Mayflower Madam

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

A society debutante whose family could be traced back to the Mayflower, Sydney Biddle Barrows led a relatively normal life as a child and young adult. After training at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, she worked in the fashion industry for a time. When she lost a job, she turned to part-time work, which changed her life. Her new job was answering phones for an escort service, a thinly veiled euphemism for a call-girl ring. Intrigued by the monetary possibilities of such a service, yet appalled by what she considered the blatant mismanagement of the operation, she and a friend decided to open their own service.

Focusing on elegance, discretion, and respect, her service, Cachet, catered to wealthy businessmen and diplomats. Over a span of five years, she built up a highly profitable business, which she ran by basic modern management techniques. Her service survived problems such as an epidemic of venereal disease but not her arrest for promoting prostitution.

Barrows provides details of how her operation was run, including the selection and training of her escorts and the screening of clients. She is clearly proud of her accomplishments, and she often speaks of the frustration of not being able to share the story of her success while she was operating.

Writing with honesty and openness, Barrows gives a fascinating look at the inner workings of a clandestine operation. While there is no explicit sex, many readers will be dismayed by her self-justification and the absence of any feelings of guilt. Her statements equating prostitution to the helping professions also will raise a few eyebrows.