Neither Ada nor Minna Simms Lester actually liked men, particularly after marrying brothers and suffering from spousal abuse. But the women weren’t opposed to making money off of men, and after several years in a traveling road company, they were good actresses and you don’t become the most famous madams in the world without knowing how to fake it.
The sisters faked a lot of things. They claimed to have been born to a wealthy lawyer in Louisville, Kentucky, to have gone to finishing school and to have had proper social debuts. More likely, they were born in Greene County, Virginia and their family lost much of their wealth, including their plantation, during the Civil War. And before opening their first brothel, they may or may not have been prostitutes themselves. With family still alive, the pair changed their surname from Lester to Everleigh, in honor of their grandmother, who signed her correspondence, “Everly yours.” Most of their known history begins with the famed Everleigh Club in Chicago’s Levee District, where the sisters created and ran their club for ten years, amassing a ton of money and a pile of diamonds while doing so. A visitor to their club could count on spending up to $1,500 per visit, at a time when the average weekly wage was $6.
Parlor Girls begins with Ada and Minna leaving their husbands and joining a traveling road company before opening a brothel in Omaha. It ends with a happy retirement in New York. Along the way they entertained such luminaries as Diamond Jim Brady and Prince Henry of Prussia, and left a lasting piece of slang: a man who wanted to get laid was Ever-laid.