The Church and the Social Evil, April 23, 1912 (draft)


A great English preacher has said that life holds for every man one searching test of the sincerity <and vigor> of his religious life, and that although this test is often absurdly trivial, to encounter it is to "fall from grace". We all know these tests; a given relative or familiar friend has an irritating power of goading us into anger or self-pity; a certain public movement inevitably hardens us into a contemptuous mood of all uncharitableness, one particular type of sinner fills us with an unholy sense of superior virtue. [written in left margin opposite this paragraph] Eng.

If we may assume that society itself is subject to one such test, if it too possesses a touchstone which reveals its inmost weakness and ultimate meanness, may we not say that the supreme religious test of our social order is the hideous commerce of prostitution, and that the sorry results of that test are registered in the hypocrisy and hardness of heart of the average good citizen toward the so-called "fallen" woman? May we not claim that in consequence of this irreligious attitude, prostitution remains today a hard, unresolved mass in the midst of so called Christian civilization, until it has come <to be> regarded as a vice which cannot be eradicated, as a sin which cannot be forgiven, as a social disease which cannot be cured? [written in left margin opposite this paragraph] social test

This attitude on the part of the Christian is the more difficult to explain because Jesus himself was most explicit in the declaration of his own position in regard to the harlot. He did not for a moment imply that she could not be drawn into the radius of the wondrous affection he promulgated, the love of all mankind, so new in the history of the world, nor that the new solvent could not melt down -- if I may use the phrase -- that obstinate mass of wretchedness. [written in the left margin opposite this paragraph] Jesus himself

It is hard to forecast the results upon the social order if Christians from the beginning had followed and had encompassed the harlot with the charity and loving kindness <of their master> but it is certainly easy to point [page 2] out the moral and religious disaster resulting from her exclusion, fostering the "I am holier than thou" attitude, which is the inmost canker of the spiritual life. [written in left margin opposite this paragraph] results of exclusion

In less than three hundred years after the death of Jesus, St. Augustine asserted that the heart of a woman was the gate of hell, so quickly had the fear and contempt of the harlot spread out from her as the center of irreligion, that <by then> it had <by> then included all womankind. The very word "woman" in the writings of the Church fathers stood for the basest temptations. The pagan women had been oppressed and despised but the women of Christendom in additional were <came to be> hated and feared as the chief emissary of the devil himself, and this in spite of the fact that the Virgin was worshipped and many women canonized as saints. It is significant that through this authorization of the irreligious attitude toward the harlot, developed apace the two sins -- contempt for a human creature and self-righteousness -- concerning which Jesus was most severe. The only time He referred to hell fire was to predict it for the man who should treat another with contempt, and he reserved the language of castigation for the self-righteous men who had arrogated religion to themselves and dared to put <cast out> others <outaside <the [pale?].> [written in left margin opposite this paragraph] St. Aug.

One result of this irreligious attitude towards prostitution with its <two> inevitable corollaries, has been the development of the so called worldly minded Christian; In consequence <because> of it thousands of decent men have developed <come to hold> a peculiar distrust of human nature, a cynicism which assumes that a certain proportion of men in every community will so inevitably violate the laws of chastity as to make the prostitute a social necessity, Although this assumption at least reveals that the woman is no longer regarded as the aggressor, nevertheless she is still despised as a social outcast and the free masonry among men in regard to her does much to lower the moral tone of the whole <entire> community. <One result of that which Dr [illegible surname] has just now [called] the organized repudiation of his will!> [written in left margin opposite this paragraph] 2 [MS?]

The result of This worldly cynicism has become so registered in our political affairs, that any probe into the vice conditions of a city, made by a [page 3] <[illegible]> Grand Jury or a Commission, uniformly discovers that prostitution is the root source of political corruption. Nowhere is the [hypocrisy] in regard to it so clearly revealed. Although laws declaring it illegal have been placed upon the statute books, out of respect for public opinion (which <and> even the hardest politician dares not repeal <them>) nevertheless, backed by this universal cynicism, the politicians openly consider the laws too impracticable to be enforced, and not only deliberately decide not to enforce them but actually define the conditions under which this law breaking is permitted. To permit this <such> license in one particular is, of course, utterly to demoralize the entire police <public> service. This police connivance at prostitution in certain districts <inevitably> creates a necessity for both graft and blackmail; the graft is easy because the owner of an illicit business expects to have to pay for it, and every politician to the tip-top of the administration receives his share of this illicit fund; in connection with this a municipal blackmail is also established which just escapes legal recognition. Prostitution, protected by a thick hedge of secrecy, imperceptibly renewing itself through changing administrations, is the one fixed point of maladministration, the unbreakable bank to which every corrupt politician may repair when in need of funds. The corruption spreads until the <trio of the> brothel, the saloon and gambling hall are the trio literally at the base of the real administration of our cities. Certainly the harlot has been avenged upon the city which so despises her. The men who consider her a legitimate source of revenue in a thousand ways, fleece the decent tax-payers who refuse to acknowledge her existence and she abides through one administration after another to the confusion <and frustration> of all movements for civic reform. [written in the top margin] political corruption

