38 Years Protecting Human Values on the Civic Front in Chicago

Committee of Fifteen

A Chronological Record of Accomplishment
The Committee of Fifteen 1907-1945

1. In 1907 Chicago was startled out of its usual attitude of indifference toward commercialized vice by a series of shocking revelations which indicated that it was the center of organized traffic in women. In response to public demand that responsible citizens do something about flagrant vice a small group of five men organized themselves into a committee, raised a modest sum of money and supported special investigations and prosecutions instituted through the State’s Attorney’s office.

2. It was this group which later enlarged its membership and was incorporated (not for profit) in 1911 as the Committee of Fifteen and still later in 1913 created a Board of Directors numbering fifty of Chicago’s civic leaders.

3. Note carefully the following brief summary of the results which followed the earnest attempt of this group to improve the vice situation.

a. In 1908 a Federal Act (The Mann Act) to prevent illicit traffic in women was passed.

b. In 1909 the first law against pandering in this State was placed upon the statute books by the Illinois Legislature largely though the activity of this Committee.

c. In 1910, moved by what had taken place in Chicago, a Special Grand Jury was appointed in New York to investigate the “White Slave” traffic in that

( 2) state. In the same year the Vice Commission of Chicago was appointed.

d. In 1911 the Bureau of Social Hygiene was established in New York as a result of the Grand Jury investigation. This same year the Vice Commission of Chicago issued its famous report on local conditions.

e. In 1912 the Mayor, largely under pressure exerted by the Committee of Fifteen, began to close some of the most disorderly houses of prostitution in the “Red Light District.” The Chicago Tribune of August 24, 1912 stated after noting the closing of these disorderly houses, “The owners included some of the most notorious dive keepers in the city. The blow was the severest struck at segregated vice since the ‘district’ was transferred to the 22nd street neighborhood. It came directed from a request by the Committee of Fifteen.

f. On September 28th of that same year the Committee of Fifteen issued a signed statement charging the State’s Attorneys office with preventing the taking of evidence regarding vice in the 22nd street district. Five days later all of the city newspapers came out with great headlines to this effect, “The State’s Attorney and vice foes will confer today” etc.

g. A conference with the State’s Attorney held in the office of the Committee of Fifteen on October 4th resulted, within 24 hours, in the serving of 135 warrants on the keepers of disorderly resorts and scores of others

( 3) had been prepared for the arrest of owners and agents of property used for immoral purposes.

h. The death knell of the “Red light district” had been sounded and so rapidly were the placed closed and such was the exodus of hundred of disreputable women that the Committee of Fifteen advertised that it would provide without cost a suitable home for all “inmates” that cared to apply.

i. In 1915, the Injunction and Abatement Law was finally passed and the Committee of Fifteen devoted all its energy to making this new and powerful instrument effective. In the following months evidence had been obtained sufficient to warrant direct action under this law against nearly five hundred houses of ill fame but so wholesome was the fear that the law created that a large majority of the owners of property used for immoral purposes cleaned up their premises immediately upon notification, leaving but a small number who dared to stand trial. The reports indicate that the Committee of Fifteen has lost no case which it prosecuted under the Injunction and Abatement Law.

4. The report of the Vice Commission of Chicago made it apparent that segregation does not segregate; for there 1012 “inmates” in the redlight district” but there were found to be more than 5000 throughout the city. Segregation was found to be disease spreading, a means of graft and corruption, an open invitation to indulgence and was

( 4) shunned by 80 per cent of the prostitutes themselves who sought the protection of residential districts.

5. With the “red light district” closed the Committee of Fifteen promptly undertook to secure evidence against the keepers of disorderly houses, call flats, taverns and hotels in the residential districts where commercialized prostitution was holding forth and in the year 1920 reported that through cooperation of the Attorney General, State’s Attorney and the Chief of Police its efforts had been successful in closing 434 places operating in flagrant violation of the law.

6. In 1925, the Committee of Fifteen reported, “Nearly all of the old time vice promoters have been put out of business and left the city. Against those few who have managed consistently to dodge the law, the Committee is directing its efforts. Old conditions where houses were run with from 10 to 90 girls no longer exist in Chicago but constant vigilance is required to prevent reopenings.” During this year the Committee reported the closing of 251 houses of prostitution.

7. In 1930, 276 vice resorts were closed including 20 call flats and 27 massage parlors.

8. In 1935 the Committee of Fifteen revised its charter and stated its singleness of purpose to be that of suppressing commercialized prostitution. During this year 438 vice resorts were reported closed though the efforts of the Committee.

