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Ladies of Denver: Jenny Rogers and Mattie Silks - Part Seven

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Continued from "Ladies of Denver: Jenny Rogers and Mattie Silks - Part Six"

The Beginning of the End

The Panic of 1893 had a devastating effect on the entire country. Overbuilding and speculation on the railroads caused the banks to fail in an even grander manner than in the depression of 1873. Droughts in the Midwest and harsh winters set the farmers and ranchers back, causing them to borrow money they had no hopes of repaying. As people started ot pay attention to the worsening economy, bank runs happened as people rushed in and withdrew all their money, and the banks failed. As they failed, so did several railroads; the Northern Pacific, the Union Pacific, and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe. By the end, over 15,000 companies and 500 banks failed completely; a good majority of the banks in the west. At its worse, unemployment was at 17 – 19%. A series of strikes in the mines and in transportation crippled the country, industrial areas the worst.

Here in Denver, the panic was just as severe. A great many of the mines of Colorado were silver, and thanks to the silver acts – the Bland- Allison Act of 1878 and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, the U.S. government was required to buy millions of ounces of silver per year. This was amazingly wonderful for Colorado, and entrepreneurs and investors flocked to the state; before the Panic, Colorado boasted of having the largest number of land owning millionaires west of the Missouri River. But as the financial situation of the country worsened, President Grover Cleveland was forced to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and got rid of the silver standard, settling on gold as the only financial standard for the nation. Coloradoans were ruined.

The price of silver dropped drastically, Foreclosures on grand homes started, and when they were unable to sell them, the banks failed as well. The smelters stopped running, real estate values fell, and many lost everything. Miners, no longer able to sell the silver they’d mined for any real value, flocked to Denver in hopes of finding jobs, and found none. Rescue missions who had formerly cared for all could no longer keep up, and started only being able to provide for women and children, and small amounts at that. A tent city sprung up in Riverside Park along the Platte River and the homeless and unemployed ranks grew. By September of 1893, the Colorado Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 377 businesses had failed, 435 mines had closed, and 45,000 people were out of work. Even businesses that usually thrived in a depression – bars, opium dens and gambling houses – were feeling the crunch. And so were the ladies of the evening. Thanks to years of success, Mattie Silks and Jennie Rogers were able to keep their doors open; both of them putting their houses into the hands of managers and setting out to new areas to see if they couldn’t increase their funds. Mattie went north with the Klodike rush in 1897, Jennie to Chicago. Eventually, things began to improve in Denver and employment rose, but the era of wild times was pretty well over.

In the nineteen teens, reform waves swept through Denver, shutting down the cribs, the houses and prostitution in general, finally making it fully illegal and fully underground. Mattie ran her “boarding” house on 1916 Market street as a hotel for a few years, hoping things would turn around, but in 1919, she sold the furniture and decorations at auction, and sold Jennie Roger’s old house at 1942 Market street to a Japanese gentleman. The property was sold again to become a Buddhist temple until 1948. The house was later torn down and all that survived were the sculptured heads that had been on the façade of the building, rescued from total destruction.

Concluded in "Ladies of Denver: Jenny Rogers and Mattie Silks - Conclusion"

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