A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil, Chapter V: Social Control, March 1912

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WHEN certain groups in a community, to whom a social wrong has become intolerable, prepare for definite action against it, they almost invariably discover unexpected help from contemporaneous social movements with which they later find themselves allied. The most immediate help in this new campaign against the social evil will probably come thus indirectly from those streams of humanitarian effort which are ever widening and which will in time slowly engulf into their rising tide of enthusiasm for human betterment even the victims of the white slave traffic.

Public Boards of Health Might Deal with Commercialized Vice as They Deal with Sources of epidemic

Foremost among them is the world-wide movement to preserve and prolong the term of human life, coupled with the determination of the medical profession to eliminate all forms of germ diseases. The same physicians and sanitarians who have practically rid the modern city of smallpox and cholera, and are eliminating tuberculosis, well know that the social evil is directly responsible for germ diseases more prevalent than any of the others and also communicable. Over and over again in the history of large cities, Vienna, Paris, St. Louis, has the medical profession been urged to control the diseases resulting from the commercialized vice which the municipal authorities themselves permitted. But the experiments in official segregation, in licensed systems and certifications, have not been considered successful. The medical profession, hitherto divided in opinion as to the feasibility of such undertakings, is virtually united in the conclusion that, so long as commercialized vice exists, physicians can not guarantee a city against the spread of the contagious poison generated by a vicious life, which is fatal alike to the individual and to his offspring. The medical profession agrees that as the victims of the social evil inevitably become the purveyors of germ diseases of a very persistent and incurable type, safety in this regard lies only in the extinction of commercialized vice. They point out the indirect ways in which this contagion can spread exactly as any other can, and that its control is enormously complicated by the fact that the victims of these diseases are most unwilling to be designated and quarantined. The medical profession is at last taking the position that the community wishing to protect itself against this contagion will in the end be driven to the extermination of the very source itself.

We can imagine, after a dozen years of vigorous and able propaganda of this opinion on the part of public-spirited physicians and sanitarians, that a city might well appeal to the medical profession to exterminate commercialized vice on the ground that it is a source of constant danger to the health and future of the community. Such a city might readily give to the board of health, ordered to undertake this extermination, more absolute authority than is now accorded to it in a smallpox epidemic. Of course no city could reach such a view unless the education of the public proceeded much more rapidly than at present, although the newly established custom of careful medical examination of school children and of employees in factories and commercial establishments results in the discovery of many such cases, and in the end adequate provision must be made for their isolation.

Public Care of Infectious Cases

A child was recently discovered in a Chicago school with an open sore upon her lip, which made her a most dangerous source of infection. [page 2] She was just fourteen years of age, too old to be admitted into that most pathetic and most unlovely of all children's wards, where children must suffer for "the sins of their fathers," and too young and innocent to be put into the women's ward, in which the public takes care of those wrecks of dissolute living who are no longer valuable to the commerce which once secured them and have become merely worthless stock which pay no divided. The disease of the little girl was in too virulent a stage to admit her to that convalescent home lately established in Chicago for those infected children who are dismissed from the country hospital but whom it is impossible to return to their old surroundings. A philanthropic association was finally obliged to pay her board for many weeks to a woman who carefully followed instructions as to her treatment. This is but one example of a child who was discovered and provided for; but it is evident that the public can not long remain indifferent to the care of such cases, when it has already established the means for detecting them.

Crusades against other infectious diseases, such as smallpox and cholera, imply well-considered sanitary precautions, dependent upon widespread education and an aroused public opinion. To establish education and to arouse the public in regard to this present menace apparently presents insuperable difficulties. Many newspapers, so ready to deal with all other forms of vice and misery, never allow these diseases to be mentioned in their columns, except in the advertisements of quack remedies; the clergy, unlike the founder of the Christian religion and the early apostles, seldom preach against the sin of which these contagions are an inevitable consequence; the physicians, bound by a rigorous medical etiquette, tell nothing of the prevalence of these maladies, use a confusing nomenclature in the hospitals, and write only contributory causes upon the very death certificates of the victims.

