Molly May: Leadville’s Most Famous Madam

Molly May, one of the most influential brothel owners in the west, was born in 1850. In her twenties, she traveled as a prostitute with a performance act from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Deadwood, South Dakota. After an ear-tearing brawl with another prostitute, she left Deadwood for Colorado.

After brief stints in Silver Cliff, Bonanza, and Pueblo, May landed in Leadville, where she moved into a house at 555 Fifth Avenue in the red light district. Soon, she had a house staffed with girls as well as the only telephone in town. Her business grew quickly, and in 1881, she moved to one of the most lavish houses in Leadville, where Horace Tabor was rumored to be a silent partner.

May’s life thereafter was rife with scandal. She and her ‘girls’ were constantly being written up for disturbing the peace, theft, and drunken brawling. She was also accused of buying a baby from a poor woman, though May would rebut these claims in a Leadville Herald article, where she insisted she was simply helping a family in need.

May’s sudden death in 1887 was reported to have been caused by ‘neuralgia of the heart.’ Her funeral was one of the largest and most lavish processions in Leadville, and her obituary stated that “she was a woman who, with all her bad qualities, was much given to charity and was always willing to help the poor and unfortunate.”