Report of the Superintendent (1917)

Samuel P. Thrasher

Mr. President, Officers, Directors and Members of the Committee of Fifteen:


The Committee of Fifteen is engaged in war, not with Germany, but with commercialized vice in Chicago. At the beginning of this, my fourth annual report, I repeat what I have said many times, the Committee is directing its full force against commercialized prostitution and is not devoting time, energy or money in attempting to make people good by law.

The Committee is waging war on the pimp, the pander, the keeper of a house of prostitution, the owner or agent who leases property for immoral purposes ; in fact, on any one who makes money from the sale of virtue. It is destroying the market places for traffic in women. The Committee believes that the time will come when the money nerve in this system of vice will be severed.

With the understanding, then, that the purpose of the Committee of Fifteen is the ultimate suppression of commercialized vice, I will undertake to record what the Committee has accomplished during the past twelve months.


The Committee has no unusual or occult methods of operation. It employs trained investigators to gather facts and uses the facts in every way that intelligence, experience, and the law will permit in order to accomplish its purpose, always having in mind the possibility of interference by political chicaners, corrupt police, shyster lawyers, professional bondsmen, and grafters, as well as the parties in interest. When sufficient facts are obtained, they are collated and arranged in a manner to withstand any assault. I think the Committee merits congratulation that not a case has been taken into court on its initiative where conviction did not follow.

Briefly, the chief merit of the Committee's methods is thoroughness—thoroughness in gathering facts, thoroughness in collating and using them, thoroughness in everything it does—and I am not too modest to say that the Committee of Fifteen has acquired a reputation for thoroughness. It is generally understood that if the

( 5) Committee of Fifteen says a thing is so, it is so. I shall speak more particularly of our method in using the Injunction law, under that head.


The Committee of Fifteen was instrumental in securing the ,enactment of the Injunction and Abatement law by the Forty-ninth General Assembly. This law has proved to be a powerful weapon for the suppression of commercialized vice.

During the present session of the legislature, the Committee was responsible for the introduction of two bills. One was an amendment to the Pandering law which broadens its scope and makes it more effective against male prostitutes, who have become active in soliciting to prostitution since street soliciting by women has been so largely reduced. The law contains the words, "Who shall procure any female person who has not previously practiced prostitution." The amendment eliminates the clause, "Who has not previously practiced prostitution." "Female person" includes the prostitute as well as the innocent girl.

The other bill is an amendment to the Injunction law for the purpose of correcting a misconception regarding preliminary procedure. The proposed amendment in no way affects the law as to penalties, but enables its execution without the burdensome procedure required by the decision from the Appellate Court.

The Juvenile Protective Association caused the introduction of a bill known as the Dance Hall bill, the object of which is to eliminate the sale of liquor from dance halls. The Committee gladly rendered such assistance as it could in support of that measure.

The field of operation of the Committee of Fifteen is Chicago. Its experience, however, has proved of value to other states in securing constructive legislation.


As already stated, the Injunction and Abatement law has proved to be a forceful weapon for the suppression of commercialized vice. The Committee has an effective system for its execution. The first move after securing sufficient evidence to warrant action is to send an informal

( 6) notice to the owner. If he is careless or defiant, the formal notice is served as required by law. If he persists in permitting his property to be used illegally, application is made for an injunction to close the house against its use for any purpose for a period of one year.

During the year, we have procured evidence against one hundred seventy (170) places and have sent to the owners of each property the informal notice. It is gratifying to report that one hundred nineteen (119) of these owners have taken such action as to make it unnecessary to serve the formal notice. Fifty-one (51) formal notices have been personally served on that number of owners who have not heeded the informal notice. In the formal notice we say :

"* * * You are hereby notified that if the nuisance complained of is not by you abated and wholly discontinued within a reasonable time after the expiration of such five days, the undersigned, a citizen and resident of the City of Chicago, will file a petition for a temporary injunction and a bill in equity in the name of the People of the State of Illinois, in a court of competent jurisdiction in Cook County, perpetually to enjoin you and all persons from maintaining or permitting the said nuisance, and from using or permitting to be used said building, apartment, or place in which said nuisance is maintained, for any purpose for a period of one year."

