Sunday, July 20, 2008

Victorian Era Prostitution in the US: Part II of III

PART II: Preacher Intervention

The situation in Chicago’s Levee District was horrendous. Something needed to be done. The fall of 1901 saw Chicago hosting the National Purity Congress.

Some attendees were …

Moody Bible Institute, Cook County Juvenile Court, Jane Addams’ Hull House, the Anti-Saloon League, Graham Taylor’s Chicago Commons, the Pacific Garden Mission (they led Chicago White Stockings player, Billy Sunday, to the Lord), and more. There were delegates from nearly all 50 states, England, Holland, France, Canada, and India.

The three day congress was held at the First Methodist Church (Clark & Washington Streets, Chicago, IL). The conference was a success in spite of Mrs. Steadwell’s (wife of Northwestern Purity Association president) purse being snatched by two men.

Enter: Reverend Ernest Albert Bell.

Bell wanted to be a missionary in India and establish an Oxford-type university there. He wrote letters to Andrew Carnegie and Stanley McCormick asking for assistance, but to no avail. In 1897 as Bell was leaving Chicago Theological Seminary, he was propositioned by a young woman. From that night on, Bell’s goals changed. His friends bought him a bordello in the heart of Chicago’s Levee District and Beaulah Home … a rescue mission … was established. (I truly enjoy the irony of Bell buying a bordello to rescue prostitutes!) Bell’s saints were ready for their crusade.

Some were scandalized that Bell would actually work out of a former Bordello … yet, others could see the wisdom in this decision.

We have struck a blow for Jesus!
~ English evangelist Gypsy Smith

In Chicago our God lurks everywhere.
In the elevated train’s husky roar …
in the humid mists of summer by the lake.
~ Father Andrew Greeley

Bell understood politics and knew he had to make some sort of intervention within the internal political workings of the city. Somehow he had to deal with organized crime who paid off the police, mayor, and other officials handsomely. Actually, Minna & Ada Everleigh would have been thrilled with this as they paid these gangsters money every month (all types of businesses … what we would consider legitimate & illegitimate … paid these bullies off each month for the priviledge of working … otherwise buildings just might be set on fire, a “mysterious” robbery would occur, folks would be beaten up, etc.).

Victor Lawson, the Chicago Daily News publisher, contributed to Bell’s work along with others.

Bell began to speak out on the results German scientists recently discovered on the bacterium causing syphilis and its devastating consequences. This did not sit well with those in the visible Church. They did not want those things discussed. Yet, Bell knew these women were … ultimately … the ones that would be hurt. They needed to make informed decisions.

Bell caused even more uproar within the visible Church when he began to address the White Slavery issue. Too many Christians still wanted to ignore it. So, Bell carried on and began to have nightly open-air meetings outside the Levee District’s cathouses.

Bell also began to address those legitimate business owners that claimed to be Christian. They were not paying women a livable wage. As a result, they were selling themselves in order to provide for their families.

Enter: Lawyer Clifford Griffith Roe.

On 25 May 1907 Roe, Chicago’s youngest assistant state’s attorney, received a message from Captain Edward McCann of the Harrison Street police station who told him they had a girl at the station that claimed she was sold as a white slave.

There is not a life that this social evil
does not menance. There is not a daughter,
or a sister, who may not be in danger.
~ Clifford Roe

Mona Marshall had worked at the ribbon counter at Marshall Field’s Department Store. She was given something to drink one evening by a man called Harry Balding that tasted bitter. The next night she woke up in a strange place and was surrounded by people she did not know. Her story got worse (I shall not repeat it here).

Roe soon joined the good Reverend Bell to fight.

9 October 1906: National Purity Conference

Bell’s work, with the help of attorney Roe prosecuting cases, was making headway.

This conference was held in the brand new Abraham Lincoln Center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for his uncle, the minister. Delegates attended from all over.

Mayor Dunne gave the welcoming address.

More and more were taking notice of what was happening.

The visible church in the Victorian Era seemed to be reduced to many rules and regulations. Yes, there were many Christians during this time frame doing good things on an individual and small group level, but … overall … it would seem most had reduced Christianity to a bunch of dos and don’ts while wallowing in moralistic romanticism (e.g., the Pollyanna series, wealthy & priviledged Elsie Dinsmore being “traumatized” because ink spilled on her penmanship exercise or because her father asked her to play the piano on Sunday while her poorer peers did not have enough to eat Sunday or any other day and having her female servants work on a Sunday waiting on her, maudlin poetry, etc.).

Bell and others confronted the evil.

He shamed so-called “Christian” businessmen and pointed out how they were not paying females (girls & women) a livable wage … so much so that they thought they had to supplement their income by any means possible … or die.

… The Third part of the Victorian Era prostition saga would cover Legislation

Buy Sin in the Second City!

~ From the notes of Lady Victorian Historian