Ninety years ago 14 year old Billie Holiday and her mother were arrested for prostitution following a raid of a brothel in Harlem.

Eleanora Fagan, as Billie Holiday’s real name sounded, was born on April 7, 1915, in Philadelphia, as the daughter of unwed teenage couple Sarah Julia “Sadie” Fagan and Clarence Holiday. Sarah had moved to Philadelphia aged 19, after she was evicted from her parents’ home in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore for becoming pregnant. With no support from her parents, she made arrangements with her older, married half-sister Eva Miller for Eleanora to stay with her in Baltimore. Not long after Eleanora was born, Clarence abandoned his family to pursue a career as a jazz banjo player and guitarist.
Eleanora frequently skipped school, and her truancy resulted in her being brought before the juvenile court for the first time on January 5, 1925, when she was only nine years old. She was sent to the House of the Good Shepherd, a Catholic reform school, where she was baptized on March 19, 1925. After nine months in care, she was “paroled” on October 3, 1925, to her mother. She had opened a restaurant, the East Side Grill, and mother and daughter worked long hours there. By the age of 11, Holiday had dropped out of school.
On December 24, 1926, Sadie came home to discover a neighbor, Wilbur Rich, attempting to rape Eleanora. She successfully fought back, and Rich was arrested. Officials placed Eleanora once again in the House of the Good Shepherd, this time under protective custody as a state witness in the rape case.
Holiday was released in February 1927, when she was nearly twelve. She found a job running errands in a brothel, and she scrubbed marble steps and kitchen and bathroom floors of neighborhood homes. By the end of 1928, Holiday’s mother moved to Harlem, New York, again leaving Eleanora with Martha Miller.
By early 1929, Holiday had joined her mother in Harlem. Their landlady was a sharply-dressed woman named Florence Williams, who ran a brothel at 151 West 140th Street. Holiday’s mother became a prostitute, and within a matter of days of arriving in New York, Holiday, not yet 14, also became a prostitute at $5 a client. The house was raided on May 2, 1929, and Holiday and her mother were sent to prison. After spending time in a workhouse, her mother was released in July, and Holiday was released in October. (Wikipedia)

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