The Social Evil In New York City Pre: 1868

 
 
  Article Tools

Print This Page

E-mail This Page To A Friend

In January, 1866, Bishop Simpson, of the Methodist Church, startled the country with the declaration, made at a public meeting at Cooper Institute, that the prostitutes of New York City were as numerous as the members of the Methodist Church. The following letter of Mr. John A. Kennedy, Superintendent of the Metropolitan Police, furnishes the most authentic statement of the facts of the case:

Office of the Superintendent of Metropolitan Police
300 Mulberry Street
New York, January 22, 1866.

My Dear Sir.

Your note of to-day is before me, with the printed sheet of the 'Great Metropolis Condensed,' inquiring whether the figures in the paragraph marked 'Licentiousness' can be verified. I have to say that I have nothing in my possession to sustain such monstrous statements. During the past fall I had a careful examination made of the concert saloons in this city, for the purpose of using the result in our annual report; which you will find in the leading dailies of Friday, January 5th, instant. At that time we found eleven hundred and ninety-one waiter girls employed in two hundred and twenty-three concert and drinking saloons. Although the greater part of these girls are already prostitutes, yet we have evidence that they are not all such; but continuation at the employment is sure to make them all alike. Previous to that I had not made any census of persons of that character since January 24th, 1864, when the footing was as follows:

Houses of prostitution, five hundred and ninety-nine. Public prostitutes, two thousand one hundred and twenty three. Concert saloons of ill repute, seventy-two. The number of waiting girls was not then taken.

The newspapers of last week, in reporting Bishop Simpson's speech, delivered in St. Paul's Church, made him say that there are twenty thousand prostitutes in New York. I felt it about time to correct the impressions of such well-meaning men as he, and on Thursday last I sent out an order, instructing a new census to be made. I have nearly all the returns in, and I find a much less increase than I expected. A large number who have been following the army during the war, very naturally have gravitated to this city. Where else would they go? But with all that, the increase is below my estimate. On the 22d day of January, 1866, the report is as follows:

Houses of prostitution, six hundred and twenty-one. Houses of assignation, ninety-nine. Concert saloons of ill repute, seventy-five. Public prostitutes, two thousand six hundred and seventy. Waiter girls in concert and drinking saloons, seven hundred and forty-seven.

You will see that houses of prostitution have increased twenty-two in two years, and houses of assignation have decreased thirteen. Concert saloons have increased four. Prostitutes have increased five hundred and forty-seven. The waiter girls will be increased by the figures to come in.

As it regards 'other women,' we have no means of knowing anything of their number. That there are many of them cannot be disputed; the number of houses for their accommodation tells us that; but there is no such number as two thousand five hundred, you may depend on it, visit those places, and of those who do, the waiter girls furnish the larger portion.

So that, taking all the public prostitutes, and all the waiter girls in music saloons (and these we have to a unit), there are but three thousand three hundred.

Medical estimates are humbugs, from Dr. D. M. Reeves down to Dr. Sanger. According to Dr. Reeves, every female in the city, over thirteen years of age, was required to fill up his estimate of lewd women, and Dr. Sanger is but little more reasonable. Very respectfully, yours,

John A. Kennedy

Nearly three years have elapsed since the above letter was written, and there can be no doubt that the interval has witnessed a very decided increase of this species of vice. The greatest increase is, perhaps, in the class termed by Mr. Kennedy "other women," in which are included the women of nominal respectability, whose crime is known only to themselves and their lovers. They are the last persons in the world one would think of accusing, for they are not even suspected of wrong doing. Many of them seem to be innocent young girls, others wives and mothers of undoubted purity. Society is corrupt to its very heart in the great city, and there are thousands of nominally virtuous women who lead, in secret, lives of shame. The authorities cannot include this class in their statistics, as they know nothing of them.

