Book Review: Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush

Image description: The book is red and features 5 black and white historical photos of women from the gold rush era. The book sets facing outward on a full shelf of books.

I’ve been to Alaska a few times and I’ve always loved learning about the history of the Alaska and Yukon Gold Rushes. On my last trip to the state, I found myself in the history section of a book shop and just had to pick this one!

First published in 1999, “Good Time Girls” is a lovely gem. The author, Lael Morgan, covers the good time girls and the far North gold rushes from the late 1800’s to around the 1930’s and into the final decline of sex worker lines in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Morgan relies heavily on newspaper reports from the territories along with personal letters and accounts to bring light and life to the men and women that fought for fortune in one of the most rugged places on earth. The book also includes a plethora of fascinating black and white photos that are collected throughout the text, and for those alone I love flipping through this book again and again.

Several of the chapters are dedicated to one woman or man, notably Klondike Kate Rockwell, Georgia Lee, Tom Marquam, and Edith Neile. Other chapters cover topics like suicide, sex workers who married “respectable” men, legal issues of the time, and daily living conditions in gold rush towns or along the trails. The text before the notes section reaches 321 pages, a hefty order of red lights, cribs, and dance halls.

I loved this book, but be warned: it is a history book. Some reviewers lament it can be a tedious read, but I found the draw of the colorful characters and heartbreaking trials compelling enough to make it through the dry spots. I have also read far more tedious history books, even ones about sex, so I would actually rate this moderate on the tedious scale, if such a notion exists.

True enough, this is a tome of local history. Having been to many of the small towns mentioned in this book certainly adds a texture to the stories. But I would recommend this as a worthwhile read to anyone interested in the allure of the Far North, and the good time girls that made the adventure just a little warmer, sweeter, and of course, sexier.

This book has a dear place on my bookshelf. For now I shall leave you with a quote from Lillian of the Fairbanks operation: “Guys, if you’re not ready, don’t stand in line!”

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