Betty Jean O’Hara was “born in Chicago, Illinois in 1913, the year preceding the 1st World War. The early years of (her) life were happy and normal. Being the only child of a physician, (she) was given the best schooling in preparation for a career.”
“(Her) parents were Catholic, and were strict in the regimentation of (her) life. (She) was permitted however to attend parties and movies with other children (her) age.”
At about the age of 16, she met a girl and her boyfriend at a party. The girl was covered in fine jewelry and nice clothes. Young, and easily led, she “agreed to their sordid plans and went into the business of the ‘oldest profession.’” A month later, she left home and headed to San Francisco. (O’Hara)
“Jean O’Hara was a pretty girl who became a handsome woman. She was ‘black Irish,’ fair-skinned with a clear complexion which set off her dark eyes, raven hair, and even her features. She stood about 5’4” and at 120 pounds was slender by that era’s standards. Her good looks and classy bearing would serve her well.” (Bailey & Farber)
“(O’Hara) got used to the fast money.”
“(She) started working in one of the better class houses, and (she) became definitely committed to the practice of prostitution. (Her) father and mother tried every means available to frighten (her) into going home …”
“… but being headstrong, and enticed by the seemingly fabulous earnings (she) resisted their every attempt. Although (she) actually loathed the life, (her) sense of shame and sin aroused in (her) a perverse independence.” (O’Hara)
In mid-1938, O’Hara arrived in Honolulu from San Francisco.
There was an unofficial system of regulated prostitution in the Islands, with the also unofficial sanction of the military. Army military police and the Navy shore patrol helped monitor it.
All girls had to live in the houses where they worked; no white girls were allowed on the other side of River Street. The Army, Navy, and civilian police picketed any house violating the rules, and no man could enter it. According to the agreement, the civil police regulated prostitution “with full cooperation by the Army and Navy.” (Greer)
“The business of procuring girls to work in the brothels, or “factories”, before the war (WWII,) was usually handled by the same … “procurer.” He handled nothing but the transportation of the girls. … The fee for procuring a girl from the mainland rage(d) from $500 to $1,000 depending on the looks and the capability of the girl.” (O’Hara)
A detective would meet the ships coming in and the girls were taken to the ‘receiving station.’ (In O’Hara’s case, that was the Blaisdell Hotel on Fort Street.) The girls were explained the rules – in no uncertain terms, the girls were told that any violation of the rules meant banishment from the Territory.
All of the girls have a Territorial tax book and a Territorial license (they were licensed as ‘entertainers,’) which cost each $1 per year. In addition, every month the Vice Squad would collect an unofficial tax of $30 per girl from the brothels.
The girls paid Federal income taxes, as well as state taxes. “It has been said that (the) girls and Madames are the heaviest tax payers in Honolulu. … Each girl in Honolulu can average from $4,000 per month to $5,000 per month. … Taxes are collected by the Madame of the house, who also files the returns for them.” (O’Hara)
Before WWII, the girls usually started to work around 1 pm, and ended around 5 am. The ‘blackout’ during the war meant they worked from 8 am to noon.
“Very few girls made under a $100 a day, some of these double that and some of them made over $300 a day. It all depends upon the girl. She can make as much as she wants.”
“The price charged is $3.00 per date. Of this, the Madame gets one dollar. Out of the remaining two dollars, the girl must pay the Madame for her room and board and laundry.” (O’Hara)
The Madames were women from the mainland. Although prostitution was not legal, they needed permission from the local Police before operating.
When WWII broke out, and martial law was in effect, the military called the shots (1941-1943.) A “substantial number” of prostitutes were brought to Honolulu from the mainland under military priorities – a common rumor – and that under military government prostitution “flourished.” (Greer)
Most brothels required girls to see at least 100 men a day and to work at least 20 days per month.
To speed things along, O’Hara is credited with inventing the ‘bull pen’ system where a single prostitute would work three rooms in rotation (including maid service.)
In one room a man would be undressing, in a second room the prostitute would be having sex, and in the third room the man would be dressing. (The guy had three minutes to achieve release, after which she said ‘aloha’ and was off to the next room while he washed up and got dressed.) (McNeill)
After a few months’ work in a Hotel Street brothel, she had amassed a sizable bankroll. She leased a house near Waikiki Beach with a friend.
“The life of a prostitute is not an easy one, and the stringent rules of the Honolulu Police Department, headed by Chief of Police Gabrielson, left her no more freedom that a prisoner.”
O’Hara broke the rules (often) and ended up getting the regular attention of the Police, including Gabrielson. She was fined, imprisoned and beat black and blue, with two broken ribs.
O’Hara filed a $100,000 lawsuit in 1941 against the Police department for her two broken ribs and black eyes. The lawsuit was dropped, but conflicts with the Police continued.
O’Hara later married a ‘local boy’ and quit the business. She was a prostitute for 13-years, and temporarily was a Madame. She had homes in Waikiki and Pacific Heights.
After leaving the brothels, “(her) only desire (was) to live a useful family life, and help others to live and let live, as one resurrected from the sordid flesh mines of humanity.”
In 1944, she wrote a booklet, ‘My Life as a Honolulu Prostitute.’ She died in 1973. (Lots of information here is from that booklet.)
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