First-Class Houses

There are very few first-class houses of ill-fame in the city, and they are located in the best neighborhoods. They are generally hired fully furnished, the annual rent in some cases amounting to ten and twelve thousand dollars. The neighbors have little or no suspicion as to their character, which is, in such cases, known only to the police and their frequenters. The establishment is palatial in its appointments, and is conducted with the utmost outward propriety.

The proprietress is generally a middle-aged woman of fine personal appearance. She has a man living with her, who passes as her husband, in order that she may be able to show a legal protector in case of trouble with the authorities. This couple usually assume some foreign name, and pass themselves off upon the unsuspecting as persons of the highest respectability.

The inmates are usually young women, or women in the prime of life. They are carefully chosen for their beauty and charms, and are frequently persons of education and refinement. They are required to observe the utmost decorum in the parlors of the house, and their toilettes are exquisite and modest. They never make acquaintances on the street, and, indeed, have no need to do so. The women who fill these houses are generally of respectable origin. They are the daughters, often the wives or widows, of persons of the best social position. Some have been drawn astray by villains; some have been drugged and ruined, and have fled to these places to hide their shame from their friends; some have adopted the life in order to avoid poverty, their means having been suddenly swept away; some have entered from motives of extravagance and vanity; some are married women, who have been unfaithful to their husbands, and who have been deserted in consequence; some have been ruined by the cruelty and neglect of their husbands; some, horrible as it may seem, have been forced into such a life by their parents; and, others, who constitute the smallest class, have adopted the life from motives of pure licentiousness. But, whatever may be the cause, the fact is evident to all--these places are always full of women competent to grace the best circles of social life.

The visitors to these places are men of means. No others can afford to patronize them. Besides the money paid to his companion, each man is expected to spend a considerable amount in wine. The liquors are owned and sold by the proprietress, her prices being generally double those of the best Broadway wine stores. Her profits are enormous. The "first men" of the city and country visit these places. The proportion of married men amongst the guests is very large. Governors, Congressmen, lawyers, judges, physicians, and, alas that it should be said, even ministers of the Gospel, are to be seen there. Men coming to New York from other parts of the country, seem to think themselves free from all the restraints of morality and religion, and while here commit acts of sin and dissipation, such as they would not dream of indulging in, in their own communities. They fully equal and often surpass the city population in this respect.

Great care is taken by the proprietors of these houses that the visits of their guests shall be as private as possible. Upon ringing the bell the visitor is admitted by a finely dressed servant, and shown into the parlor. If he desires an interview with any particular person he is quickly admitted to her presence. If his visit is "general," he awaits in the parlor the entrance of the inmates of the house, who drop in at intervals. No other gentleman is admitted to the parlor while he is there, and in leaving the house no one is allowed to enter or look into the parlors. If two men enter together they are thrown into the parlor at the same time.

The earnings of the inmates are very large. They pay an extravagant rate of board, and are expected to dress handsomely. They rarely save any thing. They are well cared for by the proprietress as long as they are profitable to her, but in case of sickness, or the loss of their beauty, they are turned out of doors without the slightest hesitation. Generally they are in debt to the proprietress at such times, and their property is seized by her to satisfy her claims.

In entering these houses, women believe they will always be able to keep themselves amongst the best classes of such females. They are soon undeceived, however. The rule is so rigid that there is not more than one exception in a thousand cases. They rarely remain in first-class houses more than a few months, or a year at the longest. In leaving them, they begin to go down the ladder, until they reach the dance-houses and purlieus of the city, where disease and death in their most horrible forms await them. All this in a few years, for the life which such women, even the best of them, lead, is so fearfully destructive of body and soul that a very few survive it more than five years at the longest. The police authorities say that the first-class houses change their inmates every few months.

