Famed Honolulu Harlot
World War II impacted Hawaii greatly. From economics to sex to race relations, Hawaii would never be the same. Chinatown was filled a sea of white uniformed men filing into lines for tattoo parlors and brothels. A famed prostitute at this time was none other than Jean O’Hara. The publication of her book My Life as a Honolulu Prostitute, led to the immediate shutting down of the brothels in Honolulu. Through this spirited hot-tempered woman, we are able to see into the lives of the women in the brothels.
O’Hara was born in Chicago Illinois in 1913. There, she initially lived a happy life as the daughter of strict Catholic parents. She was a beautiful Irish woman with ...view middle of the document...
Could not ride in the front seat of a taxicab at anytime.
Could not check out from one house to another; we were to stay where we were put.
Could not visit the golf courses.
Could only swim at Kailua Beach.
Could not ride in a taxicab with a man.
O’Hara would go on to break the majority of these rules. From there she was taken to the police department for documentation. After she was photographed and fingerprinted like a criminal, she went to her house to begin work.
O’Hara was well liked and thus very successful. She made a fortune. For three minutes of the only pleasure they were likely to find on this island, men paid three dollars. Of those three dollars, one went to the Madame. A few months after working on Hotel Street, O’Hara and her friend Betty decided to violate the rules and lease a place in Waikiki. After being kicked out there, they found a place in Pacific Heights. It took the Vice Squad just over three weeks to find them and force them out again. This angered O’Hara to the point of leaving Oahu for Maui. O’Hara also was smart enough to use this nonsense to her advantage. She would purchase real estate and once neighborhoods learned who was moving in down the street, they would all come together and buy her out. During this time, if any woman wanted to open their own house, they had to get approval from Chief Gabrielson. He responded to her request with a threat. O’Hara responded by stating that she would do as well as she “darned well please.” She purchased three acres on Maui and opened her house and after months and months of fines and harassment, O’Hara sold it to a friend.
During her time in Honolulu, she instigated a strike in July of 1942. The strike lasted for three weeks. The prostitutes were demanding the basic human rights of American citizens, since their work was important to the war effort. Amongst these prostitutes, they had purchased $132,000 in war bonds alone. The outcome of this strike led to military agreeing to take over hygiene inspections and the prostitutes being allowed to go wherever they wished on the island.
In November of 1944, O’Hara released Honolulu Harlot. Her purpose for writing this book was to make the “misspent years of [her] life count for something, [and] as a fair warning to young girls who are always in danger of being trapped in the White Slave Racket (O’Hara, 2).” She writes about the horrible lives of the girls. From their drug use to venereal diseases, O’Hara lays it all out on the table. In one account, she writes about one of the popular prostitutes contracting gonorrhea. The Madame was very pleased with the amount of money she was making. Rather than taking time off to rid herself of the disease, she kept working for two weeks infecting upwards of a thousand servicemen. She refers to this profession as being slavery worse than the Negroes ever experienced. She calls out individuals as well as groups of people who were corrupt and evil within the government of Honolulu,...