street with its disreputable population cheering him on.
Annie also invested in real estate, some inside the red light district and some outside. She gave extensively to charities all over the city. Every Christmas she donated to multiple causes; her most personal was to provide a pair of shoes for every orphan in the city. As one former city politician remembered, "she was liberal with any good cause that needed money." Even the front page of the Shreveport Journal once noted that "Miss Annie McCune never lets a Christmas pass without remembering the poor." And one old oil field worker who has visited her house declared, "As far as I know about Annie McCune, she was one of the finest women and the best-hearted woman that I ever saw in my life."
In 1917, by a slim margin of 1,376 to 734, the city voted to close down St. Paul's Bottom. Annie changed her place over to a boarding house. Her health was already starting to fail. In 1918, she wrote her will, leaving five hundred dollars each to two of her former girls to start a new life and spreading the rest among various charities; her executor was a police officer with whom she had long been friendly. In June 1920, complications from her diabetes had led to gangrene in her left leg. It was amputated, but during the recovery period, pneumonia set in and Annie died on June 13. The coroner, a man of some discretion, listed her name as Mrs. Annie McCune and her occupation as housewife. The mayor attended her funeral, along with a number of prominent citizens who had Annie to thank for one reason or another, and her passing garnered the headline on the Shreveport Journal's obituary page. The writer of her obituary declared, "The deceased was a generous spirit and was among the contributors to many charitable funds raised in Shreveport for many years. Her acquaintances recall numerous acts of kindness that she performed as an unostentatious sympathizer."