Thousands of court decisions every day bear testimony to the irreligious attitude toward the harlot permitted by the early Church, which gradually became embodied <still surviving> in canon and civil and still survive <law>. The laws <code> of Illinois does not differ markedly from the laws of other states <in considering woman the chief sinner>. The charge of seduction made against a man is defined as a misdemeanor -- a breach of manners, as it were; the punishment for rape is the [page 4] same as that inflicted for the theft of fifteen dollars' worth of property and a man may not be extradited from one state to another for so slight an offense; the charge of bastardy against a man is not even a crime and is tried in a civil court; when the paternity of a child is proven beyond doubt or quibble, the father under a maximum sentence can be made to pay an average of ninety-seven cents a week for its maintenance until the child is ten years old, <but> if the child dies before that age, the father is exempted from <even> this fine. So sure are all men that woman is the tempter, that the age of consent is absurdly low, in some states a little girl of ten is considered the aggressor although her seducer may be a man of well known immorality. <On the other hand> if an illegitimate child dies before it is born the mother, although totally innocent of its death, may be arrested and committed to the penitentiary. [written in left margin] Laws 

Quite recently in Chicago a Bohemian girl working as a maid in an American family, was seduced by the head of the house and later driven forth on the usual ground that a Christian home must not be polluted by her <such a> presence. Her child was born one day when she was quite alone in her cousin's house; following her first instinct to take it to its father, she wrapped it <her baby> in an apron and carried it immediately to his door, quite ignorant <oblivious> of the fact that her every step could be traced by a trail of fresh blood in the snow. The child was found dead upon the door step and the distraught mother was at once arrested on the charge of murder, although out of the depths of her ignorance and inexperience she could not tell whether or not her child had been born alive. The first ministration to her dire need came from the matron in the police station. <It was not until weeks afterward that [mothers?] <a> group of women found her in <the> county jail, where having been indicted for murder by the Grand Jury she was awaiting trial, while the father of her child was of course quite unmolested and had apparently forgotten the incident.> [written in left margin] Bohemian Girl

But the effect of this impious contempt is not confined to legal enactment. It also becomes registered in the ethical code of contemporary society held by good women as well as men. Women, kindly toward all other human creatures, become hard and hostile to young girls who, in evil houses, are literally beaten and starved by the dissolute men whom they support.  [written in left margin] Social code [page 5]

Kind hearted women could not brook these things; their hearts would break had they not been trained to believe that virtue itself demanded from them first ignorance and then harshness. Their inherited fear of the harlot and terror lest she contaminate their daughters <of her contamination,> may be traced in the caste basis of our social amenities and in the lack of democracy and fellowship which so fatally narrows womans interests. Yet the test comes to them none the less, for as all women fell in the estimate of religious men because they came to be looked upon as possible harlots, so may we not predict that women will never take their <a> normal place in the <moral> life of organized religion <society> until they recognize as one of themselves the very harlot, who all unwittingly has become the test of their spirituality, the touchstone of their purity. As women were given a lowered place in the moral scale because of their identification with her at the very bottom of the pit, so they cannot rise themselves save as they succeed in lifting her with whose stains <sins> they are stained <weighted>.

Contemporary women, as well as men, ought to find it much easier at the present moment to meet this supreme test of religion than it has ever been before in the long history of civilization. A new publicity in regard to the social evil is a striking characteristic of the last decade. This publicity has disclosed that thousands of these so called "fallen" women are piteously young and that thousands of others lost their chastity when they were helpless, unthinking little girls, many of them violated by members of their own households in that crowding which life in a large tenement postulates. Even the wretched women we call degenerate are often shown to have <often> been captured as children and deliberately debased in order to fit them for this wretched life <dreadful>. [written in the margin] Publicity

Only last week I left <at> Hull-House a young girl whose childish face, surrounded by old-fashioned curls, reminded me of the playmates of my earliest memory. She had been rented at the age of twelve by her mother to a notorious man in a neighboring state with whom she had remained four years, ostensibly as his daughter. Two weeks ago her mother sent her to Chicago to a white slave trader who agreed to meet her at a given place in a large railroad station; although she had been brought [page 6] across the state line in an automobile to avoid the Interstate Pandering laws which imply the use of a common carrier, the careful plot failed somewhere and when the man did not appear the <the frightened child> came directly to Hull-House because in the brothel kept by her mother, the little girls had been in the habit of pretending that they were related to people whose names they had seen in the newspapers, and <because> she knew my name and address as I had <thus> figured as a hypothetical relative. The girl's story, which she gave most reluctantly, corroborated since by governmental officials, revealed that she had been subjected to unspeakable experiences. She is still so simple and childlike that she lay awake until midnight last Friday night to see if she would feel differently when the clock struck and she should become sixteen <years old> and she gravely reported her disappointment the next morning. [written in left margin] Ruth