9. In 1940, 191 vice resorts were reported closed and the Committee further reported, “Although the Committee’s

( 5) relentless fight has reduced the number of vice reports to less than 100 operating at any one time in Chicago the job is not done. Without constant vigilance many of the older operators of vice would immediately reopen. To fight practices such as have occurred elsewhere in Illinois recently, your attention is called to the situation as we find it in Chicago today, with the hope that we may enlist your interest and support.”

10. In 1945 the Committee reports 308 places from which immoral women have been dislodged including 73 hotels and 115 “street” cases where open solicitation had occurred. 711 persons arrested though the cooperation of the Committee with the Commissioner of Police. A total of $8602.00 in fines and Bond Forfeitures was levied by the courts against these offenders in addition to a sum total of 32 years, 4 months and 13 days of sentences in the House of Corrections, County Jail, Dwight, Illinois and the Federal Penitentiary including a total of 64 parties put on Probation for a total period of 7712 days.

11. Thus, year by hear for 34 years since its incorporation the Committee of Fifteen has dealt with the problem of commercialized prostitution. The Committee of Fifteen has sought to keep before the public the urgency of the problem presented by commercialized prostitution and enlist the aid of both public spirited citizens and public officials in the suppression of this evil. It has never claimed that it could entirely solve the problem. Records show, however, that

( 6) conditions in Chicago are better than in any comparable city in the United States.

12. Prostitution is not a simple problem. Its far-reaching effects are but vaguely known to the average person. Reluctant to face its sordid realities, many public-spirited citizens of unquestioned sincerity asserted: “You’ve always had prostitution, and you always will. You can’t do anything about it.” Or, “Why don’t you just segregate one district and forget about it?” Others contend that since so much unconventional conduct is condoned, it is hypocritical to speak of repressing prostitution. Major Bascom Johnson of the American Social Hygiene Association , accepted as a leading authority on the subject, has vigorously denounced such “quack social nostrums.”

“Every country which has tried licensing prostitution has come to the conclusion that it doesn’t work . . . . It has been permanently abandoned in almost all countries in Europe, and in the rest of them it is on the way out. . . . If we can’t license prostitution, it is suggested that we segregated it. We find 80 percent of the prostitutes unwilling to go into a ‘district.’ If they go, they do not stay. For every prostitute in the Barbary Coast district in San Francisco in 1915, there were at least three or for in other sections of the city. SEGREGATION DOES NOT SEGREGATE.”

Dr. Thomas Parran, Surgeon General of the United States, declares:

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“Prostitution must not be licensed by the state. Prostitutes must not be allowed to solicit customers publicly. The exploiters of prostitution — both middemen and capitalists — must be wiped out. Infected prostitutes must be sought out and prevented from spreading venereal disease.”

13. When permitted to operate unmolested, organized prostitution in Chicago is estimated to net the underworld a monthly income of $1,000,000. As was dramatically revealed in New York City, the prostitutes themselves get almost none of the profits. There is a pyramided on their living bodies a vicious system operated mainly by men who exploit human weakness for personal gain. A complicated network of persons shares the profits — real-estate operators, property owners, cab drivers, bell-boys, physicians, lawyers, police, ropers, panderers madames, bondsmen and often, corrupt political leaders. The Committee of Fifteen has demonstrated the possibility of keeping prostitution at a minimum by striking at the third-party interests which tend to make of it a big and profitable “business.”

14. Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, eminent medical leader in the present fight against syphilis and gonorrhea, as again and again asserted that the battle is lost unless “disease-spreading red-light districts are eliminated.” If, as estimated by Dr. Thomas Parran, “over 50 per cent of prostitutes have syphilis and 80 per cent have gonorrhea, the seriousness of the problem cannot longer be denied. It is sheer folly to put

( 8) all efforts on curing disease while the major source of infection remains untouched.

15. There is no medical support for the popular theory that patrons of vice resorts can be “safe” from venereal disease. Inmates examined and found healthy may become victims of a virulent infection the next hour. This system of medical inspection has been discredited and abandoned, as illustrated by Major Bascom Johnson’s statement:

“A League of Nations study in 1933 indicated that 5,000 registered prostitutes in Paris were supposed to be subjected to bi-weekly examination. These 5,000 were found to change constantly. Most of the time, as soon as a diseased person was found she would disappear into a community and couldn’t be found again. There were no microscopic tests, no laboratory tests, no Wasserman or blood tests, but instead just a superficial examination to discover any open lesions. One doctor said, “All prostitutes have gonorrhea. We do not bother about that.”

16. If segregation does not segregate prostitution, but adds to the corruption of all of those who deal with it and if prostitution is the greatest single source of venereal infection, then suppression of prostitution becomes a realistic and practical business proposition. In curbing these expensive menaces to public health, the work of the Committee of Fifteen becomes highly significant. Conditions giving rise to such problems are a concern of every citizen, for each one inevitably shares in the tremendous financial burden and the cost in loss of human values.

