to the groundbreaking for the National Museum of the American Indian,
the Smithsonian Institution commissioned an extensive archaeological
study of the site. During their excavations, the archaeologists began
to see evidence of artifacts which would only be found in a wealthy
household, unusual in a known working-class neighborhood.
What the site
corner of the site was filled with hundreds of champagne corks, bones
from quality cuts of meat, seeds from exotic fruits, women's grooming
items, and an unusually high number of shards of expensive porcelain.
These finds provided evidence that one of Washington's most exclusive
and expensive brothels was located there, in a large brick house that
belonged to one Mary Ann Hall. Hall was a single woman who was in
her early twenties at the time she built this large dwelling in about
1840. Although it was not stated in that years census, later documentation
verifies that Mary Ann Hall was a prostitute, and her large house
was a brothel.
indicate that Mary Ann Hall served one of the most expensive drinks,
imported French Piper-Heidsieck champagne, to her guests during the
1860s. Today, an 1865 bottle of Piper-Heidsieck would be worth between
$1,000 and $5,000.
champagne bottle is wrapped in a corset similar to ones that Mary
Ann Hall and her female employees might have worn. Designed by French
designer Jean-Paul Gaultier.
Over 100 champagne
corks, 24 wire bails and 13 foil seals were found on the site.
At left, Foil
seals (a-b), wire bails (c-f), and corks (g-h) from champagne bottles
found on Mary Ann Hall's brothel site. (Photo by John Milner Associates,
high amount of quality porcelain shards found on the site suggests
these pieces would have only been used in a large, prosperous household.
Meals for Mary Ann Hall and her girls were served "family" style,
using every day porcelain, while the gilt-edged porcelain was probably
reserved for guests.
At left, gilt-decorated
white porcelain from Mary Ann Hall's brothel:
(a) paneled Gothic-pattern plate with gilt band; (b) plate; (c) saucer;
(d) plate. (Photo by John Milner Associates, Inc.)
in the site
Seeds and shells
give evidence that fruits and oysters were served to complement the
drink of choice.
shoe heels, a bone toothbrush fragment, hairpins, pipe stems and buttons
were part of the everyday items in use by Mary Ann Hall and her female
Hall built her brothel in a convenient location on the Mall near
the U.S. Capitol Building. Washington was then known for its large
population of transient men who came from all over the country,
usually unaccompanied by women, to transact business in the national
capital. Her house is the large brick structure indicated by the
from Edward Sachse's 1852 book "Views
of an 1861 topographical map by A. Boschke of the District of
Columbia showing the location of Mary Ann Hall's brothel.
Houses and Alley Dwellings
19th century, brothels were part of the urban fabric
of city life, especially in Washington, D.C. with its transient
population of soldiers and government workers. Prostitution
was not officially a crime, and during the Civil War, there
were 500 registered brothel houses and over 5,000 prostitutes
in Washington. After the Civil War, brothels continued to operate
on a smaller scale until 1914, when Congress passed legislation
the 1870's, small houses were built in the allies that ran through
many city blocks, a practice common during Washington's post-war
housing shortage. Occupied mostly by poor African Americans
and recent immigrants, these alley dwellings were widely perceived
as places of filth and squalor, and throughout the nineteenth
and early twentieth century were blamed for a number of social
ills, including drunkenness, immorality, crime, disease, and
a series of Senate hearings in 1912 and 1913 that dealt with
the issue of prostitution in Washington, the superintendent
of the city's Gospel Mission stated that after a tour of all
of the city's red-light districts, he firmly believed that
Louse Alley was the worst.
Alley, near Mary Ann Hall's house,
early 20th century.
from Charles F. Weller's 1909 book
Hall, long a resident of Washington. With integrity unquestioned, a heart
ever open to appeals of distress, a charity that was boundless, she is
gone; but her memory will be kept green by many who knew her sterling
Ann Hall's Brothel
Mary Ann Hall
first came to light in the 1840 census where she was listed as the
owner of lot 12 and head of a household that included "five white
females, one free colored female and one colored male slave."
Mary Ann Hall built her brothel in a convenient location near the
U.S. Capitol Building in a city known for its large population of
transient men who came from all over the country, usually unaccompanied
by women, to transact business in the national capital.
By 1848 she
had made $8,000 worth of improvements to the house. In 1860, Mary
Ann Hall owned real estate worth $14,600 and personal property worth
Ann Hall ran her brothel until 1878. She died in 1886 at age 71, a
single woman with no debts. Her estate, including real estate, bonds
and securities and personal property, was valued at $100,000. Today,
the estate would be worth $1.9 million. Although we know Mary Ann
Hall was a savvy business woman, little is known about Mary Ann Hall,
the person. Only her obituary in the 31 January 1886 Evening Star
gives a clue:
her death, a detailed room-by-room inventory was conducted
to determine the value of the contents of her house.
Hall's house contained expensive Brussels carpets, oil paintings,
china vases, marble-topped tables, a marble clock, a mirror-fronted
wardrobe, an ice box, and other items typical to middle- and
upper-class Victorian homes. It was also furnished with several
suites of red-plush furniture and a number of elegant bedsteads,
complete with feather bolsters, shuck mattresses, comforters,
sheets, blankets, and pillows.
A page of the inventory.