of the Kansas City Red Lights
Ann Hathaway and William J. Griffing
The prostitutes, madames, and bawdy houses of the frontier days are generally
not well documented, for obvious reasons. Occasionally
one or the other would achieve notoriety for some reason, and more information
would be recorded than usual. A madame who achieved that level of notoriety generally was
of a higher caliber and had better business sense than her sisters in the
profession. Annie Chambers was one
of those notorious madames.
Leannah Loveall was born near Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky on 6 June 1842
(her tombstone indicates 1843). 
When she was still quite young her father traded their farm in Kentucky
for a twelve-room hotel in Sullivan, Sullivan County, Indiana, which is near the
Illinois border between Terre Haute and Vincennes.
He moved his wife and five children from Kentucky to Sullivan by covered
years later when Abraham Lincoln was a candidate for President, he made a
campaign stop in Sullivan, where a parade was held in his honor.
Leannah and some of her friends secretly made plans to ride in the
parade. The parade went right by
her father’s hotel; he was standing on the corner and watched his daughter
ride in honor of Mr. Lincoln. When Leannah returned home, her father was furious, saying
she had disgraced him, as he was from Kentucky, a slave state, and dead-set
against the despised ‘Black Republican’ candidate.
He threw her out of the house.
packed up her things and went to live in another town with her mother’s
sister’s husband, where she finished her education. She taught school in her uncle’s hometown for a year, and
then went back to Sullivan to see her mother.
While she was visiting in Sullivan, she was offered the position of
schoolteacher there, which she accepted. It
was while she was teaching in Sullivan that she met William Chambers, the man
who would become her first husband. He
was more than twice her age, a master of construction for a railroad.
They led a happy life for a few years, although she later claimed that at
no time was she much more than fond of her husband. Their first child, a son
named Willie, died when he was about a year old.
Sometime later, while expecting her second child, she went home to
Sullivan to be near her mother. Leannah’s
brother, Dick, an employee in a livery stable, received instructions from
William Chambers that he was to take Leannah buggy riding every day for her
health. On one of these rides the
horse ran away and she was thrown from the buggy.
She was in a coma for three days, during which time her entire life would
completely unravel: her baby was stillborn, her father lost his hotel, and her
husband was killed in a fall from a railroad trestle under construction.
Leannah finally regained consciousness, the shock of her current circumstances
began to weigh heavily on her, and she began to think there was no use in
struggling against what she believed to be her fate. In the past she had received letters from girl friends who
had gone to Indianapolis and became employed at “houses of ill fame” there;
since she believed everything to be against her, Leannah determined she would go
to Indianapolis and have “a short life, but a fast and merry one.”
She settled all her bills in Sullivan, and took the train to
Indianapolis. Once there, she hired
a hack and directed him to take her to the best resort in town.
And so Leannah began her career in The Life.
working at the brothel in Indianapolis, she had her first and only real love
affair. He was a tall, handsome man
who wanted to marry her as soon as he could arrange matters.
But it turned out the man, a high city official, was married with several
small children. When Leannah found out, she told him she never wanted to see
him again. Not wishing to remain in
Indianapolis any longer, she sold all her furniture and left for Kansas City,
taking one of the girls from the house with her.
Kansas City, she and her companion lived in a hotel for a time, until Leannah
decided to rent a house down on the levee in 1869. One of the prosperous men who frequented Leannah’s house
there told her she should move up town. Taking
his advice, in 1871 she moved to a cottage at 3rd and Wyandotte, near both the
Missouri River and the railroads that she rented for $30 per month.
As soon as the landlord found out what kind of business Leannah (now
known as Annie) was running, he boosted the rent to $50 per month.
Later she also rented the cottage next door and built a hallway to
connect the two, which boosted her rent to $100 per month.
Finally she bought the two houses outright, tore them down, and in 1872
constructed the 24-room brick mansion that eventually became the best known and
best patronized house in the city.
entrance to her house showed Chinese influence.
Concrete pillars, textured to represent bamboo, supported a tiled roof.
The hallway inside had a tiled floor, in which the name “CHAMBERS”
was set in blue tiles. Mirrors
played an important part in the hallway decorating scheme, too. Over the stairway leading from the hall to the second floor
was an elaborate filigree work of bronze where her initials, A C, were displayed
in red lights. Annie kept an
elaborately decorated room in which she entertained her wine-drinking patrons.
It was across the hall from the main parlor.
It was finished in gilt and French glass mirrors of huge proportions.
