For Immediate Release
Uncovering Vice in Fargo/Moorhead, 1871-1920—An exhibit about a 19th-century madam and the legal and cultural context of vice in Fargo/Moorhead between 1871 and 1920.
FARGO— Uncovering Vice in Fargo/Moorhead, 1871-1920, an exhibit that opens at 7 p.m., Monday, May 8, at Bonanzville in West Fargo, looks at vice in these two Red River Valley towns through the story of a central character, brothel owner Melvina Massey. The project curated by Dr. Angela Smith and her museum studies students at North Dakota State University shines a spotlight on prostitution, gambling, alcohol, and drugs in the legal and cultural context of the time. It also examines artifacts found through salvage archeology of “the hollow,” Fargo’s Red Light District during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
As informal codes of the frontier evolved, vice came face to face with the establishment of the river towns and new legal challenges to prostitution, gambling, drugs, and alcohol arose. The railroad brought men for a quick divorce or seasonal work and prostitutes capitalized on them. Alcohol was sold and consumed in legal saloons in Moorhead and in illegal “blind pigs” in Fargo, and gambling and drug use were part of the unsavory action.
The local history research for this exhibit has been ongoing since 2013 when Dr. Angela Smith, assistant professor of history at NDSU, and her students discovered Melvina Massey in Fargo’s public records. Massey was repeatedly arrested and released and continued to operate her brothel until she died in 1911. The only time she went to prison, and for just 10 months in 1901, was not for prostitution, but for illegal liquor sales.
In 2014, Dr. Kristen Fellows, assistant professor of anthropology at NDSU, and Dr. Smith began working together to explore Madam Massey more deeply. When the city of Fargo began excavation for a new city hall in Fall 2016, Smith and Fellows worked with the Historical Commission and city executives for permission to sift through the dirt where the Crystal Palace was built in 1892. Material culture gathered from that operation is a central part of the exhibit and will be used to teach about the intersection of archeology and history.
The exhibit was designed, written, and installed by graduate and undergraduate students as part of a Museum Studies class at NDSU. Dr. Kristen Fellows and Dr. John Creese’s anthropology students collaborated with Dr. Smith’s class by cataloguing and researching artifacts found in the salvage operation last fall.
Uncovering Vice in Fargo/Moorhead, 1871-1920
Opening 7 p.m., Monday, May 8 in the main gallery at Bonanzaville No admission charge for opening night and reception
Sponsored by Bonanzaville, the North Dakota Humanities Council, and the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at NDSU.