A Madam’s Scrapbook: Remnants of Laramie’s Red-Light District

On the corner of the town stands a crazy, tumble-down rookery, full from cellar to shingles of liquors, gambling devices and everything that can be used to corrupt and rob men. Ruffians and tin-horn gamblers make night and day hideous with their orgies. Half a block away on the principal [sic] residence street, under the same management, is a house full of shameless women as vile if possible as the men who support them.

So lamented an anonymous Laramie writer, quoted by another in a May 1887 editorial published in The Daily Boomerang.

It had been pasted into a scrapbook kept by Mamie “Monte” Grover – a vivacious brothel madam and gambling woman who married Laramie’s prolific saloon keeper and pimp, John Grover. The author goes on to bemoan the state of vice on Laramie City’s main street.

Of the local prostitutes, they wrote, “Under the influence of whiskey or absinthe they ride about in their hired hacks and carriages and intrude their presence at all sorts of assemblies. […] They seem to take delight in making their presence felt and making themselves obnoxious to everybody.” Despite this rally cry, prostitution maintained its residence in Laramie for another sixty-seven years and became an economic pillar in the community. Scholars agree that Laramie typically moved to regulate the vice district rather than eradicate it altogether.

: Monte Grover’s scrapbook is bound in a durable blue cloth with embossed lettering.
The first column of an article bemoaning Laramie’s vice district critiqued the city’s tolerance of the activities there, calling it a stain on the town’s otherwise beautiful landscape.

Laramie’s brothel district played a key role in the town’s economic development, which can be framed through Monte’s scrapbook held in the Toppan Rare Book Library. The scrapbook shows her and her husband’s lively involvement in the vice district of Laramie beginning in 1884. As illustrated above, Monte pasted articles concerned with the brothels and saloons alongside newspaper clippings of poems and anecdotes. Carol Bowers, a past AHC archivist whose Master’s thesis recounted Laramie’s Victorian era brothels, argued that Monte chose newspaper clippings that reflected the attitudes of a proper middle-class, Victorian woman and wife despite her deep entrenchment in society’s margins.

Monte’s notorious reputation in the red-light district rested on John Grover’s past. Sometime before 1881, he met Christy Finlayson, a prostitute known to have been employed by Ida Hamilton in Cheyenne’s premier brothel, the House of Mirrors. John and Christy were married on September 17, 1881, and relocated to Laramie soon thereafter.

Christy managed to move to Laramie with a substantial bit of cash in hand – enough to commission the construction of an elite brothel and a personal residence on Grand Avenue. Bowers highlighted Christy’s taste for luxury in the latter’s probate lists. Among the inventory noted in the madam’s upper-class bordellos was a $500 piano, fine glassware, mirrors, walnut and ebony furniture, and silk upholstered chairs. Records also show Christy’s accounts with the Holliday and Stryker Company and Trabing Grocery where she was known to purchase expensive items for the girls under her employ as well as fine liquors for guests.

This 1900 photograph shows the corner of Third Street and Grand Avenue. Christy Grover’s brothel known as “The Blonde’s” was located in this intersection.

Bowers retraced the murky ending to Christy’s short life, noting that she had allegedly engaged in an argument with Monte over a theft before retiring to her room in a rage. John Grover then heard a gunshot ring out. He claimed to have found Christy there alive, but the bullet to her temple proved fatal. She died February 19, 1882, still in her early 30s.

“Whether Christy actually killed herself, or was murdered by Grover and/or Monte Arlington will always be open to speculation.” – Carol Bowers
Christy Grover’s gravesite in Laramie’s Greenhill Cemetery. Photo by Emma Comstock.

After Christy’s death, John claimed her luxurious $6,246.25 estate in his name and lived a comfortable life. He was able to purchase a saloon of his own on the corner of Second Street and Ivinson Avenue, and the brothel on the corner of Third and Grand became known as “Grover’s Institute.”

Christy’s estate enabled John Grover to open a saloon on the corner of Second and Ivinson Avenue. Despite some dislike of “Laramie’s most notorious pimp,” his liquor license payments helped keep the city coffers in gleaming condition. This photo was captured in 1908.

John and Monte were married on October 2, 1883, and Monte swiftly secured the title of madam of Grover’s Institute. Between the scrapbook’s beginning and end, Monte’s state of mind shifts from a happy temperament to a gloomy disposition. Whereas Monte seems to be relatively content with her marriage to John, clipping poems about marital bliss and Victorian housewifely duties, the final leaves are mired in hints of marital demise. During 1895, Monte began to refuse food. Despite close acquaintances’ assurances of safety, Monte had come under the delusion that someone meant to poison her. According to the madam’s death notice printed in a Kansas newspaper, Monte gradually wasted away from two-hundred pounds to a mere seventy-five before succumbing on October 13, 1895.

Various poems in Monte’s scrapbook hint at her apparent marital disillusionment and depression leading up to her rather bizarre death.