The floor was laid with a thick rich red carpet.
In the big ballroom were big plate mirrors, some of them sixteen feet
long and ten feet high. Paintings of nude women, which Annie called ‘art’, hung
from a moulding near the ceiling.
By 1880, Annie’s reputation was superlative. “After a few slugs of forty-rod, we decided to see some of the city’s filles de joie, of which there was an extensive assortment, ranging from the high-priced beauties of Annie Chambers to the twenty-five-cent crones at the Lone Cottonwood. In between there were Nellie Scott’s place on West Fourth, Lou Bregard’s on Walnut, “Mollie Pawpaw’s” on Grand, Em Williams on Third, Bessie Stevenson’s on Broadway, Mollie O’Brien’s at First and Main, “Dutch Annie’s” at Lewis’s place, and the tent kept by the notorious Becky Ragan at the foot of Main Street. Not to overlook Jenny Armstrong, who kept “a small place of sin” at Fifth and Bluff and got arrested for beating one of her three painted mermaids with the business end of a stovelifter. Finally, we went to the foot of Grand Avenue, down a lonely stretch of railroad track, over some cattle guards and sharp stones until we passed the gas works, descended a slippery bank and were in front of the miserable hovel known as the Lone Cottonwood, run by ‘Mother’ Smith, who was old and blind.” 
one of her competitors in the neighborhood threw a party, Annie went to the
party with one of her girls. There
were only nine men there, but it gave Annie an idea.
She had invitations to a party at her house printed up and sent out to
the offices of prominent men in the city, marked “Personal”.
On the night of the party 108 men showed up.
She called police headquarters (only three blocks away) and had them send
over two uniformed officers, one to take the invitations and one to keep the
crowd in front of the house in order. The
party lasted until 10 AM the next day. After the bills were paid, Annie found she had made a profit
of $645 from the party.
of Annie’s girls made as much as $200 per week; they were allowed to keep
half. They also received gifts from
their friends, and made a commission on the liquor they sold when it was legal.
Quart bottles of beer went for $1 and wine was $5, but Annie never sold
whisky from her house.
prior to 1913, Annie married Billy Kearns, a gambler. He eventually used money Annie gave him to move to Cincinnati
and start his own business selling pianos and phonographs.
Annie visited him several times, but he encouraged her to return to
Kansas City to make sure the woman she left in charge of her house wasn’t
stealing her blind. Soon after that
Billy moved to Cleveland, where he obtained a divorce from Annie in order to
marry another woman.
In November 1913,
Annie testified before a city vice commission investigating the city’s
segregated red light district. She
told the commission that the women of the district would be scattered to every
part of the city if the district were closed.
She explained to the commission that the type of house she operated was a
last resort for many unfortunate girls, but her arguments fell on deaf ears.
A few months later a police ban was placed on the district.
Annie found a way to beat the system, however, and she continued to do
business as usual until 1921, when the house was padlocked under orders by the
police commission. Annie appealed
her case to the Missouri Supreme Court, where she won her case, and she opened
for business once more. In 1923, at
age 80, she finally changed her mode of operation from bawdy house to a boarding
house for railroad men.
1931 she fell and broke her hip. While
she was recovering in her bed, one of her roomers told of seeing her ghost
wandering the upper halls. Within
days her house was deserted except for herself and her handyman, Murray Darling.
She finally hit upon the idea of opening her house to the public, giving
tours and lectures about her life, to earn enough money to keep a roof over her
head and food on her table.
those tours, Annie claimed that thousands of girls had been employed in her
house at one time or another, and that she believed around half of them had
married and become good wives. When
asked why girls ended up at her house, she said, “In many cases, a house of
this type is a haven of last resort. The
girls have been wronged by some man and cast out from home.
It is either a place like this or the river for them.
I have taken many girls in here who have told me that if I didn’t admit
them that they would take poison. So
I let them in. And then again there
are girls attracted to this life because they are too lazy for anything else.
They don’t want to work for a living, preferring to lie in bed until
noon.” Then she went on to say,
“I got them husbands even after they had come to my place believing that they
were ruined forever. After a while
they began to have hopes, and no girl who has hopes wants to stop in a place of
this type forever, no matter how well it is run and how congenial the
how did she get such beautiful girls to work in her house?
She was honest when she said, “I didn’t.”
She said some of them looked even worse than homely when they came to
her. But she bought them fine
clothes, taught them how to do their hair, and taught them manners.