Yet it is easy to predict that a society committed to the abolition of infectious germs, to a higher degree of public health, and to a better standard of sanitation, will not forever permit these highly communicable diseases to spread unchecked in its midst; and that a public convinced that sanitary science, properly supported, might rid our cities of this type of disease will at length insist upon its accomplishment.

Alcohol the "Indispensable Vehicle" of the White Slave Traffic

Another humanitarian movement from which assistance will doubtless come to the crusade against the social evil, is the great movement against alcoholism, with its recent revival in every civilized country of the world. A careful scientist has called alcohol the indispensable vehicle of the business transacted by the white slave traders and has asserted that without its use this trade could not long continue.

Whoever has tried to help a girl making an effort to leave the irregular life she has been leading, must have been discouraged by the victim's attempt to overcome the habit of using alcohol and drugs. Such a girl has commonly been drawn into the life in the first place when under the influence of liquor, and has continued to drink to enable herself to live through each day. Furthermore, the drinking habit grows upon her because is constantly required to sell liquor and to be "treated."

It is estimated that the liquor sold by such girls nets a profit to the trade of two hundred and fifty per cent over and above the girl's own commission. Chicago made at least one honest effort to divorce the sale of liquor from the social evil when the Superintendent of Police last year ruled that no liquor should be sold in any disreputable house. The difficulty of enforcing such an order is greatly increased because such houses, as well as the questionable dance-halls, commonly sell liquor under a federal license, which is not only cheaper than the saloon license obtained from the city but has the added advantage to the holder that he can sell after one o'clock in the morning, at which time the city saloons are closed.

The aggregate annual profit of the two hundred and thirty-six disorderly saloons recently investigated in Chicago by the Vice Commission was $4,307,000. This profit on the sale of liquor can be traced all along the line in connection with the white slave traffic and is no less disastrous from the point of view of young men than of the girls. Even a slight exhilaration from alcohol relaxes the moral sense and throws a sentimental or adventurous glamour over an aspect of life from which a decent young man would ordinarily recoil, and its continued use stimulates the senses at the very moment when the intellectual and moral inhibitions are lessened. May we not conclude that both chastity and self-restraint are more firmly established in the modern city than we realize, when the white slave traders find it necessary both forcibly to detain their victims and to ply young men with alcohol that they may profit thereby? General Bingham, who as Police Commissioner of New York certainly knew whereof he spoke, says: "There is not enough depravity in human nature to keep alive this very large business. The immorality of women and the brutishness [page 3] of men have to be persuaded, coaxed, and constantly stimulated in order to keep the social evil in its present state of business prosperity."

May we not hope that some of the experiments made by governmental and municipal authorities to control and regulate the sale of liquor, will at last meet with such a measure of success that the existence of the social evil will be imperiled because deprived of its artificial stimulus of alcohol? The Chicago Vice Commission has made a series of valuable suggestions for the regulation of saloons and for the separation of the sale of liquor from dance-halls and from all other places known as recruiting grounds for the white slave traffic. There is still need for a much wider and more thorough education of the public in regard to the historic connection between commercialized vice and alcoholism, of the close relation between politics and the liquor interests, behind which the social evil so often [entrenches] itself.

