Belle London

June 9, 2015 In: history Comments (None)

You have most likely seen the London Ice Cream Parlor on Historic 25th. And if you’ve been in town for a while you may have heard of Miss Belle London, aka Dora B. Topham. Belle London was Ogden’s most notorious madam and used the London Ice Cream Parlor as a front for one of her brothels, located on the upper level.

Belle London was one of the best. She triumphed in an era when running a brothel was one of the few business opportunities open to women. ~Remarkable Utah Women “Dora B. Topham (“Belle London”) Enterprising Madam

There are many rumors and many legends of Miss London. The ghost stories are retold most often and many people, locals and visitors alike, have made note of seeing someone in the upper windows of the London Ice Cream Parlor, though the stories seemingly get more frequent around Halloween each year.

We’re more drawn to the history of this woman and have enjoyed reading the piece in Remarkable Utah Women. We were surprised to read about a time when the State sanctioned prositution – sort of.

For a short time, Salt Lake City government leaders experimented with something else: an official, government-sanctioned block of prostitution. And the woman they chose to run it was Belle London…. reportedly, the “notorious woman of Ogden” put $20,000 [of her own funds] towards the venture…Thus, Dora become the only state-sanctioned madam in Utah history.

As you could likely suspect, the political twists and turns led to blind eyes being turned, some arrests, a few more blind eyes and an eventual overturned conviction by the Utah State Supreme Court, but that’s dumbing the story down too far.

What’s perhaps even more surprising was her stance on prostitution:

She later told a newspaper that she never liked or wanted to be in the business of prostitution. “My conscience – yes, I have a consceince – has troubled me about it a good many times,” she said, but added, “I can do this much: I can make the business as clean as it is possible for such a business as this to be, and I can persuade a great many girls who are just starting in a life of shame to travel other paths…”

Reading Remarkable Utah Women has offered us a bit of a different view of Belle London, and of the prostitution rings and brothels that gave Notorious Two Bit Street it’s many nicknames. We’d love to hear your thoughts: if it came to prostitution (which provided money and power) or working as a domestic servant, which according to the book,¬†was “essentially the only respectable job open to single women” – which would you choose? Makes you think about it a little differently, even if your choice¬†stays the same.

 

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