The War on Vice

Graham Taylor

That the war on vice is a fight to the finish becomes constantly clearer. The campaigns waged against it are growing at once more extensive in area and more intensive locally. The variety and effectiveness of the attacks upon the strongholds of vice attest the versatility and the ability of the aggressors.

Latest and greatest of the war news from the front is that siege is being laid on the very citadel of vice by the Bureau of Social Hygiene in New York city. It proposes nothing less than the permanent and progressive investigation and disclosure of the sources from which vice springs and the social, moral, economic and political agencies which protect, perpetuate and promote it. To sap and mine ignorance, which is the last redoubt in which vice takes refuge, is the final stroke of strategy in this war without discharge.

Facing such an organization force and the Supreme Court's decision upholding the white slave law, the whole under world may well sound the alarm at the beginning of this turning of the light upon its darkness, of bringing knowledge to replace the ignorance on which it preys, and of enlisting the forces of public intelligence, medical science, civic patriotism and religion to act through education, legislation and police administration. If any force can overcome the persistence of the social evil and eradicate commercialized vice it is "the spirit which dominates the work of the bureau—not sensational, or sentimental, or hysterical, not a spirit of criticism of public officials, but essentially a spirit of constructive suggestion and of deep scientific, as well as humane, interest, in a great world problem."

In sorry contrast with this high-hearted, long-purposed, yet modest prospectus of a real scientific movement against vice, are the boastful, opinionated and unsupported conclusions which Samuel H. London, a Texas attorney, is reported to have alleged before the aldermanic committee of New York city. If his "seven years' investigation from Alaska to the Canal Zone," got no nearer the facts than he did in Chicago, his allegations in support of segregation are not to be taken seriously. For, every one in Chicago knows his assertion to be false that "in Chicago the police are not under civil service regulation." Upon this statement, absolutely contrary to fact, he bases his charge of "the unbelievable conditions of police graft." This he absurdly accounts for by asserting that "the police do not know how long they will last in the department," and "in consequence they collect graft daily from every person whose calling makes him liable to police extortion."

The fact is that the Chicago Civil Service Commission, to whose trial board every police officer is amenable, has within the past two years dismissed from the force thirty-six superior officers for failing to suppress practices of disorderly resorts which were in violation of the orders attempting to regulate the segregated district. It is because of the segregation of vice, and not because of the lack of civil service, that the Chicago police have been demoralized, though never to the extent to which the New York city police apparently have, according to the facts officially brought out from the time of the Lexow Committee to the time the sentence of death was pronounced upon former Police-Lieutenant Becker.

Both in New York and Chicago the organized effort to secure the enactment and enforcement of law goes on apace. One evidence of this is the vigorous report of the reorganized Committee of Fourteen showing real progress in its efforts to prosecute offenders against existing law, to amend defective laws, to secure the co-operation of brewers, owners and surety companies in closing evil resorts, and in formulating a definite legislative program especially emphasizing penalties for the misuse of property.

In Chicago the morals committee which is federating the vice-fighting agencies and the reconstituted Committee of Fifty with assistance from the neighboring headquarters of the American Vigilance Association will prove more than a match for the vacillating city administration and the inactive states attorney. Neither the police nor their political superiors dare to reopen the red light districts, though avowedly desirous of so doing. Meanwhile the law-abiding, law-en forcing agencies and people have an immense advantage in preventing the reopening of these resorts and districts, in contravention of the law, the supremacy of which has so happily been re-established.

The most notable report of a vice commission recently issued is that of Portland, Ore. It includes a series of reports issued since the commission's appointment in 1911. One of the series deals with the places of public resort and accommodation affected by the social evil. It concludes with the famous "tin-plate ordinance," which requires that "on the front of every building used, either in whole or in part, as a hotel, apartment house, rooming, lodging. boarding, tenement house, or saloon, there shall he. at the principal street entrance, a conspicuous plate or sign bearing the name and address of the owner or owners of such buildings." This, of course, greatly facilitates the apprehension and

(812) conviction of those responsible for violating the law against disorderly resorts.

This ordinance is reported to have had the effect of driving immoral people from the buildings they have occupied for years, because the owners were afraid to risk the publicity and responsibility of their presence and practices. Many of these buildings are now being remodeled and occupied by a better class of tenants.