Women Use the Franchise to Defend Women

In addition to the movement against germ diseases and the suppression of alcoholism, both of which are mitigating the hard fate of the victims of the white slave traffic, other public movements mysteriously affecting all parts of the social order will in time threaten the very existence of commercialized vice. First among these, perhaps, is the equal suffrage movement. On the horizon everywhere are signs that woman will soon receive the right to exercise political power, and it is believed that she will show her efficiency most conspicuously in finding means for enhancing and preserving human life, if only as the result of her age-long experiences. The primitive maternal instinct which has always been as ready to defend as it has been to nurture will doubtless promptly grapple with certain crimes connected with the white slave traffic; women with political power would not brook that men should live upon the wages of captured victims, should openly hire youths to ruin and debase young girls, should be permitted to transmit poison to unborn children. Life is full of hidden remedial powers which society has not yet utilized, but perhaps nowhere is the waste more flagrant than in the matured deductions and judgements of the women who are constantly forced to share social injustices which they have no recognized power to alter. If political rights were once given to women, if the situation were theirs to deal with as a matter of civic responsibility, one can not imagine that the social evil would remain unchallenged in its semi-legal protection. Women with political power have in many ways registered their conscience in regard to it. The Norwegian women have guaranteed to every illegitimate child the right of inheritance to its father's name and property by a law which also provide for the care of its mother. This is in marked contrast to the usual treatment of the mother of an illegitimate child, who, even when the paternity of her child is acknowledged, receives from the father but a pitiful sum for its support; moreover, if the child dies before birth and the mother conceals this fact, although perfectly guiltless of its death, she can be sent to jail for a year.

Equal-suffrage Wyoming is the only state where the age of consent is twenty-one, although the remaining states in which women have had the ballot have made eighteen the age of consent, while in only eight of the other states is it so high. In the majority of the latter the age of consent is between fourteen and sixteen, and in several as low as ten. These legal regulations persist in spite of the well-known fact that the mass of girls enter a disreputable life below the age of eighteen, usually at the instigation of adults.

In equal-suffrage states important issues regarding women and children, whether of the sweat-shop or of the brothel, have always brought out the women voters in great numbers.

Juries of Women Specially Chosen in Scandinavia for Certain Cases

Certainly franchised women would offer some protection to the white slaves themselves, who are tolerated and segregated, but who, because their very existence is illegal, may be arrested whenever any police captain chooses, may be brought before a magistrate, fined and imprisoned. A woman so arrested may be obliged to answer the most harassing questions put to her by a city attorney, with no other woman near to protect her from insult. She may be subjected to the most trying examinations in the presence of policemen, with no matron to whom to appeal. At least, these things constantly happen everywhere save in Scandinavian countries, where juries of women sit upon such cases and offer the protection of their presence to the prisoners. Without such protection even an innocent woman made to appear a member of this despised class receives no consideration. A girl of fifteen, recently playing in a South Chicago theater, attracted the attention of a milkman who gradually convinced her that he was respectable. Walking with him one evening to the door of her lodging-house, the girl told him of her difficulties and quite innocently accepted money for the [page 4] payment of her room rent. The following morning as she was leaving the house, the milkman met her at the door and asked her for the five dollars he had given her the night before. When she said that she had used it to pay her debt to the landlady, the milkman roughly replied that unless she returned the money at once he would call a policeman and arrest her on a charge of theft. The girl was taken to court, where, frightened and confused, she was unable to give a convincing account of the interview of the night before, and, except for the prompt intervention on the part of a woman, would have been sent to the city prison, not because the proof of her guilt was conclusive but because her connection with a cheap theater and the hour of the so-called offense had convinced the court that she belonged to a class of women who are regarded as no longer entitled to legal protection.

Voting Women Would Break through the Secrecy Protecting Commercialized Vice

The very fact that the conditions and results of the social evil lie so far away from the knowledge of good women is largely responsible for the secrecy and hypocrisy upon which it thrives. Most good women will probably never consent to break through their ignorance, save under a sense of duty which has ever been the one incentive to action to which even timid women have responded.

Several years ago, in Colorado, the disreputable women of Denver appealed to a large political club of women against the action of the police, who were forcing them to register, under threat of arrest, in order later to secure their votes for a corrupt politician. The disreputable women, wishing to conceal their real names and addresses, did not want to be registered -- in this respect, at least, differing from the lodging-house men whose venal votes play such an important part in every municipal election. The woman's political club responded to this appeal and not only stopped the coercion but finally turned out the chief of police responsible for it.