Let no woman deceive herself, "The wages of sin is death." Once entered upon a life of shame, however glittering it may be in the outset, her fate is certain--unless she anticipates her final doom by suicide. She cannot reform if she would. No one will help her back to the paths of right. Even those who loved her best, in her virtue, will turn from her in horror in her sin. She will be driven on by an avenging fate, which she cannot resist if she would, until she is one of those wretched, lost creatures, whose dens are in the purlieus of the Five Points and Water street. There is only one means of safety. Avoid the first step. Once place your foot in the downward path, and you are lost. "The Wages of sin is death"

Second-Class Houses

These establishments are better known to the general public than those we have just described, as they are open to all persons of moderate means. They are located in all parts of the town, many of them being in respectable neighborhoods. They are handsomely furnished, and are conducted in a flashy style. The inmates are those who, for various causes, have been turned out of first-class houses, or who have never been able to enter those establishments. They do not hesitate to solicit custom on the streets and in the public places, though they are not, as a general rule, obliged to do so.

This is the second step in the downward career of fallen women. From this step the descent is rapid. The third and fourth-class houses, and then the streets, are reached quickly, after which the dance-houses and the Five Points hells claim their victims.

 Where The Unfortunates Come From

It is generally very hard to learn the true history of the lost women of New York, for nearly all wish to make their past lot appear better than it really was, with the melancholy hope of elevating themselves in the estimation of their present acquaintances. It may be safely asserted, however, that the majority of them come from the humbler walks of life. Women of former position and refinement are the exceptions. Poverty, and a desire to be able to gratify a love for fine clothes, are among the chief causes of prostitution in this city. At the same time the proprietors of houses of all classes spare no pains to draw into their nets all the victims who will listen to them. They have their agents scattered all over the country, who use every means to tempt young girls to come to the great city to engage in this life of shame. They promise them money, fine clothes, ease, and an elegant home. The seminaries and rural districts of the land furnish a large proportion of this class. The hotels in this city are closely watched by the agents of these infamous establishments, especially hotels of the plainer and less expensive kind. These harpies watch their chance, and when they lay siege to a blooming young girl surround her with every species of enticement. She is taken to church, to places of amusement, or to the Park, and, in returning, a visit is paid to the house of a friend of the harpy. Refreshments are offered, and a glass of drugged wine plunges the victim into a stupor, from which she awakes a ruined woman.

A Case In Point

Some months ago, two girls, daughters of a respectable man, engaged as foreman on Prospect Park, Brooklyn, met with an advertisement calling for girls to learn the trade of dressmaking, in West Broadway, New York. The two sisters in question, applied for and obtained the situation. After being engaged there for a few days, at a salary of three dollars a week, the woman, by whom they were employed, proposed that during the week they should board with her. In the furtherance of this idea, the woman visited the parents of the girls in this city, and made the same proposition to them. Highly pleased with her agreeable manner, and kind interest in the welfare of their daughters, the parents acceded to her request, with the understanding that they should return home every Saturday evening. Saturday night came, and with it rain, but not with it the daughters. On Monday morning the woman appeared before the anxious parents, offering as an excuse for the non-appearance of the girls on Saturday night, that she did not deem it prudent for them to venture out, owing to the inclemency of the weather, and assuring the old folks that they should visit them on Thursday night, which assurance was not fulfilled. Next morning the father, becoming alarmed for their safety, went over to New York, and searched for the dressmaker's residence in West Broadway, but was unable to find it, or indeed to learn any thing of the woman. Now becoming thoroughly aroused to the danger of their position, he instituted a thorough search, securing the services of the New York detective force. After a lapse of five weeks, the younger girl was discovered in a low house in Baltic street, Brooklyn. The story was then told the unfortunate father by his wretched daughter. After entering the service of the woman, the sisters were held against their will, and were subjected to the most inhuman and debasing treatment. Finally they were separated from each other's society, and became the inmates of dens. The woman's whereabouts is unknown to the police, and the elder sister is still missing. The above facts are vouched for on the most undoubted authority.

