From Brothel to Hospital to Highway: History Disappears

912 Douglas Street

Described as both “nefarious and despicable” as well as “The Queen of the Underground,” Omaha madam, Anna Wilson, made her mark on Omaha. Known for her generous loans as well as her philanthropy, the woman remains a prominent figure in Omaha. Unfortunately, if one only knows where to look.

Douglas Street in downtown Omaha thrives with patrons, either locals or visitors from somewhere else. Smells waft from restaurants enticing customers to follow their noses, air conditioning units blow loudly from the businesses, and construction of the Riverfront promises new change. Traffic merging onto Interstate 480 adds to the excitement as one can walk down a side street barely jutting off the interstate entrance as cars speed past.

Amongst the hustle and bustle of the city lay the lot that was once home to 912 Douglas Street. Directly in front of the Beebe and Runyan Lofts next to the Courtyard by Marriott lay the old home to Omaha madam Anna Wilson’s former brothel.

In 1880, Anna Wilson’s 25-room brothel was only one of 17 homes of “questionable character,” however this is a building remembered for what it became (McKee). In 1906, the brothel closed, and Wilson moved to Wirt Street where she lived out the rest of her life.

Instead of allowing the building to rot, Wilson proposed the building be used as a hospital and tried to give it to the city of Omaha. Despite hesitation on the city’s part due to the building’s prior establishment, they eventually “did agree to rent it from her for $125 a month beginning in about 1910” (McKee). The hospital finally became a reality in 1911, used as an emergency hospital for contagious diseases. Wilson died six months later on October 27, 1911.

In the 1940s, for reasons difficult to discern, the building was torn down. With it went its history. The building that once stood behind it remains intact while Wilson’s hospital lay in the direct path of an interstate on-ramp.

Walking along the street or standing at the base of the nearby historic building, there is no sign of the history that was once there. No plaque alerts tourists that this was a place to be remembered. In the pursuit of constant progress, history disappears.

The fate of these women, making a living on their own in the only way they could, living amongst the shadows, in the “underground,” continues after death. Their mark on history is removed, and for each woman like Anna Wilson who is barely remembered, there are hundreds who have disappeared completely. A “nefarious” mark on society to be removed and ignored at all costs. No matter how important their stories were.