Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Martha Misner and the Plain View Hotel

Sometime during the first half of 1895, seventy-year-old Martha Misner and her husband, Henry, moved into Springfield, Missouri, from an outlying farm and took up quarters in some rooms over a store near the corner of Campbell and College streets. The couple didn't sell their rural property but instead used it to secure one or more loans that they took out. They also owned a house at 895 Franklin Avenue in the north part of Springfield, which they rented out to Belle Wilson. Belle, who had a notorious reputation as a prostitute and madam in Springfield dating back to the 1870s, ran the place as a bawdy house.
Martha decided to start her own "sporting business," renting out one or more of her upstairs rooms as trysting places. Police raided the Misner rooms not long after Martha and Henry moved in and arrested two men and two young women whom they found in bed together. (It's not clear that Henry was living with Martha at this time. He might have still been living on the rural property.)
Henry Misner died in 1896, and Belle Wilson vacated the house on Franklin about the same time. Martha moved out of the rooms at Campbell and College and took over the Franklin Avenue property, continuing to run it as a bawdy house. Not long after Martha took possession of the place, a policeman stopped by to levy a fine against her (which was the normal cost of doing business), and Martha told him she couldn't afford to let the house sit idle and that "this is the only way I can get any income from it."
Martha was indeed facing financial difficulty. Within a year or two after her husband died, she defaulted on the loans they had taken out against their farm, and the rural property was put up for sale at auction to pay off the debts.
Apparently Martha simply doubled down on her prostitution business in order to stay afloat financially. In 1899, her "boardinghouse" on Franklin was still going strong as the main bawdy house in Springfield. Often called the Plain View Hotel, its name hinted at its method of operation. Gentlemen callers were received by Rosa Cameron, who managed the place for Martha and also entertained guests herself on occasion. Rosa would summon the girls from the upstairs rooms to come downstairs and line up in "plain view" so that the men could pick out the girl they wanted. The customers paid Rosa before escorting the girl of their choice back upstairs. They were charged from $1.00 to $5.00, depending on how long they stayed and other factors, and at the end of each day, Rosa gave half of the money back to the girls in accordance with how much each one had brought in. One girl testified to a grand jury that she usually brought in about $60 to $100 a month, which she had to split with Martha to pay for her room and board. Occasionally Martha or one of her girls might be summoned to police court, but usually they simply paid periodic fines ranging from $6 to $10 directly to police officers. In other words, prostitution was a money-making operation not just for the girls and the madams but for the cops as well. If any of Martha's girls wanted to leave the Plain View at night, they normally had to pay the madam $2.50 as compensation for the lost income.
Martha Misner continued to operate the Plain View Hotel, or the White House as it was also called, until at least 1908. It was one of the few authentic bordellos in Springfield, if not the only one, during the turn-of-century era, although a large number of sporting girls worked out of boardinghouses and hotels on a freelance basis during the aughts and teens. Martha Misner died in July 1912 and is buried at Hazelwood Cemetery beside her husband, Henry. For more information on Martha Misner and Springfield prostitution in general, see my book Wicked Springfield, Missouri.


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