Recruits From New England

A very large number of the women engaged in this infamous business are from New England. That section of the country is so overcrowded, and the females are so numerous therein, that there is no room for all at home. As a consequence hundreds come to the city every year. They come with high hopes, but soon find it as hard, if not harder, to obtain employment here. The runners for the houses of ill fame are always on the watch for them, and from various causes, these girls fall victims to them, and join the lost sisterhood. They are generally the daughters of farmers, or working men, and when they come are fresh in constitution and blooming in their young beauty. God pity them! These blessings soon vanish. They dare not escape from their slavery, for they have no means of earning a living in the great city, and they know they would not be received at home, were their story known. Their very mothers would turn from them with loathing. Without hope, they cling to their shame, and sink lower and lower, until death mercifully ends their human sufferings. As long as they are prosperous, they represent in their letters home that they are engaged in a steady, honest business, and the parents' fears are lulled. After awhile these letters are rarer. Finally they cease altogether. Would a father find his child after this, he must seek her in the foulest hells of the city.


Saved in Time

The police are frequently called upon by persons from other parts of the country, for aid in seeking a lost daughter, or a sister, or some female relative. Sometimes these searches, which are always promptly made, are rewarded with success. Some unfortunates are, in this way, saved before they have fallen so low as to make efforts in their behalf vain. Others, overwhelmed with despair, will refuse to leave their shame. They cannot bear the pity or silent scorn of their former relatives and friends, and prefer to cling to their present homes. It is very hard for a fallen woman to retrace her steps, even if her friends or relatives are willing to help her do so.

Last winter an old gray haired man came to the city from his farm in New England, accompanied by his son, a manly youth, in search of his lost daughter. His description enabled the police to recognize the girl as one who had but recently made her appearance on the streets, and they at once led the father and brother to the door of the house she was living in. As they entered the well-filled parlor, the girl recognized her father. With a cry of joy she sprang into his arms. Lifting her tenderly, the old man carried her into the street, exclaiming through, his tears;

"We've saved her, thank God! We've saved our Lizzie."

That night all three left the city for their distant home.

Another instance occurs to us:

A gentleman once found his daughter in one of the first-class houses of the city, to which she had been tracked by the police. He sought her there, and she received him with every demonstration of joy and affection. He urged her to return home with him, promising that all should be forgiven and forgotten, but she refused to do so, and was deaf to all his entreaties. He brought her mother to see her, and though the girl clung to her and wept bitterly in parting, she would not go home. She felt that it was too late. She was lost.

Many of these poor creatures treasure sacredly the memories of their childhood and home. They will speak of them with a calmness which shows how deep and real is their despair. They would flee from their horrible lives if they could, but they are so enslaved that they are not able to do so. Their sin crushes them to the earth, and they cannot rise above it.

The Sisters' Row

This is the name given to a row of first-class houses in West Twenty- fifth street, all fashionable houses of prostitution. A woman came to this city from a New England village, and was enticed into one of the fashionable dens. She paid a visit to her home, dressed up in all her finery. Her parents believed her a Broadway saleswoman, but to her sisters, one by one, she confided the life of gayety and pleasure she led, and one by one the sisters left the peaceful village, until, at last, the whole seven sisters were domiciled in the crime-gilt palaces in West Twenty-fifth street. Thus, one sister ruined six in her own family; how many others in the same place is unknown.

Another instance: A woman, named----, is from Binghamton, in this State. As a matter of course, she has correspondents in that place; she knows all the giddy-headed girls of the town; she knows the dissatisfied wives. The result is her house is a small Binghamton. Thus, one girl from a village may ruin a dozen; and it is in this way they so readily find the home they are in search of in a strange city.


