Zella Nightengale

These celebrated madams paved the way for later figures—Nellie Curtis started her career by opening the Camp Hotel in 1933. She later purchased the LaSalle, a 57-room majesty on Pike and First, from the Kodama family when the government placed them in interment camps in 1942. Curtis had as many as aliases as she had costumes, going by Zella Nightingale, Yetta Solomon, and Nellie Gray, among others. She was said to rent two rooms in the hotel: one to keep her hats in, and the other for her money.

In the 1950s, Nellie left Seattle to open the Curtis Hotel in Aberdeen, a small city in Grays Harbor county. Nearby, another historical madame, Ruth Rucker, was operating a number of crib houses in Centralia, Washington. Rucker married the police chief of Centralia, who helped control prostitution and bootlegging operations in the small town while his wife helped down-on-their-luck women earn money in a way that maintained their dignity and decorum. A burgeoning entrepreneur and champion for working girls at a time when women still could not own businesses, Rucker was a free-spirit who had six lovers at the time of her death in 1978.

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