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17. A major concern of press, business and professional people is fighting the growing threat of “blighted areas.” It these areas are found the most deeply entrenched “red-light districts” and the greatest number of disorderly houses. As a part of a vicious circle, prostitution is a cause for spreading “the blight.” As soon as a neighborhood becomes known as a refuge for vice, legitimate business enterprises tend to leave, property and rental values take a precipitous drop, and new investments become risks too great to assume.

18. Over 80 per cent of the larger vice resorts have been found to be on property directed by agents of estates or by absentee owners. Vice promoters often are willing to pay from two to four times as much rent as any legitimate business could pay. Properties in receivership, in bad repair, and in other ways unprofitable, are a real problem. Although 85 per cent of the property owners immediately co-operated when violations were called to their attention, 15 per cent found the illegal use of their property to be directly or indirectly too profitable to interfere.

19. Organized vice is constantly in search of new recruits as inmates and patrons from among the immature, the weak, the unstable, the lonely. Every possible effort is made to attract young men, and in some instances open campaigns have been carried on to solicit patronage of high school boys. A constant stream of young women comes into Chicago from surrounding small towns and cities. Many seek employment in taverns, dance halls, and other questionable

( 10) places. Demoralized, their ideals and social attitudes destroyed, they find prostitution the easiest road.

20. The Committee of Fifteen acts as a strictly non-partisan citizens’ group, working entirely through the public officials, whose activities it seeks to co-ordinate, not supplant. During the past five years, there has been an excellent record of cooperation in suppressing prostitution. A uniquely coordinated approach to the problem has been made by the State’s Attorney, the Mayor, the Commissioner of Police, the Chief Justice of the Municipal Court, and other officials. Especial credit must be given to Mayor Kelly and Police Commissioner James P. Allman for the effective program which has been adopted and the success attained in breaking up organized vice.

21. The Committee of Fifteen cannot report the more spectacular phases of its work, for to do so would limit its effectiveness.

At the 1943 Annual Meeting of the Committee of Fifteen, President Allin K. Ingalls in his report for the year 1942 stated as follows: “As your President, I have felt greatly encouraged by the co-operation which as been extended to the Committee by all branches of our government in charge of law enforcement, and I cannot help but feel that the efforts of the Committee over its many years of service in the Chicago area, and the cooperation which it has received in its efforts, has had much to do with Chicago’s enviable position in having the lowest Venereal Disease rate

( 11) of any comparable city in the United States. According to current statistics given out by Army officials, Chicago’s relation to other cities is as follows: —

Per 100,000 population, Washington D.C. tops the list with 158.3 venereally infected.

Baltimore   71.6   Los Angeles   27.4
St. Louis   64.6   New York   23.6
Philadelphia   51.1   Cleveland   23.4
Pittsburgh   28.5   Detroit   23.1
Boston   28.3   Chicago   17.5

In 1945 after four years of war effort Chicago still maintains this relatively low index of venereal infection despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of the nation’s young men in uniform have paused for their training in the Chicago area and many more hundreds of thousands of war workers have been engaged in all-out war production in Chicago’s factories. To those should be added the many thousands of service men in transit through Chicago, who make the loop and near loop sections of the city their chief stamping grounds. Some of these are content with diversified commercial amusements that the city has to offer. Many — according to their own admission — spend much of their leisure time in bars, taverns and nite clubs, as well as along the streets, searching for sexually promiscuous women and girls — professional prostitutes and “pick-ups.” These war conditions have greatly increased the demand made upon the efforts of the Committee of Fifteen.

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Demobilization will bring far greater demands for the Committee’s best efforts and the effect of partial demobilization is already being felt. Ladies of easy virtue who are expected to flood the city as returning heroes of the European war are processed must be promptly dealt with and the “soft pickings” afforded by these heores who with pay-off money in their pockets are visualizing a let down on their return from the front must not be the cause for a veritable “prairie fire of venereal infection.” Surgeon General Thomas Parran of the United State4s Public Health Service says “Demobilization marks the second critical period in the control of venereal disease. Again, millions are on the move. There is an inevitable reaction from the conditions of war. Again, this is a time when conditions favor the spread of venereal infection. Our nation has passed through the first critical period with credit * * * * the great question is, “will the good citizens who everywhere have backed up our war effort be ready to continue their part of the fight.’ Upon the answer to this question will depend the future course of venereal infection in this country.”

Victory will come sooner if all community forces that strengthen human character join in the fight against venereal diseases and the conditions which favor their spread.

In 1944 the late Clifford Barnes, founder of the Committee of Fifteen, said, “There surely was never a time when the work of the Committee was of greater value, and the fine record of  Chicago has made in reducing venereal disease is certainly due in large measure, to the work of the Committee of Fifteen.”


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