This has been so effective as to make it necessary to apply for only six (6) injunctions, which have been granted and are now in force.

No one should be misled. It is not so .simple as it might seem from reading this brief statement. In the first place, evidence must be obtained, evidence sheets read and analyzed, and the court records checked off, in order to be prepared to meet every denial before action is taken. In every case there are from four to a dozen or more evidence sheets. Assuming that there are but six, it would require a careful analysis of more than one thousand reports. In addition to this, new evidence must be obtained after the informal notice is sent. We frequently check off all previous work to ascertain its effectiveness. We are also obliged to obtain additional evidence after the formal notice has

( 7) been served before application is made for an injunction. It is apparent, therefore, that considerable systematic effort is required to obtain the results which we are able to report.

Some of the first injunctions issued were not permanently disposed of until within the last sixty days, when final decrees issued from the court and bonds were given in three instances conditioned that the owners would themselves keep the properties free from immoral use. One house, the most notorious in the lot, was torn down. We consented to a dismissal of the case.

It is gratifying to report that the attacks upon the constitutionality of this law have failed, the court having sustained the law in its entirety.


I am pleased to report that in a large majority of cases we have received splendid coöperation on the part of owners and agents. Now it is not true that in most cases owners deliberately rent their properties for immoral use and receive exorbitant rents therefor. I venture to say that ninety per cent. of all the owners and agents with whom we have dealt are sincerely desirous of keeping their properties respectable. Many of them do not use the care they might and should regarding applicants for tenancy. They could avoid much trouble, and in the end save money, by greater precaution.

A few owners and agents are careless or defiant and at times drastic treatment is necessary to bring them to terms. There is less opposition than formerly, as the reputation of the Committee for fairness as well as thoroughness is becoming established.

I have advocated and am still advocating that the real estate owners and agents organize a reference bureau, or, under some suitable name, an organization to which all applicants not known to the renting party should be referred for indorsement. Such an organization, supported by all the real estate owners and agents of Chicago, would require a slight assessment, but would prove profitable to the owner.


Difficult as it has become to obtain convicting evidence against panders, the Pandering law is still effective. The penalty of a thousand dollar

( 8) fine and a year's imprisonment has kept down the number of cases of pandering at a more or less established minimum. During the year ending April 30, 1917, twenty-two (22) persons were convicted and punished by fine and imprisonment. The total amount of fines and costs was nine thousand dollars ($9,000.00), or an average of four hundred nine dollars ($409.00) per person ; and their total term of imprisonment was seventeen (17) years, or an average of nine (9) months and one (1) week per person. Few of these cases would have been brought to the attention of the court but for the vigilance of the Committee's special officer.


The Kate Adams Law was enacted by the Forty-ninth General Assembly. It provides for the commitment of persons who are convicted of being inmates of houses of ill fame or of soliciting to prostitution. The law was intended as a remedial measure rather than a punitive one. The utter futility of fining prostitutes became apparent long ago to all who had given the matter serious thought and it was hoped that this commitment law would give an opportunity to extend real aid to the unfortunate victims of the vice system. It was thought by many of us that its scope would be even broader than its phraseology indicated, and that a keeper, male or female, of a house of prostitution would be classed as an inmate if residing within the house. This has been realized to some extent, as many keepers have been booked and sentenced as inmates of houses of prostitution. Some judges have so interpreted the law and several male keepers have been convicted and punished under it.

In a recent appeal, the Supreme Court rendered an opinion which is a bit disheartening to us and encouraging to male keepers and inmates of houses of prostitution. The opinion contains this surprising statement :

"The term, ‘an inmate of a house of ill-fame or prostitution,’ refers to one who is there for the purpose of plying her business, and necessarily refers to a woman."

As soon as this opinion was rendered, our counsel took the matter up with the State's

( 9) Attorney and the Attorney General, and a petition was filed for a rehearing. The petition was denied.

The law reads :

"Whoever is an inmate of a house of ill-fame or assignation or place for the practice of fornication or prostitution or lewdness, etc."