Another report of the series deals with the legal and police aspect of the social evil which led to the enactment of the law for enjoining and abating houses of ill fame as nuisances. A bill was also recommended creating a morals court. Finding the division of responsibility a cause of inefficiency and corruption in the police department, the commission recommends the vesting of full authority over the department in one man, as the most effective way of handling the social evil problem. Study of the juvenile aspects of the social evil led to specific sources of vice and the beginnings of moral delinquency, and resulted in the recommendation that a child welfare commission be appointed, which should be "charged with the study of the general subject of juvenile life."

While realizing the desirability of requiring vice diseases to be reported and registered, the commission doubted whether public opinion would support the enforcement of such a law. It considered a vigorous campaign of education the most necessary step for the control of these diseases. It recommended, however, that all cases encountered in dispensaries, hospitals, juvenile and municipal courts, penal institutions, maternity hospitals, rescue homes, and all places of detention, should be officially reported. The commission also urged that the city contribute to the support of free dispensaries for the treatment of these diseases and that the Department of Health make tests for the diagnosis of these diseases without charge.

Wage scales were examined to determine the economic sources of the social evil and much interesting information was gathered. Human interest stories were revealed showing the need of a minimum wage for women workers, improved sanitation in shops and stores, shorter hours of labor, and industrial education.

The final report of the Portland Commission on segregation is in line with the conclusion reached by every other vice commission. To use the words of the commissioners "The history of every restricted district in the country has been the history of police and political corruption, of crime and bloodshed and scandal. Far from eliminating graft, such districts have proved the nursery of official blackmail, the central point from which the scheme of protection has reached out."

The commission records its emphatic opposition to segregation in Portland for the following reasons:  ,

"Segregation does not segregate; deals only with a small percentage of the sexually immoral; promotes and justifies professional prostitution; does not reduce clandestine immorality; helps to establish a double standard of morality by stigmatizing the woman and ignoring the moral responsibility of the man; rests on the false presumption that sexual immorality is necessary ; fosters the debauchery of the sex instinct; promotes the spread of disease; and affords official absolution for illegal and immoral conduct."

Perhaps the most significant assertion in the whole impressive report is this sentence: "When any considerable number of men question the necessity of an evil it marks the beginning of the end. It is here that this commission rests and finds justification of its labors."

State commissions for state-wide investigation of vice conditions and of the legal means of suppressing them have been initiated in Maryland and Illinois. In compliance with a recommendation of a recent grand jury sitting in Baltimore, Governor Goldsborough of Maryland, has appointed a vice commission of fifteen members, some of whom are women. There are also three to five associate members from the counties. The commissioners so far appointed include some medical specialists, two lawyers, two bankers, a merchant, a representative of the Bureau of Statistics, of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, of Jewish Charities, and J. W. Magruder of the Federated Charities. While there is no appropriation from public funds to meet the expenses of the commission, it is said the governor may aid its work by advances from his contingent fund.

The Senate of Illinois appointed a committee, consisting of the lieutenant-governor and four senators, to investigate vice conditions in every important city in the state. The resolution of the Senate creating the committee gives it broad powers to subpoena witnesses and compel testimony and the production of records and documents. It has power to punish those who re fuse to testify with imprisonment for contempt. It is said that the committee contemplates new laws which will give to state prosecutors as complete power within the state as the Mann Act gives the federal authorities in dealing with the transportation of women for immoral purposes across state lines. If this is effectively done, it will apply within state lines, the strength of the strongest statute dealing with commercialized vice, which the Mann Act has proved to be. This is just where the law has proved weakest, or its administration most ineffective, in protecting the people of each state.

Another state-wide investigation is proposed in the first bill reported favorably to the Massa-

(813) chusetts legislature by the Committee on the Social Welfare. Introduced by Representative Thomas J. Giblin, it provides for a commission of five to be appointed by the governor. This body is to investigate the white slave traffic and to report plans for preventing such existing evils as it finds. Authority is given to hold public hearings, administer oaths, require the attendance of witnesses and the producing of books and documents. No compensation is provided for the commission but necessary expenses are allowed. The commission is instructed to submit its report by January 10, 1914, together with such bills as it may believe are needed.

The Committee on Social Welfare of the legislature believed that the problem was limited to the large city but that the city, village, and country should come within the scope of the investigation. The friends of the measure are expecting its enactment and feel that if the attitude of the committee may be taken as any index of the work of the proposed commission, the investigation will be most thorough.


  1. See The Survey, October 26, 1912, Fighting Vice In Chicago.

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