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Brothels to books: The women who helped shape Park City’s history

Susanna Bransford Emery Holmes Delitch Engalitcheff, partner in the Silver King Mine, and Park City’s “Silver Queen”.
Park City Historical Society & Museum, Raye Ringholz Collection
Susanna Bransford Emery Holmes Delitch Engalitcheff, partner in the Silver King Mine, and Park City’s “Silver Queen”.

In honor of International Women’s Day, here's the interesting history of notable women in the area’s history.

One of the most well-known women from Park City’s past went by “Silver Queen.” Her full name, Susanna Bransford Emery Holmes Delitch Engalitcheff, stems from four marriages.

Susanna, born in Missouri in 1859, traveled to California with her family to find gold. After little to no success, her family went to Park City in 1884. Historian Sandra Morrison says Susanna worked at a department store on Main Street when she met and married Albion Emery.

Susanna and Emery joined two others to lease the Silver King Mine claims and Morrison says within a year they hit high-grade silver ore, earning $94,000. Morrison said the monthly dividends from the mine were about $12,000. Today, that would be about $400,000 a month.

When Emery died in 1894, Susanna inherited all the Silver King mine shares. Making her money in the Silver King mine earned her the “Silver Queen” moniker.

“She made the headlines of what was the equivalent of People's magazine of the day and certainly demonstrated all the excesses of, you know, the gilded era of which she lived,” Morrison said.

The Woman’s Athenaeum Club got its fame from starting the Park City Library along with other community service.The Woman’s Athenaeum was founded in 1897 and was the first club in Park City. The women of the club were dedicated to educating themselves and contributing to the Park City community. The club started the Park City Library and kept it running.

“There was one article I read in the 1950s that so many people were leaving town that they were just dumping their books at the library,” Morrison said. “It got to the point the library was just full of boxes and boxes of books.”

The club then enlisted Sam Weller, famous for the Salt Lake bookstore, to organize everything.

Mother Urban is another popular name in Park City. Her real name is Rachel Beulah Urban and she was a brothel madam. Morrison said she arrived in Park City in 1890 as a single mother.

She operated a brothel house on Main Street until the city kicked out Mother Urban. Morrison said she then moved to the end of the city’s district onto Heber Avenue.

After Mother Urban died, the brothel trade continued until the 1950s. Morrison said Maureen Foster operated the boarding houses after Mother Urban until a raid put it out of business in 1953. Part of the reason this went on until the ‘50s is because of World War II.

“After the second World War, the stockpile of metals was huge, because, you know, nobody knew how long the war was going to go on for, so the price had plummeted,” Morrison said. “So there's no economy in Park City except gambling and prostitution.”

Park City had a few other women entrepreneurs, including Carrie Vivian Hodgson who owned a jewelry store on Main Street.

“Her husband divorced her for fraternizing with other men,” Morrison laughed. “But, you know, she was strong enough that she actually kicked him out. He left and she kept the jewelry store.”

Park City also had a few women of color in town. Ah Yuen, sometimes called “China Mary,” was one of them.

“China Mary was a term, you know, white people used for Chinese women because that way you didn't have to actually know what their name was, they were just ‘trying to marry,’” Morrison said.

Her full name isn’t known, but Ah Yuen and her husband had a store in Park City from 1880 to 1900. Morrison said she likely left after the great fire of 1898 burned down Chinatown.

Jane Parker is another famous woman of color in Park City. She moved here in 1887 and was known for her talents as a baker and chef.

Other notable women include Isabelle Grant, the first head nurse at the Miners Hospital, and Nellie Theriot, who was the first woman postmaster in the city and daughter of the Park City founders.

Learn more about these women at the Park City Museum.