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"No problem, man. Now go see Miss Kitty and she'll set you up with a nice hooker."—Chander on Friends, playing barkeep to Joey dressed as a cowboy.
What is the fate of a Soiled Dove as she grows older? It all depends on how much she's been soiled and who was documenting the events. In early versions of the Romance Novel, any soiling was considered an impurity that could not be erased, so Redemption Equals Death was a common ending to the story, usually with the Soiled Dove ending up addicted to alcohol and/or opiates and dying alone in some gutter. In Real Life, though, many a Soiled Dove ended up marrying and leaving what was then called the Sporting Life. This was especially true in The Wild West, where women were at a premium. Some ended up becoming a Determined Homesteader's Wife. Their former lives were generally not held against them, and the act of marriage bestowed social respectability on them.
Fiction provided another solution, though. The Miss Kitty is a Soiled Dove turned entrepreneur. She is the proprietor of the local drinking establishment, very often a Fish Out of Water. Sometimes, she has obtained her establishment through the circumstances of becoming a Determined Widow. She is always of a certain age. She is tough as nails. She has an unlimited supply of something that passes for whiskey, with sasparilla for the Determined Homesteader's Children. She has no tolerance for "rowdiness" in her establishment and very often has a shotgun handy to make certain that her policy is enforced. She goes out of her way to make certain that no one mistreats her "girls". She acts as mother-confessor for anyone in town and always has time to provide people with advice and common-sense wisdom. Occasionally, Preacher Man berates her for operating a Den of Iniquity, but most of the time he accepts her business as a necessary evil. She is almost always on the side of the angels.
Initially, Bowdlerization restricted her activities to running a saloon. In today's media, most establishments run by a Miss Kitty are more obviously brothels with ancillary booze service.
If the two are close in age, she will be the love interest of The Sheriff or the US Marshal. She is the employer of the Dance Hall Girl and The Piano Player. The Bartender is always her trusted subordinate, if she employs one.
The Miss Kitty is restricted in time and setting. She will be found either in the United States or Canada. In the US, she'll be found between 1860 (the start of the American Civil War) and 1911 (the year the Everleigh Club in Chicago was closed). In Canada she'll usually be in shows set in Alberta or the North (especially the Klondike), and can show up at a much later date than in the US -- as late as the mid-1950s for shows set in the Territories. She can also be found in Speculative Fiction that uses a setting that is analogous. The Wild West is her natural habitat, but she can often be found in urban red-light districts of the period. The Miss Kitty does not necessarily have to be female, although the nurturing aspects of a Miss Kitty are more of a female trait.
The trope was so pervasive in Western Canada in the post-World War I era that the phrasing "Miss Firstname" was (and to some extent, still is) used only to refer to madams and whores. This naturally surprises visitors from the southern US, for whom this phrasing is a respectable way for children to refer to adult women. Hilarity can ensue.
Anime and Manga
- Roy's aunt and adoptive mother Madame Christmas in Fullmetal Alchemist.
- Shunu, Inari's mentor, from Fushigi Yuugi Genbu Kaiden.
- Delilah Fitzgerald in Unforgiven.
- Peter David's Space Western Oblivion has a Miss Kitty who's a Catgirl and, of course, she's actually called Miss Kitty. And she's played by Julie "Catwoman" Newmar.
- Maudie in Howard Hawks' El Dorado.
- In Feivel Goes West, there is a talking cat woman whose name is actually Miss Kitty. She is the head matron amongst the other "singers" in the saloon, and left her troubled past behind her in New York to go off to the west.
- The owner of the titular salon in Tinto Brass' Salon Kitty even has the right name. Would be dead on this trope if it wasn't set in Nazi Germany...
- Miss Kitty Mouse from The Great Mouse Detective.
- Mrs. Rosie Palm is one, having risen to President of the Seamstresses' Guild of Ankh-Morpork after working as a Seamstress herself.
- Did she ever actually leave the life? Though presumably the head of the real-world Plumbers' Union doesn't lay much pipe either.
- Seamstresses are referred to as "Miss" while the head of the guild is "Mrs". This causes Sir Samuel Vimes to commit a minor gaff in Night Watch when he travels back in time and comes across Rosie and calls her Mrs. Palm. At that point she was just another working girl and corrected him that it is Miss. Palm.
- Truth in Television- 18th and 19th century 'bawds' usually did adopt the honorific 'Mrs.' when they went into the management side, as it were. (Earlier than this, the respectful way to refer to any woman was as 'Mistress _', regardless of her marital status.) (It would also be part of a loose pretence- as Rosie Palm puts up when we first meet her- that the younger women in her house are her daughters. Allegedly it was also fairly common for the girls to address the madam as 'Mother'.) (Bear in mind that this was also adopted by senior servants- head cooks and house keepers- as a mark of respect for their seniority.)
- Cathy/Kate from East of Eden kills her mentor, who is one of these, and then takes over her brothel and becomes a completely vicious version of this trope.