At least a promising beginning would be made to more effective social control if the mass of conscientious women were once thoroughly convinced that a knowledge of local vice conditions was a matter of civic obligation; if the entire body of conventional women, simply because they held the franchise, felt constrained to inform themselves concerning the social evil throughout the cities of America. Perhaps the immediate result would be a change in the attitude toward the social evil on the part of elected officials, responding to that of their constituency. Although good and bad men alike prize chastity in women, and although good men require it of themselves, almost all men are convinced that it is impossible to require it of thousands of their fellow citizens. Because women are much more exigent, every moment which tends to increase woman's share of civic responsibility in regard to commercialized vice undoubtedly forecasts the time when a social control will be extended over men similar to the historic one so long established over women.

After all, why should it be assumed that a great city will either set aside well-known districts for the accommodation of the social evil, as Chicago does, or continually permit it to flourish in tenement- and apartment-houses, as is done in New York? Smaller communities and towns throughout the land are free from at least this semi-legal organization of it, and why should it be accepted as a permanent aspect of city life? The valuable report of the Chicago Vice Commission estimates that twenty thousand of the men daily responsible for this evil in Chicago live outside of the city. They are the men who come from other towns to Chicago in order to "see the sights." They are supposedly moral at home, where they are well known and subjected to the constant control of public opinion. The report goes on to state that during conventions or "show" occasions the business of commercialized vice is enormously increased.

The village gossip, with her vituperative tongue, after all performs a valuable function both of castigation and retribution; but her fellow townsman, coming into a city hotel, often experiences a great sense of relief which easily rises to a mood of exhilaration. In addition to this he sometimes holds an exaggerated notion of the wickedness of the city. A countryman visiting the city is often shown museums and questionable sights reserved primarily for his patronage, just as tourists are conducted to lurid Parisian revels and indecencies sustained expressly for their horrified contemplation. Such a situation would indicate that, because control is much more difficult in a large city than in a small town, the city deliberately provides for its own inability in this direction.

A Menace of Militarism

During a recent military encampment in Chicago large numbers of young girls were attracted to it by that glamour which ever surrounds the soldier. On the complaint of several mothers, investigators discovered that many of [page 5] the girls were there without the knowledge of their parents, some of them having literally climbed out of windows after their parents had supposed them asleep. A thorough investigation disclosed not only an enormous increase of business in the restricted districts but the downfall of many young girls who had hitherto been thoroughly respectable and able to resist the ordinary temptations of city life, but who had completely lost their heads over the glitter of a military camp. One young girl was seen by an investigator in the late evening hurrying away from the camp. She was so absorbed in her trouble and so blinded by her tears that she fairly ran against him, and he heard her praying, as she frantically clutched and the beads around her neck, "Oh, Mother of God, what have I done! What have I done!" The Chicago encampment was finally brought under control through the combined efforts of the Park Commissioners, the city police, and the military authorities, but not without a certain resentment from the last toward "civilian interference." Such an encampment may be regarded as an historic survival representing the standing armies sustained in Europe since the days of the Roman Empire. These large bodies of men, deprived of domestic life, have always afforded centers in which contempt or at least indifference to the chastity of "the women of the lower classes" has been fostered. The older centers of militarism have established prophylactic measures designed to protect the health of the soldiers, but evince no concern for the fate of the ruined women. The primary difficulty adheres in the withdrawal of such large numbers of men from normal family life and hence from the domestic restraints and social checks which are operative upon the mass of men.

The great peace propagandas have emphasized the unjustifiable expense involved in the maintenance of the standing armies of Europe, the social waste in the withdrawal of thousands of young men from industrial, commercial, and professional pursuits into the barren negative life of the barracks. They might go further and lay stress upon the loss of moral sensibility, the destruction of romantic love, the perversion of the longing for wife and child, all so necessary to the stability and refinement of the social order.