Although John Grover was ordered by the Laramie City Council to close shop two weeks after Monte’s death, Laramie’s prostitute population continued to flourish. Before departing Laramie, Grover rented his property to another town madam Minnie Ford. While living in California, he met a woman named Clara who he enticed into a nurse/spouse relationship with the promise that his estate would belong to her upon his death. They were married in May 1904, and Clara periodically traveled to Laramie to check up on Grover’s property. When Clara returned to Los Angeles after a trip in 1910, however, she found herself locked out of the couple’s apartment. John had written a new will, leaving his estate to a half-brother, Joseph Goodall. He died in 1912 after an incurable bout of syphilis; the Laramie Republican reported his death as a suicide. As expected, “The administration and final settlement of Grover’s estate was a nightmare for the probate courts of California and Wyoming,” but Clara and Goodall eventually agreed to split the profits evenly.

Up until 1954, brothels operated out of many downtown business fronts, curtailed more often by the federal government through wartime Selective Service Acts than by local residents. Laramie’s brothel workers were a boon for the city treasury as the police department routinely collected fines and carried out symbolic raids. Moreover, storefront owners were known to value the women’s cash-based business in an era where credit was king. As consumers with tangible cash to tender, prostitutes and madams were dependable spenders with tastes for luxury. It was generally agreed that so long as the red-light district under the watch of madams like Mabel Hartley and Dollie Randal refrained from causing trouble and noise, it would be relatively tolerated. Additionally, the prostitutes were required to undergo regular physical examinations by Dr. Pelton to stave off the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. As expected, the women were responsible for the bills and costs for any treatment.

Laramie’s brothel district continued at this pace until it encountered a fatal snag when Redbook Investigates published an article entitled “Sex Traps for Young Servicemen” in January 1954. Although the article’s author, Ernest Leiser, only mentioned Laramie in passing, the reference nonetheless shocked local authorities. City officials and University of Wyoming administrators, including University President George Duke Humphrey, worried that the college’s reputation was at stake. Mayor Oscar Hammond ultimately declared the immediate closure of the red-light district on February 24, 1954. With the brothel population officially ordered to disband, local businesses turned to other sources of income, including the growing tourist sector and the university student community.

Monte Grover’s scrapbook in the Toppan Rare Book Library is one of the only surviving artifacts that testifies to Laramie’s brothel history despite Monte’s forgotten existence. She is buried in an unmarked grave beside Christy Grover in Greenhill Cemetery. It tells a rich but tragic story of a woman who dreamed of a happy marriage and a contented life but who lived on the outskirts of Victorian society.

Post contributed by Toppan Rare Book Library Archives Specialist Emma Comstock.

Scrapbook Context Sources

Carol L. Bowers, “Less than Ladies, Less than Love: Prostitution in Laramie, Wyoming 1868-1920” (thesis, University of Wyoming, 1994).

Carol Bowers, “The Secret Scrapbook of a ‘Soiled Dove,'” in The Scrapbook in American Life, ed. Susan Tucker, Katherine Ott, and Patricia P. Buckler (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006).

“Christy A. ‘Puss Newport’ Finlayson Grover,” Find A Grave, accessed November 23, 2022.

The Daily Boomerang (Laramie, Wyoming), May 26, 1887. The Daily Boomerang May 26, 1887 — Wyoming Digital Newspaper Collection (wyomingnewspapers.org.

Denver, Colorado, marriage certificate no. 236 (1881), John A. Grover and Christy A. Finlayson; Division of Vital Statistics, State of Colorado.

Ernest Leiser, “Redbook Investigates: Sex Traps for Young Servicemen: The Red-light Districts Are Closed But Bars and Hotels Have Taken Their Place,” Redbook 102, no. 3 (January 1954): 28-31.

Germaine St. John, in-person interview by author, November 18, 2022.

John P. Woodward, “The Taming of Front Street: Prostitution in Southeastern Wyoming, 1930-1960” (thesis, University of Wyoming, 2010).

Laramie City, Wyoming, marriage certificate no. 202 (1883), John A. Grover and Mamie Lambert; Territory of Wyoming, County of Albany.

Laramie Weekly Sentinel, February 25, 1882. Wyoming Newspapers: Albany County. Microfilm, Coe Library, University of Wyoming.

“Mrs. Mamie “Mrs. Monte” Lambert Grover,” Find A Grave, accessed December 1, 2022,

Mrs. Monte E. Grover: Laramie Wyo.: July 16, 1887, 1887-1888, Scrapbook 0001, Special Collection: Anthro, Toppan Rare Book Library, University of Wyoming.

The Rush County Leader (McCracken, Kansas), October 24, 1895. https://www.newspapers.com/image/425984204/?terms=&clipping_id=51920918

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3 Responses to A Madam’s Scrapbook: Remnants of Laramie’s Red-Light District

  1. As late as the summer of 1960, the brothel was still in operation. I stopped a half-block away (a 23 year old, new-to-Laramie, summer school teacher at Prep) to have a sandal strap repaired. My friends let me out and were going to drive around the block to pick me up. I left the sandal with the shoe-repairman and returned to stand on the sidewalk a half-block from the corner of First Street and Ivinson. The repairman hustled out and said, “Miss, Miss, please don’t stand there. Come back inside and wait for your friends.” I learned later that he’d been afraid I’d be mistaken for a “street girl.” and wanted to save me from being embarrassed. I also heard the police had planned a raid on the brothel that night but found some well-known citizens inside and decided to wait until the following night.

  2. This is so cool!

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