|Gravestone of Clara Bedell & family|
|San Francisco around the time "Diamond Carrie" ran her business|
Clara Bedell was a well-known madame in San Francisco in the latter part of the 19th century. She went by the name Carrie McLay, but was best known as “Diamond Carrie.” Her nickname apparently came from her penchant for owning beautiful jewels, especially diamonds.
Clara Bedell was a native of Silvercreek Mills, Iowa and was born into a family of farmers. It’s unclear exactly when her family arrived in California, but records show that she ran her business for at least ten years and the family appears in the 1880 city directory.
Diamond Carrie’s “house of ill-repute” was located at the current location of the Prada store near Union Square on Post Street in downtown San Francisco. She would have been one of highest paid women in San Francisco, as well as one with freedoms that most other women didn’t have. Those would include the right to own property, use of birth control, ability to have sex freely and the right to mix with other races. Twenty years after her death, the average prostitute in the West made around $50 per week, more than double what the average male skilled laborer made and triple what the average woman earned. Newspaper accounts describe her as a woman with “considerable executive ability.”
Shortly before her death she found the body of a 29-year-old man named Beauregard McMullin of Fresno, who was the son of a well-known Northern California family. A month later in the same building, “Diamond Carrie” was found dead in her room by her housekeeper. Apparently, unable to sleep, she mixed opium with some wine and overdosed. Witnesses say that she had been drinking champagne all day.
Her estate was valued at $25,000, a substantial sum for time, especially for a woman. Her estate included her property and usual belongings, as well as a substantial amount of her beloved jewelry. She gave many of her belonging to family, as well as gifts to her “China boys.”
Three years after her death she was in the news again when her name appeared as the benefiary of a $10,000 life insurance policy from a judge named R.S. Mesick.
Both Bedell’s will and the judge’s insurance policy were contested.