Social customs are instituted so slowly and even imperceptibly, so far as the conforming individual is concerned, that the mass of men submit to control in spite of themselves, and it is therefore always difficult to determine how far the average upright living is the result of external props until these props are suddenly withdrawn. This is especially true of domestic life. Even the sordid marriages in which the senses have forestalled the heart, almost always end in some form of family affection. The young couple who may have been brought together in marriage upon the most primitive plane, after twenty years of hard work in meager, unlovely surroundings, in spite of stupidity and many mistakes, in the face of failure and even wrong-doing, will have unfolded lives of unassuming affection and family devotion to a group of children. They will have faithfully fulfilled that obligation which falls to the lot of the majority of men and women, with its high rewards and painful sacrifices. These rewards, as well as the restraints of domestic life, are denied to the soldier. A somewhat similar situation is found in every large construction camp, and in the crowded city tenements occupied by thousands of immigrant men who have preceded their families to America.

Would Commercialized Vice Disappear Under Socialism?

In addition to the large social movements for the betterment of public health, for the establishment of temperance, for the promotion of equal suffrage, and for the hastening of peace and arbitration, is the world-wide organization and active propaganda of international socialism. It has always included the abolition of this ancient evil in its program of social reconstruction, and since the publication of Bebel's great book, nearly thirty years ago, the leaders of the Socialist party have never ceased to discuss the economics of prostitution with its psychological and moral resultants. The Socialists contend that commercialized vice is fundamentally a question of poverty, a by-product of despair, which will disappear only with the abolition of poverty itself; that it persists not primarily from inherent weakness in human nature, but is a vice arising from a defective organization of social life; that, with a reorganization of society, at least all of prostitution which is founded upon the hunger of the victims and upon the profits of the traffickers, will disappear.

Whether we are Socialists or not, we will all admit that every level of culture breeds its own particular brand of vice and uncovers new human weakness as well as new nobilities in human nature; that a given social development -- such, for instance, as the conditions of life for thousands of young people in crowded city quarters -- may produce such temptations and present such snares to virtue, that average human nature can not withstand them. The very fact that the existence of the social evil is semi-legal in large cities is an admission that our [page 6] individual morality is so uncertain that it breaks down when social control is withdrawn and the opportunity for secrecy is offered. The situation indicates either that the best conscience of the community fails to translate itself into civic action or that our cities are too large to be civilized in a social sense. These difficulties have been enormously augmented during the past century, so marked by the rapid growth of cities, because the great principle of liberty has not only been translated into the unlovely doctrine of commercial competition, but also has fostered in many men the belief that personal development necessitates a rebellion against existing social law. To the opportunity for secrecy which the modern city offers, such men are able to add a high-sounding justification for their immoralities. Fortunately, however, for our moral progress, the specious and illegitimate theories of freedom are constantly challenged, and a new form of social control is slowly reestablished on the principle, so widespread in contemporary government, that the state has a responsibility for conditions which determine the health and welfare of its own members; that in the interest of social progress even hard-won liberties must be restrained by the demonstrable needs of society.

This new and more vigorous development of social control, while reflecting something of that wholesome fear of public opinion which the intimacies of a small community maintain, is much more closely allied to the old communal restraints and mutual protection to which the human will first yielded. Although this new control is based upon the voluntary cooperation of self-directed individualism, in contrast to the forced submission that characterized the older form of social restraint, nevertheless, in predicting the establishment of adequate social control over the instinct which the modern novelist so oftens describes as "uncontrollable," there is a certain sanction in this old and well-nigh forgotten history.

Public Opinion Has Always Regulated Marriage to a Practically Unlimited Extent

The most superficial student of social customs quickly discovers the practically unlimited extent to which public opinion has always regulated marriage. If the traditions of one tribe were endogamous, all the men dutifully married within it, but if the customs of another decreed that wives must be secured by capture or purchase, all the men of that tribe fared forth in order to secure their mates. From the primitive Australian who obtains his wives in exchange for his sisters or daughters, and never dreams of obtaining them in any other way, to the sophisticated young Frenchman who, without objection, marries the girl his careful parents select for him; from the ancient Hebrew who contentedly married the widow of his decreased brother because it was according to the law, to the modern Englishman who refused to marry his deceased wife's sister because the law forbade it -- the entire pathway of the so-called uncontrollable instinct has been gradually confined between carefully clipped hedges and has steadily led up to a house of conventional domesticity.

