Santa Cruz County History - People

A Walk Through Time: Mary "Maria" McDermott
by Janet Krassow and
by Randy Krassow

"Maria" was a tough little Irish lass who worked the saloons of Santa Cruz during the wild years of the 1870s. Her colorful lifestyle made her one of the most successful practitioners of the world's oldest profession to ever ply their trade in the county.

Her real name was Mary McDermott and she was born in Stone Pew, Ireland. She left her native land during the great famine that devastated the country. In 1866, "Maria" arrived in Santa Cruz in the company of her brother who was a successful druggist.

Photograph of the Remembrance Garden at Santa Cruz Memorial Park
Remembrance Garden at Santa Cruz Memorial Park

She first found employment at a restaurant, and then went into a saloon as a waitress, but before long she followed the path of prostitution. She quickly generated the funds to open her house on Front Street, in the infamous Red Light district. As one of the city's most celebrated madams, "Maria" was able to prosper from the wages of sin to such a degree that she could afford to send $3,000 dollars a year to her widowed mother back in Ireland.

In 1881, she fell in with a ne'er-do-well named Tim Collins, who she supported for the next couple of years. After he left her, she took to drinking and slipped deeper and deeper into alcoholism. She died on December 11, 1883, a tired old woman at the age of forty.

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