Madame Louise "Lou" Graham (1861-1903)

From LGBTQIA+ Archives

Madame Louise "Lou" Graham (1860/1861 (contested) to March 11, 1903[1,2]; age 46-48) owned a bordello located in Pioneer Square in Seattle, Washington (the area was known then as Whitechapel, "Tenderloin District", "Seattle's Tenderloin", or Red-Light District). Lou's parlor and others like it were referred to as a "house of ill-fame" by media and ordinance at the time. Robert Abrams, a Territorial Legislator, sold land at a corner on Fourth and S. Washington, to who he believed was a man named "Lou. Graham" for $3000 in 1885[3], other records state she gave him $3500 on August 1, 1890[4]. After the Great Seattle Fire in 1889, Lou Graham rebuilt her business at 323 Washington, later 223 Washington, spending $25,000 to construct a three-story brick building[5], today known as the Washington Court Building at Third and S. Washington. Her business is only remembered as Lou Graham's Sporting House or Lou Graham's Parlor. Madame Lou passed away in San Francisco in 1903 from a stomach ulcer or intestinal issue shortly after moving there.

Lou Graham would hire others who lived at her venue as seamstresses offering tailoring services, a cover for sex workers at the time. Lou herself is believed to have had a romantic relationship and partnership with another woman, Amber Delmas[6], and she hired, possibly, transgender women who would be requested by clients as "the lady in the black dress". Lou Graham never became a citizen of the United States, a German immigrant, but did make an attempt in 1894. She had no known children while here[7,8] however had an adopted daughter, Ulma Delmas[9, 10]. Ulma is the daughter of her "housekeeper" Amber Delmas, believed to be Lou's romantic partner. Ulma was said to get most of the estate, but the will was destroyed in an argument between Amber and Lou. Graham's possessions were challenged by relatives in Germany but, without citizenship, all her property in Washington could acquired by the state through escheatment, the county argued. Also Robert Abrams, who sold her the lot in 1885, attempted to seize her property claiming the title he gave her was invalid as she never had citizenship[11]. The matter was highly contested for several years[12,13,14]. In 1907 the Washington State Supreme Court determined that because neither Robert Abrams nor the state pursued the estate during her lifetime that neither held merit to receive the property, which was then given to her German relatives[15].

Lou Graham hired Chinese and Japanese workers as cooks and other household laborers, two of which demanded unpaid wages in the breakup of her estate[16]. One worker also reported to have loaned her $800 which was never paid back.

Relationship with Amber Delmas

Amber Delmas can be found in records as the "housekeeper" of Lou Graham. Lou purchased a residence on Madison and 21st for them to live together with Amber's daughter, Ulma, who Lou would also guardian. It was believed they wanted to keep the child away from her parlor and provide a better life for her. The parlor was forced to close during a moral panic in the early 1900s which adjusted Seattle's "deadline" (the border of the vice district). Lou Graham and Amber Delmas moved away with their daughter to San Francisco where they operated a similar parlor. The Seattle Daily Times reported that an argument happened while in San Francisco shortly before Lou's death. After she passed, a caretaker brought the child to Victoria and tragically passed away two months later as well. Snyder, Ulma's father, would kidnap her and return her to Seattle where she would eventually be reunited with Amber and the Delmas family. It is said Ulma was supposed to receive a large portion of Graham's inheritance, but the will was allegedly destroyed in the argument between Lou and Amber.

Location of the Parlor

Early records show that Lou Graham purchased a property at Fourth and Washington which was listed as 323 Washington in local directories. After the Great Seattle Fire, the address was changed to 223 Washington, where the building stands today, records would begin stating her location at Third and Washington.

Police Raids

In 1891, Lou was acquitted at an attempt to close the business but many police including the chief refused to testify against the character of the women or the parlor, the jury reached a not-guilty verdict within three minutes[17]. The business was subject to many raids and arrests throughout its lifetime[18,19]. Many times these were for charges of selling liquor without a license, which were charges paid for through fines[20,21]. Unironically, the city would reject liquor licenses from those with prior charges of "running a house of ill-fame", like Lou Graham did in 1887, leaving such parlors unable to get liquor licenses and charged for selling without them.

Other Stories

Lou Graham petitioned the city to widen the sidewalks at Fourth and Washington in 1890[22]. In 1894, she had a diamond necklace and other jewelry of such significant value that it was known to the point which robbers plotted to take but were unsuccessful and captured by police[23].


Madame Lou Graham's Parlor and Seattle's "Seamstresses" (1888)

Madame Lou Graham (seated left), along with other "seamstresses" at her parlor.


  1. Washington Secretary of State, "King County Auditor, Death Records, 1891-1907"
  2. Library of Congress, "The Seattle Republican, March 13, 1903, Image 3": "Personal"
  3. Library of Congress, "Seattle daily post-intelligencer, October 06, 1885, Image 2": "Brevities"
  4. Seattle Daily Times (March 3, 1905), "Abrams Argues His Case - Gives Reasons for Claiming Part of Lou Graham Estate"
  5. Library of Congress, "The Seattle post-intelligencer, June 06, 1891, Page 12, Image 12": "Two Years After - What Has Been Accomplished Since the Great Fire"
  6. Libbie Hawker, "Madam" (2018) Historical Note And Acknowledgements
  7. Library of Congress, "The Evening statesman, July 22, 1904, Image 3": "State to Get Lou Graham Estate"
  8. University of Washington, "Port Townsend Daily Leader No. 219 (July 21, 1904)": "H.H. Eaton Gets Into Difficulty"
  9. Library of Congress, "The Seattle star, March 17, 1903, Image 1": "Lou Graham's Real Name Was Oben"
  10. Seattle Daily Times (October 12, 1904), "Engineer Steals a Child - Ward of the Late Lou Graham Abducted From Victoria"
  11. Library of Congress, "The Evening statesman, July 15, 1905, Image 1": "Fee From Graham Estate"
  12. Library of Congress, "The Seattle Republican, August 26, 1904, Image 5": "Political Pot-Pie"
  13. University of Washington, "Port Townsend Daily Leader (August 21, 1904)": "Seattle Argus Gives Pointers on Eaton Matter"
  14. University of Washington, "Port Townsend Daily Leader (September 9, 1904)": "Eaton Draws First Blood in Graham Matter"
  15. Seattle Daily Times (January 15, 1907), "German Heirs to Get Graham Estate"
  16. Library of Congress, "The Seattle star, April 24, 1903, Page 8, Image 8": "Akkeny Wins Out - Made Permanent Administrator of Graham Estate"
  17. Library of Congress, "The Seattle post-intelligencer, February 21, 1891, Image 2": "Whitechapel Women Win"
  18. Library of Congress, "The Seattle post-intelligencer, July 21, 1889, Image 8": "Another Whitechapel Raid"
  19. Library of Congress, "The Seattle post-intelligencer, April 13, 1892, Page 8, Image 8": "Paid Their License Money"
  20. Library of Congress, "The Seattle post-intelligencer, January 13, 1891, Page 5, Image 5": "Illicit Liquor Selling"
  21. Library of Congress, "The Seattle post-intelligencer, June 07, 1890, Page 8, Image 8": "The Police Courts"
  22. Library of Congress, "The Seattle post-intelligencer, October 30, 1890, Page 8, Image 8": "Petitions"
  23. Library of Congress, "The Seattle post-intelligencer, February 20, 1894, Page 5, Image 5": "To Rob Lou Graham"
  24. Photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat and "Madame Lou Graham arrives in Seattle in February 1888."

Other References

External Links

External Galleries

Washington Street (circa 1900)

Lou Graham

Lou Graham's Sporting House