Men have fallen in love with their cousins or declined to fall in love with them, very much as custom declared marriages between cousins to be desirable or undesirable, as they formerly married their sisters and later absolutely ceased to desire to marry them. In fact, regulation of this great primitive instinct goes back of the human race itself. All the high tribes of monkeys are strictly monogamous and many species of birds are faithful to one mate season after season. According to the great authority Forel, prostitution never became established among primitive peoples. Even savage tribes designated the age at which their young men were permitted to assume paternity, because feeble children were a drag upon their communal resources. As primitive control lessened with the disappearance of tribal organization, a social control, not less binding, was slowly established until throughout the centuries, in spite of many rebellious individuals, the mass of men have lived according to the dictates of the church, the legal requirements of the state, and the surveillance of the community, if only because they feared social ostracism. It is easy, however, to forget these men and their prosaic virtues because history has so longed busied herself in recording the court amours and gentle dalliances of the overlord.

How the Secrecy of Life in a Great City Breaks Down Social Control

The great primitive instinct, so responsive to social control as to be almost an example of social docility, has apparently broken with all the restraints and decencies under two conditions: first, when the individual has felt that he was above social control, and, second, when the individual has been isolated, or has had an opportunity to hide his daily living. Prostitution upon a commercial basis becomes possible only in a society so highly complicated that social control may be successfully evaded. When a city is so large that it is extremely difficult to [page 7] fix individual responsibility, that which was for centuries considered the luxury of the king comes within the reach of every office-boy, and that lack of community control which belonged only to the overlord, who felt himself superior to the standards of the people, may be seized upon by any city dweller. Against such moral aggression the old types of social control are powerless.

Fortunately, crowded city conditions which make moral isolation possible constantly tend to develop a new restraint founded upon the mutual dependencies of city life and its daily necessities. The city itself socializes the very instruments that constitute the apparatus of social control, law, publicity, literature, education, and religion. The desirability of chastity, which has hitherto been a matter of individual opinion and decision, under this socialization comes to be regarded not only as a personal virtue indispensable in women and desirable in men, but as a great basic requirement which society has learned to demand because it has been proved necessary for human welfare. To the individual restraints is added the conviction of social responsibility, and the whole determination of chastity is shifted to social grounds.

Certainly we are safe in predicting that, when the solidarity of human interest is actually realized, it will become unthinkable that one class of human beings should be sacrificed to the supposed needs of another; that when the rights of men have successfully asserted themselves in contrast to the rights of property, it will be impossible to sell the young and heedless into degradation. An age characterized by a new tenderness for the losers in life's race certainly will not persist in denying forgiveness to the woman who has lost all; nor will an age marked by its vigorous protests against slavery and class tyranny continue to ignore the multitude of women who are held in literal bondage. A generation which has gone through so many successive revolts against commercial aggression and lawlessness will at last lead one more revolt in behalf of the young girls who are the victims of the basest and vilest commercialism. As that consciousness of human suffering which already hangs like a black cloud over thousands of our more sensitive contemporaries increases in poignancy, it must finally include the women who for so many generations have received neither pity nor consideration. As the sense of justice fast widens to encircle all human relations, it must at length reach the women who have so long been judged without a hearing.

Secure in the knowledge of evolutionary processes, our age has learned to talk glibly of the obligations of race progress and of the possibility of racial degeneration. In this respect certainly we have a wider outlook than that possessed by our fathers, who so valiantly grappled with chattel slavery and secured its overthrow. May the new conscience gather force until men and women, acting under its sway, shall be constrained to eradicate this ancient evil.

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