If a male resides in such a house, even though he does not himself practice prostitution or lewdness, he should, I believe, be subject to the penalties of this law. When we have so much evidence of the practice of soliciting to prostitution by males and the revolting evidence of pervert acts by males in these houses, it seems strange indeed that the law should be interpreted by any court to mean only females. Had this opinion been rendered a few weeks earlier, it might have been possible to have amended the law, defining inmates and making such an opinion impossible.

The law, however, has been of great value in the work of suppressing commercialized vice. It has had a tremendous influence in decreasing soliciting by women on the streets. Many prostitutes and their pimps have left the city rather than stand trial under this law. Its constitutionality has been upheld.


All the space available for this report could be utilized in citing facts pertaining to individual cases, but there is so much else to be said that I will refer to only a few of the more outstanding among them.


A notorious resort, known as Pearl Morton's, at 2249 South Wabash Avenue, had been a menace to the morals of Chicago for many years. It was commonly reported that she was immune from prosecution. How she managed it few beside herself knew, but all sorts of stories about graft and police protection went the rounds. With sufficient evidence to warrant it, we served the formal notice under the Injunction law in June, 1916. We obtained an Injunction on July 8th, but were unable to get personal service until the 28th. Some time in August there was evidence that the place was closed. Later the keeper moved and the house stood vacant for some time.

( 10) Recently it was torn down. This is only one of scores which have been razed to avoid the consequences of the law.


Libby Martin, with her pull, was a conspicuous figure in the underworld for a long time. The Committee was responsible for moving her four times. A year ago last fall, a warrant was issued for her arrest under the Kate Adams law. The case was bandied about the courts from one judge to another, upon one pretext or another, until it became so farcical that the courts yielded to our insistence for trial. Her bond of one thousand dollars was forfeited and reinstated on at least two occasions. Finally, she was brought into court, tried and convicted.

For several months Libby Martin has been in Detroit. Reports indicated that when the first attack was made upon the resort which she controlled, she had ten or a dozen girls. Gradually the number was reduced until when she was arrested the last time she had only two. She thinks she was the subject of much persecution. We think she was tolerated all too long.


So much has been printed in the newspapers about the Cadillac Hotel that it seems superfluous to call attention to it. It was a vicious resort on the South Side, where liquors were sold without a license and where commercialized prostitution was the chief enterprise. We served notice upon the owners under the Injunction law, simultaneously with the issuance of warrants for the arrest of the three proprietors of the place. At about the same time a raid was organized, the Committee rendering assistance to the police in obtaining and collating evidence which was sufficient to convict the proprietors. This case is all the more worthy of note because of the attitude and opinion of the judge in pronouncing sentence. In reference to the position of the Committee of Fifteen, the court said:

"* * * 1 have found that they are not standing in this court in the position of prosecutors. * * * Their aim is to make Chicago a cleaner, better, healthier city to live in ; to rid it of all places such as the Cadillac has been, and all others that are continually undermining the morals of this city."

( 11) To the accused the judge said:

"* * * You are now found guilty. You may be punished now. I am merely deferring the entry of the sentence. * * * Should you gentlemen, or any one of you, be brought before me under conditions which will justify the termination of the probation, it will mean a jail sentence just as sure as you are standing before me now. * * *"

Referring again to our assistance in the matter, he said :

"* * * I wish to say to Mr. Thrasher and to the officers of the Committee of Fifteen and of the Juvenile Protective Association, that I appreciate the aid that you have given the Court. * * * I think work of that kind, especially in the spirit in which it is done, is deserving of public commendation."

The Cadillac Hotel has since been used as a men's hotel. No evidence to the contrary has been obtained by our investigators.


Early in July I received a complaint from a man of more or less prominence in Chicago, stating that a relative of a friend had answered an ad in the Daily News for girls to serve as fashion models. An appointment was made with her in the Steinway Building, and there the fact was revealed that the man was seeking girls for immoral purposes. I asked if the girl would be willing to testify and he said no, he simply wanted to have us find out the facts. An investigation resulted in the arrest of Lewis, who was tried and convicted.


