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Polly Adler

(1900 - 1962)

ADLER, POLLY (Pearl; 1900–1962), U.S. author and owner of bordellos. The eldest of nine children of Gertrude Koval and Morris Adler, a tailor, Pearl Adler hoped to complete gymnasium studies in her native Belorussia. However, her father sent her to America to prepare the way for the immigration of the rest of the family. On her own in New York, she was raped at 17 by a sweatshop foreman and resorted to an abortion. Alienated from relatives, she learned to support herself in the sex industry, a survival necessity followed by a significant number of Jewish female immigrants from Eastern Europe. Unsuccessful in legitimate undertakings, Adler became a madam, operating a series of increasingly upscale brothels catering to gangsters and the fashionable upper classes. She retired in 1943 to Burbank, California, where she completed high school and enrolled in college courses. Her notoriety as the classic American madam, "a feisty, albeit disreputable, victor over adversity," was sealed by the publication of her popular memoir, A House Is Not a Home (1953) and its film version (1964).


A.M. Millin, "Adler, Polly," in: P.E. Hyman and D. Dash Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America, 1 (1997), 16–17.

[Judith R. Baskin (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.