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Anatomy of a Trial
The Mountain Meadows Massacre
Johnson's Island
A Lawless Breed
Labor's Love Lost
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Gambling on Ore
The Uncommon Case of Daniel Brown
Rum Punch & Revolution
Good Jobs America

Madam BelleMadam Belle

Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel

Maryjean Wall

Narrated by Caroline Shively

Available from Audible

Book published by The University Press of Kentucky

Belle Brezing made a major career move when she stepped off the streets of Lexington, Kentucky, and into Jennie Hill’s bawdy house—an upscale brothel run out of a former residence of Mary Todd Lincoln. At nineteen, Brezing was already infamous as a youth steeped in death, sex, drugs, and scandal. But it was in Miss Hill’s “respectable” establishment that she began to acquire the skills, manners, and business contacts that allowed her to ascend to power and influence as an internationally known madam.

In this revealing book, Maryjean Wall offers a tantalizing true story of vice and power in the Gilded Age South, as told through the life and times of the notorious Miss Belle. After years on the streets and working for Hill, Belle Brezing borrowed enough money to set up her own establishment—her wealth and fame growing alongside the booming popularity of horse racing. Soon, her houses were known internationally, and powerful patrons from the industrial cities of the Northeast courted her in the lavish parlors of her gilt-and-mirror mansion.

Secrecy was a moral code in the sequestered demimonde of prostitution in Victorian America, so little has been written about the Southern madam credited with inspiring the character Belle Watling in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Following Brezing from her birth amid the ruins of the Civil War to the height of her scarlet fame and beyond, Wall uses her story to explore a wider world of sex, business, politics, and power. The result is a scintillating tale that is as enthralling as any fiction.

Maryjean Wall served as the turf writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader for twenty-five years. The author of How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders, she holds a doctorate and is an instructor in the Department of History at the University of Kentucky.


“Wall’s captivating study of Kentucky's most famous madam will take readers back to a lively time in Lexington's history. A biography of Belle Breezing was long overdue, and this is a good one. ”

—Jamie Nicholson, author of The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America's Premier Sporting Event

Madam Belle contributes new information and historical context to one of America's most famous, or infamous, madams. Wall shows how changes in Lexington and the horse industry during Brezing's era allowed her to seize this business opportunity in a way that other madams were not able to do before or after her time.”

Lexington Herald-Leader

“Maryjean Wall sheds new light on the tantalizing true story of vice and power in the Gilded Age South as told through Miss Belle's notorious life.”

The Examiner

“Wall has achieved the almost impossible. This engaging biography comes as close to revealing the life of Belle as is possible.”

Decatur Tribune

“The fascinating true story of vice and power in the Gilded Age South.”

Florida Weekly

“Belle Brezing is the ideal protagonist... [A] captivating tale of whores and horses.”

Wall Street Journal

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University Press Audiobooks