The Sally Stanford Story

"Sinners never give up!" declared Sally Stanford, after losing her first political campaign.

Even during a century when women got the vote, danced in jazz clubs, built war-time battleships, and cracked the glass ceiling in business and politics, Sally Stanford broke more rules than most. She married seven times—but never to a Stanford—used more than two dozen names, beat seventeen arrests, and sued a famous businessman for non-payment.

At age seven, she convinced local golfers to let her work as a caddy. During the period when Al Capone was machine-gunning fellow bootleggers, she fed salty roast chickens to her speakeasy customers to heighten their thirst. Investing Prohibition profits in Tenderloin hotels, she polished her rough edges and climbed uphill (Nob Hill) to become San Francisco’s most successful madam. She kicked out Humphrey Bogart for disorderly conduct, welcomed Errol Flynn, and entertained delegates to the 1945 United Nations organizing conference.

In the 1950s, she retired from the bordello with a multi-million dollar fortune, joined the Chamber of Commerce, supported Little League and Guide Dogs for the Blind. She rehabilitated "Valhalla," transforming it from bay-front dive to plush restaurant. It became the place to see and be seen. Patrons included Harry Bridges, Marlon Brando, Bing Crosby and Lucille Ball. Never resting on last year's success, Sally entered politics as a pro-business candidate for Sausalito City Council. She lost five times before winning three. In her final campaign (1976), she was the top vote-getter.

And thus, the madam became Mayor.

Did you know Sally?

I am a San Francisco-based historian & sleuth researching a biography of this legendary character, and I'd love to hear from you. With your permission, I'll post some stories to this site, but if you'd prefer to keep it discreet, that's OK too.