The Album Business

A peculiarity of the Twenty-ninth Police Precinct of the city, in which the majority of the better class of houses are located, "is the large number of lady boarders, who do nothing, apparently, for a living. They live in furnished rooms, or they may board in respectable families. They leave their cards with the madame of the house, together with their photograph. They live within a few minutes' call, and when a gentleman enters the parlor he has a few minutes' chat with the madame, who hands him the album. He runs his eye over the pictures, makes his choice, and a messenger is dispatched for No. 12 or 24. These are what may be termed the day ladies, or outside boarders. Some of them are married, living with their husbands, who know nothing of what is going on, and it may be some of them have shown the readers of the Sun how cheap they can keep house, dress well, and put money in the bank beside, on a given weekly income of their husband. Those ladies who hire furnished rooms all dine at the restaurants, but they are never found soliciting men in the street. True, in the restaurant they may accept a recognition, but a man has to be careful what he is about."

Efforts To Break Up These Houses

"Twenty years ago, when Matsell was Chief of Police, he used to try and break up the most notorious houses by stationing a policeman at the door, and when any one went in or out, the light from a bull's eye lantern was thrown in the face of the passer out or in. That has never been effective. Captain Speight tried it in the case of Mrs.----, who keeps the most splendidly furnished house in West Twenty-fifth street. She owns the house, and has a few boarders who pay her fifty dollars a week for board, and ten dollars a bottle for their wine, and twenty-five per cent, on the profits of her boarders. The attempt was made to oust this woman, but she very politely told the captain that he might honor her as long as he pleased with the policeman and his lantern, but she could stand it as long as he could; she owned the house, and she meant to live in it; nothing could be proven against it, and they dare not arrest her. The consequence was that after a time the bull's eye was withdrawn."

A New Ruse Adopted

The latest ruse adopted to obtain fresh country or city girls is to publish an advertisement in the papers, for 'a young lady of some accomplishments to act as a companion for a lady about to travel abroad. The applicant must have some knowledge of French, be a good reader, have a knowledge and taste for music, and be of a lively disposition.' Such an advertisement brought a young lady from Newark to a certain house in Twenty-fifth street. She had not been long in the parlor until she saw at a glance the character of the house. Both then spoke in pretty plain terms. The applicant was given a week to think over it. She returned at the end of a week and voluntarily entered the house. She remained in it six months. Disgusted with the business, she returned to her parents--who believe to this day that she was all this time abroad--and afterwards married a highly respectable gentleman, and she is now supposed to be a virtuous woman.

"A beautiful young girl of seventeen, from Danbury, Connecticut when taken from one of these houses by her father, told him, in the station-house, that he might take her home, but she would run away the first chance. Her only excuse was: 'Mother is cross, and home is an old, dull, dead place.'" A Soiled Dove

On the 1st of December, 1857, a funeral wended its slow passage along the crowded Broadway--for a few blocks, at least--challenging a certain share of the attention of the promenaders of that fashionable thoroughfare. There were but two carriages following the hearse, and the hearse itself contained all that remained of a young woman--a girl who had died in her eighteenth year, and whose name on earth had been Mary R----.

Mary R----, was the daughter of a poor couple in the interior of the State of New York. She was a girl of exquisite grace and beauty, but her life had been one of toil until her sixteenth year, when she attracted the attention of the son of a city millionaire, whose country seat was in the neighborhood. He was pleased with her beauty, and she simple and confiding, gave her heart to him without a struggle. She trusted him, and fell a victim to his arts. He took her to New York with him, and placed her in a neat little room in Sixth Avenue.

She was a 'soiled dove,' indeed, but the gentlest and dearest, and most devoted of 'doves,' 'soiled,' not by herself, but by others--soiled externally, but not impure within. There are many such doves as she-- poor creatures to be pitied, not to be commended, not at all to be imitated, but not to be harshly or wholly condemned--more sinned against than sinning.