There is cause for real rejoicing in the reforms which have taken place in the police department. The sequence of events shows the part the Committee of Fifteen played in bringing about these results. It will be remembered that in my last Annual Report, I said :

"It is not a pleasant task for me to voice the sentiment of the Committee of Fifteen, in public utterance, against the

(12)  police department * * * but the time has come when this Committee, in possession of incontrovertible facts, cannot remain silent regarding the inefficiency and positive corruption which have been revealed in the police department."

After citing special instances showing corruption and inefficiency on the part o f the police, I continued :

"The Committee has concluded that it will in the future use its utmost endeavor to secure evidence and expose policemen who are engaged in what may be properly called official pandering. Every one found guilty of such practice should be punished to the full extent of the law."

In the early summer of 1916, we found the vice interests were regaining a footing in the old Twenty-second Street district. Some of the old places, such as Buxbaum's, The Capital, Freiberg's Dance Hall, and others, were controlled by old-time vice lords, who were giving evidence of an utter disregard of law and police authority. Having found sufficient evidence to warrant action against twenty-two vicious resorts in or in close proximity to the old red light district on the South Side, the Committee authorized the President to address a letter to Mayor Thompson, naming the places, citing conditions, and requesting the revocation of several licenses. In that letter the Committee said :

"We wish to call Your Honor's attention to another very serious phase of this bad situation. Not long ago this Committee gave out a list of places in the district against which it had evidence and of which it is now complaining. The General Superintendent of Police was quoted in the newspapers as saying:

" ‘I know the lid is tighter than ever in the history of the district. Let me find any infractions -and you shall see how quickly I will remedy them. I have been working successfully to improve conditions there and such charges are unfounded.’

"Such an utterance from such a source is inexplicable in view of the facts as we know them. If the police officials do not know of the conditions which

(13)  exist in that district, they must be classified as incompetent ; if they do know them and refuse or neglect to act, then a much worse charge is fully warranted by the facts. It is for them to choose the horn of the dilemma on which to be impaled, as the impaling process is inevitable."

The letter was delivered by President Crowell in person, after an interview of some length, during which the intent and purpose of the Committee of Fifteen were clearly stated to the Mayor. The letter was referred to the Corporation Counsel, who, after investigation, seemed to think that some of the statements in our reports were exaggerated and requested the privilege of sending a man of his own choosing with our investigators to make a separate report. This was granted and the report of his special investigator revealed the fact that our reports were extremely conservative.

The Mayor revoked the licenses, and Chief Healey suspended two captains who were in charge of the districts involved. The evidence of our investigators was demanded at their trials. Both captains were found inefficient, fined, and transferred to other districts.

One of them went to the State's Attorney's office and revealed certain facts regarding Chief Healey. Then and there a fuse was lighted which has exploded several bombs already. Unless I am misinformed, there are other bombs still connected with that fuse. The former chief has been indicted on various charges and is awaiting trial ; several captains, lieutenants, and others of lower rank, have been suspended and either dismissed or are now awaiting the action of the Trial Board. Opinions differ as to the methods employed by the State's Attorney, but I wish to be recorded as saying that the State's Attorney should be commended for his relentless warfare on vice promoters and grafters within the police department.

There seems to be a real desire on the part of the new, police heads to purge the department of the disloyal men and criminal parasites who have infested it so long. Progress in that direction is being made. Chief Schuettler, First Deputy Westbrook, and Second Deputy Funkhouser, should receive every encouragement from all who desire an honest and efficient police department.

( 14)

During the year 1914, the Second Deputy's office, under Major Funkhouser, did splendid work for the city in suppressing commercialized vice, but when he was ruthlessly shorn of his power, against protests and appeals from those who were in a position to know the facts, the vice interests became active and defiant, while the police department became inactive and connivant. It has taken strenuous efforts on the part of loyal public servants and the Committee of Fifteen and other social `service organizations, and many expressions from Chicago's quickened conscience, to prevent the forces of evil from retaking their old trenches and establishing a rule of lawlessness. The tide has turned and there is promise of better things for Chicago.


