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Jennie from the Block - Hooker's Block, that is.

Updated: Aug 18

At the end of every tour that I give, I always let people know that my tours are works in progress. A script is never really “done” until I feel I have exhausted all of my sources. However, with the wealth of first-hand information there is to be had, the well seems bottomless and new information frequently turns up. Through my own research, or in conversations with other experts, I occasionally uncover a gem. In one such example, a fellow historian/tour guide (thanks Mark Herlong!) clued me into the story of a fascinating woman who is now included on my Madams of DC tour. Her name is Jennie. Here is her story.


The area that is now Federal Triangle was formerly known as Murder Bay. It was a jumble of ramshackle structures that served all kinds of vices, including brothels, bars, gambling houses, and other places of questionable reputation. This was also where Civil War general Joseph Hooker established a large concentration of brothels which became known as “Hooker’s Division” in a close 3-block radius between 14th and 11th Streets, and Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenue NW. One of those establishments was Mahogany Hall, owned by Madam Jennie Milord.


Most of what I know of Jennie Milord (or Mallord, or Malord depending on which paper you were looking at) comes from various obituaries after her death on March 27th, 1881. Some accounts vary, but they seem to agree on a few things. Jennie’s family came from Richmond, VA, where she was born, and was of mixed black and white heritage. Her father was a caterer and apparently a very devoted Baptist. At a young age she was sent to be educated at a convent (which is strange for a Baptist), from which she was ejected at the age of 15 when she became pregnant. Sadly, she lost her child. Afterward, perhaps a matter of rebellion against her religious upbringing, she made the choice to become a prostitute.


Described as having a fine face and figure, she started out working for another madam who had an establishment on 12th St. and D St. NW, Jennie Mullins. She was very popular, and after earning quite a bit of money she ran off to New York with a married Washington druggist with whom she was having an affair. There she opened her own establishment. Her relationship with the druggist ended, and Jennie decided to return to DC. She then became the mistress of an unnamed Senator and bought a place of her own, naming it Mahogany Hall. The house had formerly been owned by Maggie Murphy, another infamous Madam, and then Roddy Welch, who turned it into a sporting and drinking house called “The Senate”.


The old intersection of 13th and C Street NW. Mahongany Hall is the three story white structure toward the left side. (Library of Congress)

Mahogany Hall became infamous for its beautiful women and opulence. Jennie specifically employed girls who were of mixed heritage. In fact, the name “Mahogany Hall” was often used for brothels that employed light-skinned black women. The most famous was probably in Storyville New Orleans, owned by famed Madam Lulu White. Jennie’s place was popular with Congressmen, Army and Navy officers, and well-heeled artists. It was known for its elegance, opulence, and party atmosphere. In one of my favorite articles about her, it was described by the Evening Star as “one of the most elegantly fitted palaces of sin that the depravity of the world has ever produced!” She rarely appeared in public but when she did, she was the “gayest of the gay.” If she didn’t want to be identified, she used an alias of Madame DeVere. Despite her success, her relationship with her religious family was strained. They were highly regarded members of society, afterall. Her father was a well-known social figure, her brother worked at the Treasury, and her sisters married well. They were prominent members of the Baptist Church. Imagine what society thought of their errant sister!


Sadly she would meet an early demise, falling ill of a pulmonary disease at the young age of 39. In a final blow to her estranged family she converted to Catholicism on her deathbed, was baptized, and given her final rites. She also used the last few days of her life to urge her former inmates to turn away from their sinful ways. In her will she left a reported $50,000 to a white man, her favorite lover of 15 years, and apparently the scion of a famous DC family (who is never named, much to my chagrin). The rest was reportedly distributed between her family members (she did reconcile with her sisters on her deathbed) and some of her favorite employees. She is buried at Mt Olivet Cemetery. Mahogany Hall continued as a brothel for a short period, but was the building was put to other uses. According to an article in the National Republican (May 26, 1881) it was considered as a location for a police station. I haven't determined if they indeed established a station there, but based on the photo below it eventually was used as a electrical fixtures shop. Like the rest of Murder Bay and the Division, all structures were swept away to clear space for the federal buildings that were erected as part of the Macmillan Plan.


I’m continuing to research her life and she will feature prominently in a book that I plan to write based on the Madams of DC tour. Interested in knowing more about her and other "fallen" women who became fixtures in DC society during and after the Civil War? Come check out my next Madams of DC tour on August 27th, 7pm. Tickets can be found at www.otmdc.com (link also above). We’ll raise a glass to Jennie at our halfway stop, Hill Country BBQ. Cheers!

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