Quote and Credit

Quote and Credit


Jay Moynahan Soiled Doves Prostitutes Infinity on Trial Museums and One Man's Obsession

Bob Dylan once sang/wrote "Inside the museum, infinity goes up on trial" which is a good line. I have always thought it is collectors who do the work...and decades later the museums catch up. Case in point is folk art collector Herbert Hemphill, a major influence on my life. The things he collected even came to be known as "A Hemphill thing" for lack of a better description...now the Smithsonian owns them and they help define the American experience.

My point is not to detract from the work of curators, historians and scientists who work in lauded museums at all...just that they sometimes take forever to get things done. With history counting on them, they don't have the luxury of being flippant or smarmy, as I do...and accuracy really isn't my forte either, I will confess. They have to be.

But it is truly the individual collector, the independent researcher, the hobbyist and the local historian who do the serious ground work. They have the drive, the obsession and the gumption to break ground, put disparate objects together for the first time and in many cases even create a genre.

A case in point is Mr. Jay Moynahan of Spokane, Washington. I happened upon one of his books while doing some research for my Vintage Sleaze blog. "Oh..so you were RESEARCHING prostitution?" Yes, actually, I was!

Mr. Moynahan appears to be quite a story. By my count, which stopped when I reached double-digits, Moynahan has researched, written and published some TWENTY FIVE BOOKS on prostitutes. Mostly prostitutes of the the American West, which he calls "soiled doves." I truly am afraid to read one...not because I am in the least bit prudish...because I am afraid I will like it and be hooked. No pun intended. With spring gardening coming up, can I really afford to go on a 25 long book jag of Moynahan's ladies of the night?

I am truly in awe. Now I must confess most of my own personal knowledge of the role played by working women in the West comes from the Larry McMurtry books...Lonesome Dove and the like. He often has a female character, superbly
defined and described, by the way....who turns tricks for the men and acts as a sounding board. Honest, hard-working, trustworthy women who happen to work in the sex industry. So although I dabbled in Native American Art for a time, I really have no first hand knowledge of Western lore. For all I know, Jay Moynahan is well known in that community and his books sell like the soiled doves themselves after the round-up was over and the pockets were jingling. But he was certainly new to me.

Mr. Moynahan is retired Professor Emeritus at Eastern Washington University in Criminal Justice. He happened to learn of a distant relative who ran a bordello in a mining town in the 1870s. Some folks doing their genealogy might be tempted to overlook such a find...Moynahan only dug deeper.

What an accomplishment! Not only for the accuracy of history and for the appreciation of the role women played in settling the west, but an accomplishment for all interested hobbyists, amateur researchers, writers and future museum curators. This is a man who has documented and created a previously ignored and shunned part of history, and I for one intend not only to read one, but I suspect many. Some of his books consist of reprinted material he has located and assembled, some are collections of photographs...Just browse the inventory and you will be as impressed as I.

Mr. Moynahan HERE.
A complete list of Moynahan books and ordering information is HERE.

If I were involved in any way with an institution of higher learning, a museum or an archive, I would be fetting Jay big time. This appears to be one serious chunk of history compiled and written by one man with a mission, and I suspect historians will recognize it for decades and decades to come.

Photographs collection of Jay Moynahan.

Dull Tool Dim Bulb Books HERE


  1. Top image is by Bellocq: http://www.masters-of-photography.com/B/bellocq/bellocq_photo1.html

  2. I know the author Jay Moynahan and he is one of the nicest and best guys you could meet. He will do what he can to help anybody out. He has a very diverse range of interests and activities too, I think he just sees a place for this to all be drawn together and documented. A lot of the work is compilations of actual news articles and some of them are quite humorous, with the way things were written back then.

  3. thanks much for taking the time to contribute!