Thursday, 29 July 2010

White Slavery in early 20th century America

I've been informed by Brett from the excellent Photo Sleuth blog that the page is from Fighting the Trade in Young Girls or War on the White Slave Trade (1909) by Ernest A. Bell. Bell focuses on cautionary tales (which use heavily melodramatic language) of American 'white slavery'. 

A preview of the book is available on googlebooks and there is also a full version at

In this extract, Bell explains how the white slavers operate:

"The systematic traffic in girls from American homes is carried on by male parasites, who live lives of luxury from their gains from this work as procurers and panders. Women are also used to beguile other women...These infamous creatures sometimes go as agents for books, gramophones, or machines...Victims are looked for in railroad depots, and trains are watched for young women travelling alone. General deliveries in post offices are watched where young women call for letters.

 Recruiting stations are found in dance halls, in the cities, and amusement parts with drinking places are attachments. Ice cream parlours and fruit stores sometimes serve as spiders' webs for entanglement.

 The villanous men engaged in this work assume the guise of friends and sometimes will even talk to parents about getting fine jobs for their girls...Sometimes the procurer professes to have fallen in love and marries his victim and then sells her in the market...

After girls are caught in the net and drawn into a vile resort various plans are made to complete their ruin and hold them in absolute bondage. Their street clothes are taken away, they are not allowed to write letters to their friends, and some are confined under lock and key.

 Their owners keep them in debt for clothes, charged for at exorbitant prices, their wages often paid to the parasite who has claims upon them and often these ties of debt and vice so fasten the bonds of slavery that they become broken and desperate. All of these things and many more unprintable details of these cases have been made matter of court record and show that this systematic traffic in American girls is not a fiction..."

Some of their victims, noted by Bell: Helen Chambers, sent to her ruin by drink and a two week  absinthe bender; Kitty Schay, whose fondness for dances halls proved her undoing; Estelle Ramon, whose ambitious mother encouraged her to marry an 'artist' (in fact a slaver) rather than a nice steady local admirer.

And Daisy, dying at 19 "after one year of sinful indulgence and one year of lingering death"...? 

"We found her one day in March in the venereal ward at Cook County Hospital. She was unconscious, and it was five weeks before she could tell us her story. One of those great blue eyes was sightless. One hand was crippled. Her lower limbs were paralyzed. She was dying - dying of the horrible, loathsome, putrefying disease of the life of shame...the work of but one year of this life...

During that miserable year of sin, she was ill, but recovered sufficiently to resume the service of lust. Then came the break and the long weary months she lay helpless in the resort amidst the revellings of her stronger companions and their consorts...

About two years ago Daisy was left an orphan under peculiarly sad conditions. She resented the solicitude of an only sister - tho' her senior - and as neither was a Christian, the friction grew into a quarrel...

She entered the employ of a man whose family and business standing gave her reason to believe that she could trust him...Then in an hour of need when she was in search of a new place, he directed her to No. --- West Madison Street. He did not take her in, lest he be charged with selling her as a white slave, but left her on the brink of ruin to take the plunge alone...

[There is no mention of what happened next and the scene shifts back to Daisy dying raddled with disease but penitent in the poorhouse].

Her love for Jesus grew so strong that one desire possessed her - that she might live to warn girls of the sure end of the evil way and win them to Christ..."Tell the girls for me always to confide in and obey their mothers," was her common message."

'Daisy' died on 2nd September 1909 in Cook County Poor House.

1 comment:

Amanda Lin Costa said...

Such an interesting post! I linked to it on my Annie Londonderry Facebook page and my Pinterest - I never knew this existed in her days.

I made her trip seem even more scary!