We don’t know her real name, when or where she was born, or when she died, but we know that Diamand Dolly cut a broad swath wherever she went in Calgary of the early 1900s.
Diamond Dolly, a Calgary prostitute and the booming city’s leading madam, made no bones about who she was or how she made her living. She would travel around downtown Calgary with the top of her buggy down, waving and calling out to customers.
At a time when strict Victorian morals would have been the norm, and when women enjoyed few rights under the law, Dolly seemed immune to the social rules of the day and she made her own way in the world.
Indeed, Dolly carved out a prominent niche all her own in the growing city’s culture. While those opposed to prostitution complained about “women flaunting themselves in their silks and satins,” (hinting at the profitability of the work) the police force at the time seemed indifferent. Indeed, she regularly rode a horse she rented from the Chief of Police, and during a raid of one of her brothels, 10 of the johns arrested were members of the local police force.
With a brash and grand personality, Diamond Dolly was likened to a brown-haired Mae West, a sex symbol and flamboyant vaudeville and movie star, popular at the time. A fan of over-the-top hats festooned with ostrich plumes, her nickname came from the “10 pounds” of jewelry that she wore around town. Indeed, local jewelers could gauge the state of the local economy by the frequency of her visits to purchase new diamond rings.
At the time, a married woman had no property rights but Dolly, a successful business woman with a bustling bordello near St. George’s Island (later moved to Hillhurst, Bridgeland and then out near Nose Creek), enjoyed a level of freedom and independence that was unparalleled by her contemporaries.