Josephine Airey was an Irish-born American prostitute, madam, and proprietor of brothels, dance halls, a variety theater, and saloons in Helena, Montana. She eventually became the most influential landowner in Helena. She was also known as "Chicago Joe" Hensley following her marriage to James T. Hensley.
Josephine was born Mary Welch in Ireland in 1844. When she emigrated to New York in 1858, she changed her name to Josephine Airey. She held a menial job, but this soon bored her, so she moved to Chicago where she took up prostitution. In 1867, she quit Chicago and moved out west to the newly-established gold mining town of Helena, Montana. With the money she had saved from her earnings, she opened a hurdy-gurdy house, which quickly became a success due to its appeal to the local miners who formed the bulk of her clientele. Josephine herself was a prostitute before her days of power in Helena, but this was short-lived work because it never provided enough money to support her. Although she did open a very small brothel in Chicago her greatest success were not until she moved to Helena. The Helena gold rush of 1864 caused Josephine to leave Chicago in hopes of capitalizing off of the successes of others.
Josephine was famed for her lavish style of dress, lifestyle and parties she and her husband regularly gave.
She began to be known by the nickname of "Chicago Joe" Hensley. Josephine began to rent her numerous properties to other businesses, making her the most influential landowner in Helena. Her wealth and influence enabled her to donate to charities and political campaigns.
At the height of her success Chicago Joe owned the Red Light Saloon, The Grand Bordello, The Coliseum Variety Theater, and various other businesses in the town. At one point she was the largest landowner in the entire Red Light district. These buildings she owned were not shacks, but large event centers that could host parties as well as serve their intended purposes.
Josephine died of pneumonia on October 25, 1899. The citizens of Helena gave her a magnificent funeral with many speeches praising her accomplishments. In the final years of her life she lived under meager conditions. The glory of her early days had been dried up in the panic of 1893. Her death saddened the community and made front-page news. Her generosity was noted and she was buried in the cemetery at a catholic church. She died of pneumonia.∼Other names: Mary Welch, Josephine Airey, and "Chicago Joe."
Wife of James T. "Black Hawk" Hensley. Jo died from pneumonia.
James T. Hensley
1850–1910 (m. 1878)