The Sheltered Woman and the Magdalen, July 25, 1913


A greater English preacher has said that life holds for every man one searching test of the sincerity 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.

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 uncharitableness, may we not say that its supreme test is the existence of the social evil 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 not claim that in consequence of this attitude, the social evil has come to be regarded as a vice which cannot be eradicated, as a sin which cannot be forgiven?

This attitude has become so registered <established> in our political affairs that any probe into the vice conditions of a city made by a Grand Jury or a <special> Commission uniformly discovers that the social evil is the root source of political corruption. Although laws declaring it illegal have been placed upon the statute books, and even the hardiest politician dares not repeal them, nevertheless, backed by a universal cynicism the politicians [page 2] 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 such license in one particular is, of course, utterly to demoralize the entire police service. This police connivance at the social evil inevitably creates a necessity for both graft and blackmail; the graft is easy because the owner of an illicit business expects to pay for it and every politician to the tiptop 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. The social evil, 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 literally at the base of the real administration of our cities. The men who consider the segregated district as a legitimate source of revenue in a thousand ways fleece the decent taxpayers who contemptuously refuse to think of these disagreeable matters, and the very existence of the social evil, through one administration to another, frustrates and overthrows all genuine movements for civic reform.

While this contempt of the fall woman is registered in the lax administration of good laws, it also finds expression in the laws of the land which accord her scant justice or redress. The code of Illinois does not differ markedly from the laws of other states. The charge of seduction made against a man is [page 3] defined as a misdemeanor -- a breach of manners, as it were; the punishment for rape is the 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 it is born, the mother -- although totally innocent of the death -- if she conceals the fact may be arrested and committed to the penitentiary.

This feeling of contempt toward the fallen woman 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. 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. This contempt of good women for their erring sister, this desire to keep their own family life free from contamination regardless of any wrong to the outcast, has become the base of a caste system in morality which has the narrowness and prejudice of all caste distinctions. Women have yet to learn that virtue cannot be preserved by merely asserting its superiority to vice and that the supreme test of a good woman may come to be her [page 4] willingness to lift up those who have been relegated to the very bottom of society.

At the Congress of Religions which was held during the World's Fair in Chicago, a man from India told the following story. A woman, after death, found herself at the very bottom of that pit which in almost every religion in the world is reserved for the wicked. When, after many years, she felt that she could endure it no longer she sent up to the throne in Heaven above one petition after another, begging that she might be released from her fearful punishment. The story goes on to relate that at last a message came down from the high throne saying that her petition would be considered if she could think of one unselfish act which she had ever done and would send up the record of that act.

The woman thought and thought a very long time before she could remember one unselfish deed but she finally recalled that one day when she had been getting some carrots ready for dinner a beggar had come by asking for food and that she had given him a defective carrot. She sent up the pitiful record of her one unselfish deed with some fear and misgiving, realizing that she had given the carrot to the beggar because she did not want it herself. Nevertheless, she was told that she would be given a chance and it came in the shape of a carrot tied to a string which was lowered until it reached the bottom of the pit. She was told to take hold of it and that it might be possible that the good deed would pull her up. She seized hold of the carrot, the string began to wind and she began to rise. All was going well until, unfortunately, she looked back and saw someone clinging to [page 5] [possible missing text] his, and so on all the way down until a large group of people were being pulled up with her. Much alarmed she called out "This is my carrot; let go at once; it is not strong enough for so many and it will surely break if she all take hold." Of course, as soon as she had uttered the words the carrot did break and they all went down together.

This old tale from India may illustrate the responsibility we all have for the wicked and that no one is good enough to rise to Heaven unless she is concerned to carry with her those who are at the very bottom of the lowest pit. The definition of unselfishness is enlarged to include the outcast -- that she is not to be despised and put away as an enemy to society but, on the contrary, <that> she is to be understood and helped and wherever possible brought back into a normal life.

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 the fact 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 through members of their own households in that crowding which life in a large tenement postulates.

Not long ago a young girl of sixteen was sent by her mother to Chicago to a white slave trader who agreed <arranged> to meet her at a given place in one of the large railroad stations. She [page 6] came into the city by train although she had been brought 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 she came directly to Hull-House because in the house 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 as I had figured as a hypothetical relative she knew my name and that I lived in the settlement. The girl's story -- which she gave most reluctantly -- was later corroborated by governmental officials and revealed the fact that for four years she had been subjected to unspeakable experiences although she scarcely knew what they all meant. She at once responded to an opportunity for education and the two years since, which she has spent in a convent school, shows that she is gentle and refined and also possessed of unusual ability. Such a girl may be an exception but <her very existance> indicates that girls of this type are found in the life and that a number of women have entered it against their own volition.

In connection with this new publicity there has been disclosed the existence of a widespread commerce organized for business profits. 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, [page 7] young for the most part, stands in the middle of a complex system which she does not understand. Having invested so much money in the enterprise, commercial organizations are obliged to continually trump up business in order to secure enough men to make their business profitable and they deliberately lure them through alcohol and other vicious devices. 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 ruin young men, to spread disease and to corrupt city politics because good citizens do not consider it part of their religious obligation to face it openly and to undertake its abolition. The new publicity in regard to the social evil in itself should force the church into radical action; understanding of the sinner has ever been essential to his forgiveness, knowledge of conditions has ever preceded social reform. If it is discovered that the brothels are filled with over-fatigued and underpaid girls procured by 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 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 dangers; if the new publicity continues to disclose on the one hand the <an> enormous number of [page 8] little children who are pushed into an evil life through the very congestion of the city's population, and disclosing on the other hand the <a> large number of young people in dreary country communities who are drawn into vicious practices through sheer reaction from the monotony and greyness of their lives, then a nation-wide church in the crowded city must advocate measures to lessen the sensational evils of overcrowding and at the same time it must offer social organization to all the solitary young people of the countryside. If it is made clear that youth is ensnared because of its ignorance of the most fundamental facts of life, then it is 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 to evil minded men, it is clearly the obligation of the church to challenge all applicants for marriage and to work out through modern eugenics the admonition of the Hebrew teachers as to the responsibility unto the third and fourth generation.

All over the world are traces of a changed attitude toward the social evil. Not only are American cities such as Chicago recommending restrictive measures looking toward final abolition, but European cities such as Vienna are doubting the value of their long established regimentation and are therefore logically facing the same conclusion. The medical profession is abandoning its century old position of secrecy and connivance, leading educators are at last urging adequate instruction for [page 9] all youth. Shall not the church accept the challenge and bear a valiant part in this modern crusade whose call has come, not from a solitary hermit as did the call for the Crusade long ago, but from a multitude of warm-hearted youth who from our streets "paven with peril, teeming with mischance" still eagerly clamor for a world made fit and fair for their budding lives.

As women all over the world are each year securing a larger measure of political power, may we not expect them to gradually remedy the legislative and administrative evils <wrongs> which have grown up around the social evil and which serve to shield it from direct remedial action. Society, like the individual, always finds the contemporary test <of its spirituality the> most difficult. While it easily boasts of those already past and is unduly confident of the future, it too often fails to meet the test which faces it at a given moment and which alone <best> reveals its genuine courage and sincerity. [page 10]


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sent July 25" [1913]>

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