“Manners and personality count more than looks, you know.
I wouldn’t allow them to smoke in the parlor. The men who came here wouldn’t stand for it.
Smoking would have given my place a bad name.
It was all right if they smoked in their rooms, but never in the parlor.
The men were finicky in those days and to have seen a girl smoke in their
presence would have made her appear common.” She also kept them from drugs and alcohol, which so many
prostitutes abused and which contributed to their downhill slide to camp
followers and crib girls.
house at 201 W 3rd St was on the northwest corner of 3rd and Wyandotte.
Directly south, at 200 W 4th St, was the house of Madame Lovejoy. To the west of Madame Lovejoy was the house of Eva Prince.
In the 1896 Sanborn Fire map, 3rd St is at the top of the map, 4th St at
the bottom. These three women ran
the most upscale brothels in Kansas City from the 1880’s until about 1920.
In 1924, David Bulkley, founder of the City Union Mission, bought Madame
Lovejoy’s house for $5,000. It was a three-story stone mansion with 24 rooms
that had been built in the early 1880s at a reported cost of $100,000 but had
been vacant since the police commission dissolved the district in 1913.
Mr. Bulkley bought the house to use as a shelter for homeless men; the
Bulkleys (David, his wife Beulah and daughter Ruth) would also live in the
house, which they called The Harbor. Annie
was running the boarding house for railroad men in her former brothel by this
time, but Eva Prince was still operating her house next door to The Harbor.
One day a young lady from Eva Prince’s house knocked on the door of The
Harbor. She had delivered a baby
not long ago, and the baby had died a few days before.
The other girls in the house had convinced her to go to the Bulkleys and
ask Mr. Bulkley to preach a funeral sermon for her baby.
Of course Mr. Bulkley agreed, and the baby was brought into the grand
ballroom of the old Lovejoy mansion. Mr.
Bulkley preached a funeral sermon that had the girls of Eva Prince’s weeping
and sobbing. Unknown to those in the ballroom, the funeral sermon had
another, secret listener: Annie Chambers. The
back of Annie’s mansion was quite close to the rear of The Harbor; when it
came time for the funeral she opened a back window in her house and listened and
Some time later Mr. Bulkley approached Eva Prince with an offer to lease her
house; Eva agreed, and Mr. Bulkley turned the house into more rooms for the
homeless, calling it “Safe Harbor”. After
a time Mrs. Prince came to see David Bulkley.
He apologized for being behind on the rent, explaining the mission was
short of funds at the moment. She
brushed his comments aside, saying she knew what he was doing in the house, and
wanted him to have the building. He
protested, saying the building was priced at $8,000 and the mission couldn’t
possibly afford it. She sold the
house to the mission for $2,000, the amount of a mortgage against it.
One evening in the summer of 1933, a still blew up rather spectacularly at the
corner of 3rd and Delaware, just a couple of blocks from The Harbor and
Annie’s house. While watching the
resulting fire, Annie realized she was standing next to Beulah Bulkley and spoke
to her, telling her she had been watching the many good things they had
accomplished with the men who roomed with them, and wanted the Bulkleys to be
her friends. The Bulkleys were
delighted, and took good care of their new friend, taking her meals, reading the
Bible with her and praying with her. Soon
Annie became a Christian, and when she died on Sunday, March 24, 1935, she left
her estate to the Bulkleys to promote the good works of the City Union Mission.
Annie is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Kansas City.
Her plain tombstone reads simply “Leannah Kearns 1843 - 1935.”
The houses of Annie Chambers, Eva Prince, and Madame Lovejoy are only memories
now. Annie’s house met the
wrecker’s ball in 1946, Madame Lovejoy’s and Eva Prince’s in 1941. The lots where the houses stood are weedy, rubble strewn
vacant lots on the fringes of the City Market district today.
But even now, standing on the corner of 3rd and Wyandotte, one
can almost see the three beautiful mansions, the hustle and bustle of the
street, and the elegant, handsomely dressed gentleman pressing the bell next to
the door of No. 201 West Third Street.
 Most of the data concerning Annie Chambers’ early life is from “South Sides Getting Thrill From Sight-seeing in House of Annie Chambers”, Kansas City Journal Post, 15 May 1932. Preliminary research has been unable to verify any of the information prior to Annie’s appearance in Kansas City in 1869.
 Adventures of a Tramp Printer 1880-1890, John Edward Hicks, Midamericana Press, Kansas City, MO, Copyright 1950, p. 29