The chief objections made against work of this character are that "it scatters prostitutes all over the city" and that "nice sections are being ruined by the influx of immoral women." My answer to these objections is, if it were all true, it should not change our attitude in the least. The more respectable and well-to-do a neighborhood is, the better equipped it is to prevent the inroads of vice. There is no legal or moral justification for giving consent to the prevalence of vice in one neighborhood and objecting to it in another. I recently heard an intelligent business man say, "It is a crime to drive these prostitutes out into respectable residential districts." In reply, I said, "It is a crime to leave them to ply their trade in any residential district." The poorer neighborhoods, which are infested with vicious resorts, are as "respectable" in many senses as are the districts so often referred to as reputable residential districts. If it were all true it should not change the attitude of the Committee of Fifteen toward segregated vice. But it is not true. That prostitutes are opening up houses in some sections of the city is true, but they have always been doing that. Generally speaking, there is no more vice in the residential districts than there was during the days when vice was rampant. The public conscience is alert and houses of ill-fame are discovered and talked about today as they were not a few years ago. The Committee of Fifteen will be pleased to receive reliable information concerning any questionable resort in any part of Chicago and will do its best to correct conditions.

( 15)

Our attitude should be that all sections of the city are respectable. If we find them otherwise, we should make them respectable. We certainly should not make any district or ourselves disreputable by recommending the concentration of vice in any particular spot outside of hades.


It has been my privilege to address forty-eight (48) meetings of one sort or another relative to the work of the Committee of Fifteen, and I note with pleasure an increasing interest in the reports of the Committee's activities. Real civic pride in the betterment of moral conditions already realized is being manifested in all parts of Chicago.

I have also been called upon to make addresses concerning the work of the Committee in Gary and Indianapolis, Indiana; St. Louis, Missouri; Lexington, Kentucky ; Bloomington, Illinois, and elsewhere; and have been obliged to decline invitations to go to New York, California, and other states, where people desired to hear of the Committee's work.


I have been saying in all my public addresses that Chicago's conscience was awakened by the publication of the report of the Vice Commission in 1911. From the introduction and summary of that report I quote :

"We believe that Chicago has a public conscience which, when aroused, cannot be easily stilled—a conscience built upon moral and ethical teachings of the purest American type — a conscience which when aroused to the truth will instantly rebel against the social evil in all its phases."

Chicago's conscience was then awakened. It has not been stilled since, and I am expressing the belief that it is so thoroughly aroused that it can never be stilled until commercialized vice in Chicago shall be no more. Chicago's official conscience is also being pricked at the moment, and if that becomes awakened, it will aid materially in saving Chicago permanently from the thralldom of viciousness. If these two public consciences can be aroused to the right kind of

( 16) coöperative activity for the constant and persistent repression of prostitution, with absolute annihilation as the ultimate ideal, it will presage a blessed day for Chicago.


In concluding this report, I would be neglectful indeed did I not express my sincere appreciation to the officers and all members of the Committee for their loyal support in the intensive duties assigned me. I cannot find words to express my gratitude to President Crowell and other directors for their patience in listening to me when I have felt the need of their counsel, and for their painstaking advice on matters of importance to the Committee. The fact that the Committee has made no mistake worthy of note is not due to the wisdom of your Superintendent so much as to that of the Advisory Board—Mr. Crowell, Mr. Rosenwald, and Mr. Sims—who have had a large part in steering the Committee through the danger zones which are inevitably in its course. It is my pleasurable duty to tell them and the Committee how much I appreciate their advice and assistance.

There has been no change in our office force and everything is working smoothly. It has become necessary to make a complete change in our investigating staff. It is remarkable that we were able to keep a number of our men nearly three years. Although it will be difficult to secure new men who will be as reliable and efficient, it can be done. I do not understand that any change of policies or plans is contemplated and I am not recommending any.

We should not fail to recognize the coöperation and assistance received from the social service organizations whose lines of activity have temporarily converged with those of the Committee.

Nothing has occurred during the year which should deter the Committee from doing its utmost to carry into further and more successful operations its well conceived policy for the suppression of commercialized vice.

Respectfully submitted,


No notes

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