Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

Museum and research center closed for renovations. For more info, call (406) 444-2694.

Devil's Perch: Prostitution from Suite to Cellar in Butte, Montana

By Ellen Baumler

Download and read the article in PDF format.


The Progressive Movement and the efforts of reform in that era 


1)    Describe the "mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship" between Butte's red-light district and the neighboring businesses. 

2)    Why did the efforts of Butte's reformers to shut down the city's demimonde fail?

3)    What role has the Butte-Silver Bow Urban Revitalization Agency played in the preservation of the city's red-light district? 

4)    If you were walking through an abandoned area of an old mining town, what architectural clues would you look for in a building to tell whether or not it was a part of the demimonde? 

5)    Why is it important to preserve old buildings? Do think it is important to preserve former brothels? What can old buildings tell us about life in the past?


-    Divide the class into two groups, one taking the pro-side and the other the con-side. Using the article as a reference, in addition to other research, have a debate over the legalization of prostitution. 

-    For further information, Mary Murphy has written several books on prostitution in Montana.

-    Students can research current societal moral issues and debates (i.e. gambling, alcohol, prostitution, etc.) and how those issues correspond with historical social reform movements in Montana and the nation.

-    Current conflict- Throughout the late 1990's Butte is undergoing a conflict over whether preserving and restoring the Dumas Hotel is actually preserving an aspect of Butte's history or dramatizing and glorifying prostitution. Investigate this debate by looking up articles in local newspapers.