- Dora Flood in Cannery Row is another Steinbeck example. In the sequel Sweet Thursday, her older sister Flora takes over, having changed her name to "Fauna."
- Audrey in the Liaden Universe.
- Patricia Utley in Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels, who takes good care of her "girls" and is a successful businesswoman, making sure that she only sends them out to high paying customers like celebrities and politicians.
- Her protegee April Kyle, on the other hand, was doomed from the start (at least in retrospect due to already being pretty fucked in the head before she even became a prostitute).
- Flashman hooks up with one of these in Flash for Freedom and the first part of Flashman and the Redskins.
- Madam later Tribune Clymnestra is one of these in Jim Butcher's Codex Alera.
- "La Señora" ("The Mistress"), one of Eva's caretakers in Isabel Allende's Eva Luna.
- The titular character from Jorge Amado's novel Tieta do Agreste is one of these, albeit she spent a good part of the book hiding this from her relatives and the people of her birth town, by letting them believe she is a boutique owner and a senator widow. But then again, no one asked her the right question.
- The Trope Namer, Amanda Blake's Miss Kitty in Gunsmoke.
- Joanie Stubbs of Deadwood tries to be a Miss Kitty, along with her partner Maddie, but they fail.
- Nandi from the Firefly episode "Heart of Gold," though her establishment was less bar and more brothel (plus, she is officially shunned by the Companion Guild).
- Luci Prescott in Peacemakers.
- In one skit from The Armstrong and Miller Show, Alexander Armstrong discovers that his ancestor was a prostitute, and determines to find out whether she ever improved her lot in life. Apparently, she did: a later entry into the records he's examining instead lists her occupation as "brothel owner".
- Mary Barrett from Wild Boys.
- Psych had an episode set in a Wild West-themed tourist town, complete with a Miss Kitty. After the case is solved, the town's sheriff proposes to her, and Shawn is touched that she's agreeing to leave behind a life of sin until Gus reminds him that she isn't a real madam.
- Mona Stangley in the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. (Played by Dolly Parton in the film version.)
- In the Western Arc of Arthur, King of Time and Space, Morgan is the town's Miss Kitty and a Steampunk genius to boot.
- Mama Gkika of Girl Genius appears at first glance to be one of these, running a (literal) underground establishment that caters to the Jaegers, and given the decor it is likely also a brothel. However, she's also one of the Jaeger Generals, and may in fact be a parody of this trope.
- The Prohibition-era Lackadaisy features Mitzi May, a Miss Kitty who actually is a kitty...
- Bart discovers and eventually ends up working for one of these women on The Simpsons. Even though the show is set in modern America, the matron of the house plays this trope completely straight and makes Marge look foolish by comparison. This episode led to the Crowning Music of Awesome -- "We put the * Spring* in Springfield."
- Some urban examples from the well-documented world of Chicago prostitution of the period:
- When Carrie Watson was a middle-class girl in Buffalo, New York, she saw her older sisters work for substandard wages as shopgirls, and became determined to avoid that fate. Since her career options were limited by social mores of the time, she decided on an unusual career plan: become a prostitute, learn the business end, and open her own house that would cater to a high-class, moneyed crowd. After an apprenticeship, she gained enough money to fulfill her dreams. Between the 1870s and 1890s, Watson's house was renowned for its women and its customer service. Customers were greeted by a talking parrot which said "Carrie Watson's. Welcome, gentlemen." (Watson was quite discreet; the parrot and a small brass plaque were her only forms of advertising.) Watson invested in real estate and became rich. Her treatment of her girls was renowned in the community at a time when prostitutes were regarded as virtual slaves. When pressure came to centralize prostitution in Chicago away from Watson's house, she decided to retire and quietly faded away.
- Vina Fields had two handicaps in the 1890s: she was not only female, she was African-American. Her houses specialized in providing African-American women for white customers, although she didn't discriminate. In order to insulate her daughters from how she made her living, she sent them to convent schools. During the Panic of 1893, she provided thousands of free meals daily for out-of-work men. When she left the business, her departure was much-mourned.
- The origins of the women who called themselves Ada and Minna Everleigh are still in dispute, although a great deal of detective work has been done (most recently by Karen Abbott in her book Sin In The Second City). What is known is that they made a windfall profit in Omaha operating a high-class house, then took that money to create a dream establishment on Chicago's South Side. Opening in 1901, the Everleigh Club soon became world-famous for its opulence and its employment of beautiful, talented women, who were treated magnificently by Ada and Minna. The brothel was down-right palatial in its furnishings; among other things, it had a perfume fountain, a gold-plated piano, and a solid gold spittoon in every room. Not to mention that they got 25 world-class chefs and musicians to work for them. It was as exclusive as possible; new customers needed a letter of recommendation from an established patron to be admitted, they only took checks at a time when only the rich possessed checking accounts, and people who spent less than $50 (worth about $2000-$4000 today) are politely but emphatically advised to never come back, the average "dinner and a night" service costs more than $200. They even entertained royalty. The house was forcibly shut down in 1911, and the sisters went into genteel retirement in New York City.