Mayflower Madam: Ho, Hum

Photo: Bettman/Corbis


The remarkable thing about the Mayflower Madam, the New York Post’s brilliant sobriquet for Sydney Biddle Barrows, is that she managed to exist at the center of one of the city’s biggest sex scandals with an almost complete absence of shame. A young woman in Manhattan, even one with a Mayflower pedigree, has to make a living. Fired from May Company in the recessionary late seventies, ­Barrows took the only job that presented itself—answering the phone at an escort service—and the rest of her Pilgrim’s Progress is history. Very respectable history. In truth, Barrows displayed a quiver of Colonial virtues—humility, resourcefulness, honesty (of a kind)—in her administration of the high-end escort service Cachet, and after the police had closed in, she held her head high. “I ran the wrong sort of business,” she told the Boston Globe, “but I did it with integrity.” (Of course, her flawless features and blonde bob didn’t hurt.) Barrows’s matter-of-­factness about her life story made her seem as wholesome as Marlo Thomas in That Girl, and much wiser.

From the Archives: ‘The Story of the Mayflower Madam’ (December 10, 1984)

Download the Complete History of Scandals [PDF]

Mayflower Madam: Ho, Hum