95 [Women] Abbott, Alice. Album of Original Photographs From the First Brothel in El Paso, ca. 1880s. 26 photographs (albumen and others, most cabinet cards of approximately 5 x 4 inches), with 16 smaller photographs (cdv or tintype), most very good but a few showing some fading, nearly all with red ink handwriting of Alice Abbott (3 of the photos are street scenes in El Paso, one in poor condition). Album has enameled boards in fairly rough condition, hinges cracked, but photographs generally very good or better. For the curious, none of the poses are nudes.
The only existing album from the proprietor of a house in a “red light” district; for obvious
reasons, any documentary evidence relating to prostitution in Texas and the West is extremely rare (I make it a point to look out for items of this type, and have handled less than ten in my career of 20 years). This album was the personal one of Alice Abbott, who established a place of prostitution at 19 South Utah Street in El Paso in 1881, when the railroad first reached town; this street quickly became the ‘red light’ district of El Paso. Alice, known behind her back as ‘Big Alice,’ or ‘Fat Alice,” had one of the more popular brothels in El Paso. In this album, the inside cover has her writing: “Miss Alice Abbott,
304 Utah Street, El Paso, Texas. BEST HOUSE KEEPER USA.” She also annotates the pictures and margins in her album in red ink; above her own, she wrote: “The beautiful Alice Abbott,” drew a heart with an ‘A’ in the center; the next has “French Maria, the best from New Orleans;” nearly all of the photographs have the name of the girl with her picture, giving names and faces to girls who generally shunned all publicity. Some of the photographs may have been brought from the girls’ homes, because they look extremely young (young teens, if that). Alice has another picture of herself with a man “George and Me, 18 Years, Long Ago,” (which would place it in the late 1860s), and “King of the Longhorns,” with a heart with her ‘A’ in it; At one time, she must have been friends with her later chief rival, Etta Clark (who ran the brothel across the street and famously shot Alice in a brawl); Alice has crossed this photograph of Clark with red ink, and has written the ultimate racist insult of that time next to it, “Hore to Niggers.” One of the photographs may be evidence of lesbian relations; in that one of four ladies (all named), Alice has colored their lips in red ink and has written above, “Lovers All” with her heart and “AA” in the center. Another tintype at the end shows two women holding hands and Alice has written “lovers” under it. One unnamed woman has the caption above her written “Someday”
and next to it Alice has drawn a hand with five fingers and her initals, “A A” in the center, as well as a heart drawn on the photograph with an “A.” Another has a man with the caption above him “Horn of Plenty,” and his name ‘George Roller.’ Another man posing with a boy is identified as “Constable Sellman and Johnny.” The constable has an “X” drawn on his zipper. Alice died of a heart attack in 1896; this album comes with two pieces of documentary evidence about the handling of her estate; Horace Stevens, her administrator, ended up with album, which he passed to the father of Robert McNellis, who passed it to his son, who sold it to Gordon Frost, who wrote his book, The Gentlemen’s Club: The Story of Prostitution in El Paso, based in part on this album (but Frost only published 10 of the 40-odd photographs, leaving the others unpublished). A copy of Frost’s book accompanies the album. A very rare opportunity to acquire photographic documentation of for an entire brothel in Texas.