[written in left margin] Responsibility of men

Publicity thus making clear that a large number of women have entered the hideous life against their own volition, it inevitably discloses the existence of a widespread commerce organized for the profits of men. The man who owns the house, the one who procures the girl, the one styled her "protector" -- the agent who supplies her clothing, all exploit her, each for his personal gain. Even the women in charge of the houses who from the days of Babylon have reaped large profits, are now becoming merely the paid agents of an organized business, much as a saloon keeper is engaged by a brewery. The girl upon whom all this activity rests, young for the most part, stands in the middle of a complex system which she does not understand. On the other hand, commercial organizations are obliged to continually trump up business in order to secure enough men to make their business profitable and they lure them through alcohol and all vicious devices designed to stimulate the senses. The success of the business which in Chicago pays its promoters fifteen million dollars a year, is founded upon the [hypocrisy] and self righteousness of the decent citizen, and it continues to capture girls, to debauch young men, to spread disease and to corrupt city politics because good men do not consider it part of their religious obligation to face it openly and <to> undertake its abolition. [written in left margin] men also [illegible] [page 7]

The Christian Church cannot hope to eradicate the social evil until it is willing to fairly make it the test of its religious vitality, to forget its ecclesiastical traditions, to drop its cynicism and worldliness, to go back to the method advocated by Jesus himself for dealing with all sinners, including not only the harlot, but we are bound to believe, even those men who live upon her earnings and whom we call every foul name, <certainly, in my opinion, we can never hope to save the girls involved in this hideous situation until at some time [that] we include the young men who are inevitably involved with them.> The method of Jesus was nothing more nor less than sheer forgiveness, the overcoming of the basest evil by the august power of goodness, the overpowering of the sinner by the loving kindness of his brother and, the breaking up of long entrenched evil by the concerted good will of society. [written in top left margin] method of Jesus 

[written in left margin, each word on a separate line] Economic Pleasures Congestion

The new publicity in regard to prostitution in itself forces the church into radical action; understanding of the sinner has even <ever> been essential to his forgiveness, knowledge of conditions has ever preceded social reform. Pleasures> If it is discovered that the brothels are filled with over fatigued and underpaid girls, procured by either young men "too poor to marry," then it is obviously the business of the church to secure legal enactment which shall limit <the> hours of work <labor>, fix a minimum wage and prescribe the conditions under which young people may be permitted to work; if it is found that the army of girls and men required in this vile business is constantly recruited from the young heedlessly looking for pleasure in vicious dance halls, on crowded excursion boats, in careless amusement parks, then it is the obligation of the church to guard and cleanse these pleasures and to provide others free from danger; if the new publicity continues to disclose on the one hand the enormous number of little children who are put <pushed> into an evil life through the very congestion of the city's population, and discloses on the other hand the large number of young people in dreary country communities who are drawn into vicious practices [through] sheer reaction through <from> the monotony and greyness of their lives, then a nation wide church in the crowded city street, must advocate measures to lessen the sensational evils of over crowding, <and> when in the village green it must [page 8] offer social organization and spirited recreation to all the <solitary> young people of the country side; if it is made clear that youth is ensnared because of its ignorance of its <the> most fundamental facts of life, then it the duty of the church to promote public instruction for girls and lads which shall dignify sex knowledge and free it from <all> indecency; if it is found that degenerate children born of diseased and vicious parents become an easy prey for the brothel, it is clearly the obligation of the church to challenge all applicants for marriage and to work out through modern eugenics the admonitions of the Hebrew teachers as to the responsibility until <unto> the third and fourth generation. [written in margin] country>

Society like the individual always finds the contemporary test most difficult. <While> it easily boasts of those already past and it is unduly confident of the future it too often fails to meet the test which faces it at a given moment and which alone <can> reveal its genuine courage and sincerity. [written in left margin opposite this paragraph] 2 [illegible]

All over the world are traces of a changed attitude toward the social evil. Not only are American cities such as Chicago <and Kansas City,> recommending a restrictive measures looking toward final abolition but European cities such as Vienna <and Brussels> are doubting the value of their long established reglementation and are therefore logically facing the same condition <conclusion>, the medical profession is abandoning its century old position of secrecy and connivance; leading educators are at last urging adequate <sex> instruction for all youth. Shall not the church accept the challenge and bear a [valiant] part in this <modern> crusade, <whose> The call has come, not from a holy <solitary> hermit who had conquered [illegible] temptation through withdrawal from the world into a solitary place but from <a> multitude of warm hearted youth who eagerly [illegible] live clean lives from our <in the very> streets, "paven with peril, teeming with mischance", still eagerly clamor for a world <city> made fit and fair for their budding lives. [written in left margin opposite this paragraph] 1