Queen Aggie: Boise’s Black Madam

Levy’s Alley was Boise’s most notorious restricted district. After Davis Levy’s death, Agnes Bush became one of its most famous proprietors.

Named for Davis Levy, the original owner of many of the cribs that lined the alley in the 1880s, Levy’s Alley ran behind the 600 block of Main Street in downtown Boise. While the alley was not the only restricted district in the city, it was the most notorious, and the majority of Boise’s most famous madams and sex workers lived and worked there. One such person was Agnes Bush, also known as “Queen Aggie,” a Black woman who operated multiple cribs and parlor houses in Boise.

Bush was one of Levy’s prior tenants, and after he died, she acquired some of the property for herself and expanded a pleasure business of her own. Bush soon ran multiple rooms in the district, by then nicknamed “Levy’s Alley” after Davis, which she rented out by individual women known as “crib girls.” She was known not only as a successful businesswoman but also as a prominent citizen, and the Idaho Daily Statesman frequently wrote about her charitable acts for the poor and children in need. Bush also made important donations to the city and formed long-standing financial and “friendly” ties with the press and local law enforcement. These relationships were supplemented by expensive gifts such as a diamond-encrusted badge she gave to Boise police chief B. F. Francis and a $250 diamond ring to local journalist C. Miles. These gifts and activities both ensured and announced Bush’s prominent role in Boise, for which she earned the nickname “Queen Aggie.”

Agnes Bush stands out because she was a Black woman. As a prominent figure in the Boise community with ties to law enforcement, as well as significant property holdings and wealth, she stands as a curious anomaly in the history of the Treasure Valley and the broader region. Though there was white supremacist activity in the area given Boise’s proximity to Oregon (which white residents established officially as a white-only state in its 1859 constitution), Bush was a major player in her community. Indeed, local government and law enforcement typically tolerated sex workers in Boise until 1909, when national sentiments turned against the traditional practice of relegating sex workers to restricted districts in favor of completely expelling such para-legal practices in the name of public health. That year, Congress passed the Mann Act, and local Boise officials began targeting their city’s sex workers for fear of federal intervention.

After being run out of the city, Bush moved to Portland, Oregon to live with one of her sons while she suffered from partial paralysis. In 1910, the Statesman reported her death in Portland and revealed her “real name,” Frances Richardson. Despite how her story ended, Bush’s success and her ties to the community suggest the rich tapestry of people that comprised the state of Idaho’s early years and reflect the fascinating and dynamic time in which she lived.

Images

Parlor
Parlor Levy's Alley Parlor House, Main Street. Circa 1880. Source: Courtesy of the Idaho State Historical Society.
Restricted district ruins
Restricted district ruins Defunct Lodging House in the Alley, circa 1970. Torn down during the Urban Renewal Movement sweeping much of the country at the time. Source: Courtesy of the Idaho State Historical Society.
“A colored woman”
“A colored woman” Newspaper clipping from Idaho Daily Statesman, December 28, 1905. This outlines a conflict between Ms. Bush and her neighbor. The Statesman refers to Bush as “colored.” Source:

“Because of Grand Jury Testimony: Bottles Thrown at French Woman’s House.” Idaho Daily Statesman, December, 28, 1905.

Location

Main St & S 6th St, Boise, ID 83702 | This marks the intersection of Main Street and 6th Street. Levy’s Alley was by the 600 block of Main Street.

Metadata

Gabriel Herring, College of Idaho, “Queen Aggie: Boise’s Black Madam,” Intermountain Histories, accessed May 20, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/624.