This is a story about the life of Madam Dora DuFran, a married prostitute turned into a Madam.
Madam Dora DuFran was one of the most prominent and successful madams in the Old West. Her story is legendary among historians that study the way madams, brothels, and prostitution worked. Madam DuFran was a true entrepreneur and feminist. She knew that to survive the time, she needed to be the best and have the best girls underneath her. She is a true success story of the time as she started off as a prostitute and ended up carrying her own business.
Madam Dora DuFran was born as Amy Helen Dorothea Bolshaw, nicknamed “ Dora”, on November 16th 1868 in Liverpool, England. She immigrated to the United States with her parents around 1869 and settled in Bloomfield, New Jersey. A few years after they settled, Dora’s father decided that it would be best if the family moved west for more land and better prosperity. The Bolshaw’s left their life behind them and went in search for the unknown territory. After months and months of tedious travelling the family decided to make their home in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska ended up being a great place for the family. The Bolshaw’s succeeded as they had hoped and the very young, and beautiful Dora also found a little work.
Knowing her beauty and understanding what her beauty could get her, Dora decided to get involved with prostitution at the young age of 13. Dora quickly learned about the stress and issues that went along with being a prostitute and decided that she needed to do something more. About a year later, she became a dancehall girl and realized that maybe that job was too miniscule for her as well. From what it sounds, this woman knew at a young age that she could make the best possible life out of an unfortunate situation. By the time Dora was 15, she moved out to Deadwood, South Dakota where her story really begins and the history of Deadwood would never be the same.
Immediately after Dora’s move to Deadwood she decided that she wanted to be at the highest level of the industry. Dora decided that she would become a madam and run the best brothel in Deadwood because of this desire, she had to make herself known. Early in her residence, she began dating a man named Joseph DuFran. She was taken away by how kind he was and how he supported her profession to the fullest. Joseph loved Dora and wanted her career to succeed and he wanted to make sure that he could do everything in his power to make that dream happen for her. Joseph and Dora went into business together and decided to start making both personal and professional relationships.
Dora became friends with a well known prostitute that went by the name of Martha “ Calamity Jane” Canary. Jane was often employed by Dora who wanted only the best and the most beautiful for her brothel. Jane helped Dora along the way by collecting well dressed, well groomed girls and making sure that all girls lived up to Dora and Joseph’s expectations as employee’s. Sooner than later, Dora decided to expand her business into more brothels and saloon’s. Many of her employee’s were very enthusiastic about the expansion because they were fond of the DuFran’s. Dora was known to be a very kind woman who donated to charities and poverty stricken families. Therefore, because of her warm heart she employed many women that needed an escape, place to live, or extra income as long as they followed her strict criteria of being the best in the profession.
Dora opened up a few brothel saloons all over South Dakota all known for being popular places. The girls that lived and worked there were sought out by men that travelled through the towns. In 1903, Jane passed away and in 1909, Joseph passed away leaving Dora devastated. For a normal woman, especially during that time, she would have went under but, not Dora. At that time, Dora’s whole life was her businesses and caring for the girls who were involved. Dora decided to move to Rapid City, South Dakota to oversee her brothel in the area. The Rapid City brothel was extremely popular and successful even during the Prohibition period.
Sadly, on August 5th 1934, Dora passed away from heart failure. She was buried in Mount Moriah next to her husband and their pet parrot. Her tombstone is marked with a design that symbolizes the four brothels she owned and it reads “a noted social worker” (Weiser 2010). Dora is historically coined with the word “ cathouse” for all the cats living at her brothel’s and has been portrayed in the movie “ Buffalo Girls”.