For a while Mary R----'s life in New York was a paradise--at least it was a paradise to her. She lived all day in her cosy little apartment, did her own little housework, cooked her own little dinner, sung her own little songs, and was as happy as a bird, thinking all the while of him, the man she loved--the man whose smile was all in all to her of earth. At night she would receive her beloved in her best dress and sweetest smile; and if he deigned to walk with her around the block, or take her with him to the Central Park, she would be supremely blessed, and dance around him with delight. She cost nothing, or next to nothing; her wants were simple, her vanity and love of amusement were vastly below the average of her sex, she only needed love, and there is an old saying that 'love is cheap.' But, alas! there is no more expensive luxury than love--for love requires what few men really possess, a heart--and this article of a heart was precisely what the merchant's son did not possess. In time, he wearied of this young girl and her affection; her tenderness became commonplace; besides he had discovered attractions elsewhere. And so he determined 'to end with Mary,' and he ended indeed. Though he knew that she worshipped the very ground that he trod on, though he knew that every unkind word he uttered went through her heart as would a stab though he knew that the very idea of his leaving her would blast her happiness like a lightning stroke; yet he boldly announced to her that their intimacy must cease, that 'he must leave her. True, he would see her comfortably provided for, during a while at least, until she could find another protector,' etc., etc.

"The agonized Mary could listen to naught more. For the first time in her life, out of the anguish and true love of her heart, she reproached the man to whom her every thought had been devoted--she reminded him of all his promises of affection, all his pledges of passion, she clung to him, and avowed by all that she considered holy, himself, that she would not let him go. In brief, she raised what 'fast men' style a scene, and a scene was just one of those things which irritated the merchant's son beyond his powers of control.

"The scoundrel, for such he was, though by birth, education, and position a gentleman, irritated at her entreaties, vexed with himself, despising the meanness of his own soul, and hating her for revealing it to him, raised his arm, and despite her look of love and sorrow, absolutely struck her to the earth. The poor girl never shrieked, never resisted, she even kissed, with an almost divinely tender forgiveness, his hand--his hand who struck her--and then fell to the floor of her pleasant, though humble little room, insensible.

"With a curse, half levelled at her and half at himself, the false 'lover' departed. The young millionaire never looked upon Mary R----'s face again. In three days there was no Mary R----'s face to look at; for the 'soiled dove' within that time had died--not from the blow, oh, no--that was a trifle; but from the unkindness of it; not from a fractured limb, or from a ruptured bloodvessel, but from a broken heart. She was buried at the expense of the woman of whom her destroyer had rented the little apartment on Sixth Avenue, where she had passed her happiest days and her last. The rich merchant's son heard of her death with a half sigh and then a shrug; but if ever the blood of a human being lay upon the head of another, that of poor Mary R--lies upon the head of the rich merchant's son, and will be required of him."

There are several associations in the city, whose object is to rescue lost women from their lives of shame. Prominent amongst these is the Midnight Mission.

The Midnight Mission

This institution is located on Amity street, and is open at all hours, to all who seek its doors voluntarily, or are directed thither. The managers in a recent report, speak of their success as follows:

"That the managers have reason to believe that more than sixty women have been benefited through their endeavors recently, many of whom have abandoned their life of shame, and a large proportion are already restored to their friends, or have been placed in respectable situations, where they are earning an honest living. Twenty are now in charge, in process of industrial, moral, and religious training, preparatory to taking positions of usefulness and respectability. Could they be seen by the public, as we see them, after the work of the day is ended, grouped together in conversation, in innocent recreation, or in devotion, their faces already beaming with the light of hope for this life and the life to come, surely we should need no other argument to induce Christian people, with kind words and abounding gifts, to speed us in our work of love."

We would not upon any consideration weaken one single effort in behalf of these poor creatures, but we cannot disguise the fact that but few of this class are saved. Women who enter the downward path rarely retrace their steps.

 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: The Social Evil In New York City Pre: 1868
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Secrets of the Great City; A work Descriptive of the Virtues and the Vices, the Mysteries, Miseries and Crimes of New York City by Edward Winslow Martin; Jones Brothers & Co., Philadelphia, Pa. 1868 Webroots.org
Time & Date Stamp: