bertillon ledger, prostitution post

Minneapolis “alleywalkers” and the campaign to end prostitution

Published July 1, 2014 by Heidi Heller

Today’s blogger is Heidi Heller. She is a senior history major at Augsburg College and an intern with the Historyapolis Project.

Today we have another excerpt from the Bertillon Ledgers in the Tower Archives at Minneapolis City Hall. This entry–which documents an arrest in 1917–illuminates the city’s campaign against prostitution in the run-up to World War I.

In 1910, city officials claimed victory over the social evil of prostitution when they shut down the red-light districts. Yet only one year later, the city’s Vice Commission issued a report that acknowledged that prostitution still represented a major problem for the city. The once segregated sex trade was now dispersed the throughout the city – into alleys, residential areas, hotels and saloons.  Faced with the tasking of determining how to handle the growing city-wide problem of prostitution, the Commission debated the idea of once again allowing segregated areas of prostitution. Ultimately the Commission concluded “nothing is more certain than that segregation in Minneapolis has not, in fact, successfully segregated” prostitution.

To remedy this situation, Commissioners demanded increased police vigilance, encouraged citizens to report disorderly houses in their neighborhoods and insisted that police ban “vicious women” from saloons. They directed hotel keepers never to assign a room to two people of the opposite sex unless they were listed as husband and wife on a “bona fide register”; never to assign a room to a couple between 9pm and 6am; and never to provide a room to a couple that included a minor. Exceptions could be made only if the couple had “bona fide luggage”; permission from the police; or an affadavit from a “reputatable resident of the city” that they were husband and wife.

These measures did little to dampen the commercial sex trade. The industry continued to grow until 1917, when the federal government decided prostitution threatened wartime mobilization. Law enforcement in Minneapolis was happy to do its part for military preparedness and began rounding up the women they called “alley walkers.”

The Bertillon ledgers record scores of arrests. A disproportionate number involved “colored” women, who were sentenced to time in the workhouse. White women appear occasionally in the ledgers. But in the period between 1915 and 1919, it was primarily African-American women who were singled out for punishment. No doubt white women were also “alley workers.” But it seems that police did not see them as a pressing problem.

Police targeted women like Frances McRaven, who was arrested on October 1, 1917 for running a disorderly house and working as an “alley walker.” She was 22 years old, originally from Kansas and described as a housewife with a stocky build and one gold front tooth. She was also African American. According to the officer who described her crime and physique for the ledger, she “one of the numerous colored women who infest south Minneapolis, robbing white men in alleys, etc.”

Her arrest–and the many other ones like it–shed light on the changing nature of the sex industry in early twentieth century Minneapolis. But it also reveals the intense racism of the time. Prejudice isolated the city’s tightly-knit African-American community, making employment and affordable house difficult to find.

The city’s black community was small at the time of McRaven’s arrest. The Great Migration began in 1916, drawing millions of African Americans north with the promises of work and a better life. Few of these migrants would end up in Minneapolis. Between 1910 and 1920, the African-American community in Minneapolis grew from 2592 to 3927, an increase of 51.5 percent. In comparison, Detroit would see its African American population increase by 611.3 percent in the same period. Yet even this small population increase was viewed by many whites as a threat.

Negative racial attitudes prevented qualified African Americans from securing well paying jobs. In 1919, the Minneapolis Morning Tribune admitted that African-American women were “unable to secure the type of employment they are trained and fitted in every way to do.” Turned away from factories, department stores and telephone switchboards, many of these women were forced into the underground economy. Prostitution may have been the only way that many could survive.

Image from the Minneapolis City Archives. Material for this post is taken from Bertillon Ledgers, Tower Archives, Minneapolis City Hall; Report of the Vice Commission of Minneapolis, 1911; African Americans in Minneapolis: The People of Minnesota, David Vassar Taylor; “Survey for Benefit of Colored Women,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune¸ May 14, 1919.

Sanborn Map 1st Street, tower archives, Female Boarding

Mapping Brothels

Published June 30, 2014 by Heidi Heller

Today’s blogger is Heidi Heller. She is a senior history major at Augsburg College and an intern with the Historyapolis Project.

It’s map Monday and we have another great image from the 1912 Sanborn maps in the Tower Archives at City Hall. These maps—which were created by the insurance industry to determine fire risk to structures–provide a unique glimpse into the city’s past.

This plate shows First Street South and Second Avenue South, which was once a thriving red-light district. The Sanborn cartographers marked various buildings with the notation “F.B.” –which was shorthand for Female Boarding. This phrase–according to historian Penny Petersen– was a euphemism for brothel. While some of the building were likely legitimate female boarding house, at least five were known brothels in 1888 and likely still served a similar purpose in 1912.

During the late 1800’s, First Street South was the heart of the Minneapolis red-light district and also laid within Bridge Square, the growing industrial center of Minneapolis. For numerous Madams this area was the prime location to operate a brothel – serving wealthier business men and other riverfront workers. By the 1890’s, as Minneapolis’ growth shifted away from the river front, the Bridge Square area began to decline. With the shift, came an increase in saloons, cage hotels and a decrease in wealthier clientele. Being shrewd business women, many Madams shifted their operation across the river to Main Street and later to 11th Avenue South, where they continued to provide service in lavishly decorated brothels to Minneapolis’ wealthy business men.

Even as the First Street red-light district lost its glow for the higher end madams, it retained its draw for lower end madams and other prostitutes. Established houses of ill repute served as a starting point for many up and coming Madams. Add in a ready set of clientele, thanks to the large population of lumberjacks, agricultural workers and transient laborers, and the First Street red-light district thrived and continued to grow especially as Bridge Square grew into Minneapolis’ skid row.

Despite on-going efforts to close down the red-light districts by various reform groups, Minneapolis Police and City Official remained tolerant of the segregated vice. Officials even developed a system where Madams would appear monthly in court, plead guilty to running a brothel, pay a fine and pay $10 for each girl working in the brothel. The Madam’s fine started out at $50, but would increase to $100 in the ensuring years. In 1879, the fines netted the city approximately $9300. Funds raised by the fines went to the city coffers, a portion also went to the Bethany Home – a reform home for former prostitutes.

The fine system remained in place until the early 1900’s, when reformers were finally successful in putting enough pressure on City Officials to bring an end to segregated prostitution in the three red-light districts.  By 1910, officials were claiming an end to the social evil of tolerated prostitution in the red-light districts. Regardless of the official claims of success, prostitution continued to thrive throughout the First Street red-light district and even saw a boom as reformers succeeded in closing down the Main Street and 11th Avenue red-light districts. As the 1912 Sanborn map clearly shows, female boarding houses along First Street were numerous and served as a place for individual prostitutes to ply their trade. In the years to come, City Police and Officials would be plagued by the on-going prostitution problem that developed in these female boarding houses and other clandestine brothels.

The Sanborn Map is from the Tower Archives at Minneapolis City Hall. Material for this post is taken from Penny Petersen, Minneapolis Madams (University of Minnesota Press: 2013); Sophie E. Wallerstedt, Politicians and prostitutes make strange bedfellows: A history of commercialized sex and regulation in early Minneapolis (Thesis, University of Minnesota, May 2013); David Rosheim, The Other Minneapolis or The Rise and Fall of the Gateway, The Old Minneapolis Skid Row, 1978.

Adonis ad for Kevin's pride column

TC Pride: Remembering the Battle of the Bookstores

Published June 27, 2014 by Kevin Ehrman-Solberg

Today’s blogger is Kevin Ehrman-Solberg, Historyapolis intern. 

This weekend, Twin Cities Pride will celebrate the myriad aspects of GLBT life in Minneapolis, which revels in its designation as the “gayest city” in the United States. Pride began as a subdued picnic in Loring Park in 1972 and most people see this quiet gathering as the beginning of a new era of openness for gays and lesbians in the city. It took more than a picnic, however, for queer Minnesotans to win the social, political, and sexual rights they enjoy today.

The struggle for these rights took place in a wide variety of community institutions. But a critical–and often overlooked–battleground for sexual freedom in Minneapolis was the city’s adult bookstores and movie theaters. From 1979 to 1985, the city’s growing adult entertainment industry was the site of intense conflict over the rights of gay men to seek sexual partners in public spaces. A critical turning point for gay rights in the city, this “battle of the bookstores” inspired queer Minneapolitans to seek real political influence in City Hall.

In 1979, police launched a crackdown against the city’s growing pornography industry. They were under intense pressure from neighborhood activists, who objected to the proliferation of pornographic bookstores and movie theaters in South Minneapolis. The ensuing police campaign targeted gay men who used adult bookstores and theaters as sites for sexual encounters. Men in Minneapolis, many of them unwilling to self-identify as gay, had been using those spaces since the early 1970s as a way to engage in sexual contact without fear of physical violence or discovery.

The experience of Mark Weintrob was typical. On August 17, 1982, Mark Weintrob left work and headed to the Adonis Bookstore downtown. He went up to the second floor where a small theater advertised “Hot Male Movies” from “Noon to Midnight.” After taking a seat, he noticed a man staring at him in the dim lights. The two men proceeded to engage in the “normal gay male cruising rituals” until the stranger finally took the initiative and asked Wientrob if he would like to “go somewhere a little more private.” Wientrob followed him to a small boiler room. There, the stranger asked: “Are you a cop?” Wientrob responded with a simple: “No.” “Well I am,” the stranger said, “and you’re under arrest.”

Wientrob became the first man to challenge such an arrest in court. He won, but very few of the men arrested for indecent conduct–a charge used almost exclusively for observed sexual conduct between consenting men–were willing to fight such a charge. Doing so meant public exposure, the very thing these men were trying to avoid.

That exposure could have dire–even fatal–consequences, as the case of the Reverend James Santo illustrates. On December 14, 1982, Santo went into the basement of his Hopkins church and lit himself on fire. His death, and the subsequent investigation, made the front page of the Star and Tribune. “The fire,” the story reads, “which police said may have been caused by Santo pouring gasoline on himself, was preceded 12 hours earlier by his arrest on indecent conduct charges in an adult-oriented bookstore in Minneapolis.” That line is the only mention of the indecent conduct arrest in the Star and Tribune coverage, but it hints at a problem that had been wracking the local gay community for years. Attorney Ken Keate, who regularly represented bookstore arrestees, reported that “about five percent of my calls on these cases are suicide calls.”

The undercover operations of the vice squad netted over 5,000 arrests for indecent conduct between 1979 and 1985. The vast majority of those arrests were gay men. In addition to the shame of such an arrest, many had to endure police brutality when taken into custody.       Activists began to mobilize against this harassment in 1979. But they made little headway until 1985, when a coalition of openly gay politicians and community members were able to force police to scale back their entrapment operations. The political muscle exercised by newly elected gay politicians Brian Coyle, Allan Speer, and Karen Clark, signaled a profound change in the dynamics of the local gay community. The Star Tribune, which had all but ignored the bookstore arrests, suddenly took notice. The paper remarked that the police department’s decision to end vice squad entrapment demonstrated a “broad and well-entrenched political base of support for gays” and was one of the first tangible signs of “growing gay political power.”

“Spend Where You Are Welcome”

Published June 26, 2014 by Kevin Ehrman-Solberg


It’s Pride Week in Minneapolis, and this offers an appropriate opportunity for a visual tour of the city’s historic gay and lesbian press. The images in the above box-slider were digitized by Historyapolis student researcher Kevin Ehrman-Solberg. All images are from 1980’s advertisements that appeared in Equal Time, the GLC Voice, Gaily Planet, and TC Gaze. Tim Campbell, editor of the GLC Voice, regularly encouraged his readers to support the local gay and lesbian businesses. At the beginning of the advertisement section in the Voicethere was often a friendly reminder to “spend where you are welcome.”

Special thanks to Dan Wilhelmsen, the Tretter Collection and the Quatrefoil library.



Published June 25, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

Just in time for TC Pride, Minneapolis has a cutting edge digital guide to local LGBTQ history. YesterQueer shows local queer history sites on a contemporary map. But its creators see this content as only the beginning. Please download the app. And then share additional memories and images of LGBTQ history via email:

YesterQueer comes out of a collaboration of the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Pride, author and activist Stewart Van Cleve (Historyapolis contributor and author of Land of 10,000 Loves) and Kerem San, founder of AppyNerds Mobile App Studio.




“A Practical Guide for the Unpracticed Homosexual”

Published June 23, 2014 by Kevin Ehrman-Solberg

It’s Map Monday. Today we have a series of maps created by Historyapolis student researcher Kevin Ehrman-Solberg.

On August 21, 1970, Hundred Flowers, a radical newspaper from the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, devoted an entire issue to the burgeoning gay rights movement. “1969 was the year of the New Homosexual,” the paper proclaimed. “New groups, projecting a militant, determined and activist viewpoint arose. The gay person became visible and vocal on a wide scale for the first time. We need your support. Join us in the Freaking Fag Revolution!”

What follows is a mapping of the sites where gays could,according the the paper, “reasonably expect to meet others of the same orientation.” All text, locations, and names are taken directly from Hundred Flowers.

Click on the image below to bring up the map series. You can navigate between the different maps by clicking on the bullet points.



grand jury abortion indictment, theresa solie

“An Illegal Operation”: The Case of Theresa Solie, part 2

Published April 24, 2014 by Derek Waller

Today’s guest blogger is Derek Waller, a senior from St. Olaf College who interned with the Historyapolis Project for his January term. A history major with a minor in gender studies, Waller explores the history of abortion in Minneapolis in this two-part post.

Shortly after Theresa Solie died from a botched abortion, the Minneapolis Tribune reported “2 Face Arraignment In Illegal Operation.” An inconspicuous piece on page 20, the article gave the names and addresses of the doctor and Martin Schmidt, reporting that the men were put on trial for performing the operation. The doctor, R.J.C. Brown, was an African-American who had operated a small practice in the Near North side for over a decade.

The average cost of an abortion in the 1930s was $67; Solie paid less than half that amount for her abortion. This probably indicates that Brown was catering to a less affluent group of women. We have no way to know whether he specialized in abortions or merely began to offer this service as a way for making up for the income that many physicians lost in the economic collapse of the Great Depression.

At the trial, Dr. Brown was represented by Lena Olive Smith, a prominent civil rights pioneer and Minnesota’s first female African-American attorney. Smith called on only two witnesses at the trial, Dorothy Johnson and Marie Schmidt. Dorothy, a friend of Theresa’s, testified that she was working as a prostitute, and Mrs. Schmidt’s testimony supported this claim. She said that Theresa was rarely home in the evening, and was unemployed. Mrs. Schmidt testified further that Theresa had received a package with medication to induce an abortion. However, the court refused to admit the pillbox as evidence, which was found among Theresa’s belongings. At every turn during the trial, the court ruled against Brown and Schmidt, admitting all the testimony for the prosecution while blocking evidence and testimony from the defense.

The court charged Brown and Schmidt with first degree manslaughter, sentencing both to prison. Schmidt was released after a year, while Brown served nearly 10 years; racism was almost certainly a factor in this outcome. Whether either of these men were responsible for Theresa’s death, we will likely never know. What does seem likely is that Theresa was a sex worker. No records of employment or testimony from an employer surfaced during the trial. Under desperate circumstances, Theresa had few connections in Minneapolis, and did not really have other options. Given the economic climate of 1938, many women ended up working as sex workers. Without the money or support system to raise a child, Theresa had to terminate her pregnancy. An unregulated and non-standardized practice in 1938, abortion was more likely to lead to death than it is today.  The state found two men to blame for Theresa’s death, but did not recognize the material circumstances that caused it.

Thanks to William Mitchell law professor Ann Juergens, who shared this case and her other research on Lena Olive Smith with Historyapolis.


photo for solie abortion post, 6th avenue north and 7th avenue north, 1936, from the streetcar museum

“An Illegal Operation”: The Case of Theresa Solie

Published April 24, 2014 by Derek Waller

Today’s guest blogger is Derek Waller, a senior from St. Olaf College who interned with the Historyapolis Project for his January term. A history major with a minor in gender studies, Waller explores the history of abortion in Minneapolis in this two-part post.

When Theresa Solie arrived in Minneapolis in 1938, she hoped to find more opportunities than she had in her hometown of Cornell, Wisconsin. A high school graduate with a degree from a business college in Wausaw, Theresa had strong credentials for a young woman seeking employment.

But given the economic climate of the time, it’s not surprising that Theresa was unable to put her training to use. In 1938, the city was still mired in the Great Depression. The previous winter had been miserable; only a huge infusion of federal aid had kept the community afloat. Labor conflicts, escalating racial tensions and intensifying Anti-Semitism had fed the dark mood of the city.

During her first few weeks in the city, Theresa stayed with a distant relative, Clara Leines. She then found domestic work with various families around the near North side, which meant that she had food and a place to stay. Eventually, she got a job as a waitress and began renting her own room. At least this is the story she told Clara.

A year later, Theresa died a few days after undergoing an illegal abortion. On her deathbed, she identified the doctor who had performed the procedure. She also reported that her landlord, Mr. Martin Schmidt, gave her $25 to pay for the procedure. When a policewoman questioned her further, she said that Schmidt was also responsible for her pregnancy.

Abortion had been outlawed in the United States since the middle of the nineteenth century. The procedure was legalized in 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down its Roe v. Wade decision. Solie died from a botched termination in the middle of this long century. The safety of illegal abortions varied according to the race and class of the patient. And from all indications Solie had no economic resources and little in the way of family support.

The criminalization of abortions never stopped women from seeing this procedure. Particularly during the Depression, women were desperate to control their fertility. Birth control became widely accepted. And a growing number of women sought abortions. The economic environment forced committed couples to delay marriage and put off child-bearing. Some families placed their children in orphanages, since they had money for neither food nor clothing. An unplanned pregnancy could bring economic catastrophe to a single woman.

Every city had doctors—like Dr. R.J.C. Brown—who were known to perform this procedure. In Minneapolis, Brown was probably well-known as an abortion provider, maintaining an office on 6th Avenue North, a main thoroughfare shown in this photo from 1936. This section of the near North side was known for its tippling houses and shabby brothels, a magnet for those seeking cheap liquor and illicit sex.

Despite the shifting landscape of reproductive rights, abortion was still considered a serious crime with severe legal consequences for doctors. And when Solie died, the state pressed charges against the doctor and Schmidt. When the defendants appealed for a retrial, the case went before the Minnesota Supreme Court nearly a year after Theresa’s death. The testimony before the court and the aftermath of court’s decision complicated Theresa’s story, shedding light onto a darker history that Minneapolitans of the time preferred to overlook.

This 1936 photo is of the intersection of 6th Avenue North and 7th Avenue in Minneapolis. It comes from the Streetcar Museum via the Digital Public Library of America. Thanks to William Mitchell law professor Ann Juergens, who shared this case and her other research on Lena Olive Smith with Historyapolis.


minneapolis maternity hospital 2, no date, mhs

“The Duty of Not Keeping Silent”: Martha Ripley and Minneapolis Maternity Hospital

Published April 24, 2014 by Jacqueline deVries

Guest blogger today is Jacqueline deVries, Professor of History and Women’s Studies at Augsburg College. deVries is writing a book on women’s health care in Britain and its empire.

To modern eyes, there is nothing revolutionary about this sweet image of babies in nursery baskets. But these babies were wards of the Minneapolis Maternity Hospital, a radical institution that defied many social conventions of its time when it was founded by activist physician Dr. Martha G. Ripley in 1887.

Long before the Boston Women’s Health Collective published its path-breaking Our Bodies, Ourselves in 1971, Ripley was practicing feminist medicine. She established the Minneapolis Maternity Hospital for “the confinement of married women who are without mean or suitable abode and care at the time of child-birth” and “girls who have previously borne a good character, but who, under promise of marriage, have been led astray.” In other words, Ripley cared for the women on the margins of Minneapolis society, working to ensure safe and healthy childbirths for women who were largely ignored by the mainstream medical community.

Martha Ripley (1843-1912) moved to Minneapolis in 1883 after her husband was injured and lost his managerial job in a Massachusetts’ textile mill and she became the sole breadwinner for their three daughters.

Feminist politics and women’s medicine were Ripley’s twin passions. Shortly after her arrival in Minneapolis, Ripley was elected president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association, a new affiliate of the American Women Suffrage Association (AWSA) led by Ripley’s Massachusetts friends, Henry Blackwell and Lucy Stone.  Drawing on her Boston connections, she brought the seventeenth annual convention of the AWSA to Minneapolis in 1885.

Ripley’s medical career had begun when she volunteered as a nurse in Lawrence, Massachusetts, providing palliative treatment to women textile workers and their families. After an infant died in her care, she vowed to gain more expertise.  Inspired by Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman medical doctor in the United States and sister of family friend, Henry B. Blackwell, she enrolled at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), one of the few medical schools in the United States that accepted women.

Popular attitudes toward professional medicine were not uniformly positive in the nineteenth century.  Allopathic medicine – the drug-based treatment we now equate with medicine — competed with other theories of healing.  Homeopathic medicine, an approach that emphasized the use of herbs, regular bathing, good ventilation, daily exercise, and a vegetarian diet, was taught by many of the nation’s medical schools, including BUSM.  Homeopathy appealed to women as traditional healers — a third of Ripley’s graduating class were women.

She brought a sense of activism to her medical work. Brushing aside Victorian conventions, she tackled “delicate subjects” like prostitution and the age of consent, set at ten years of age in 1858 when Minnesota became a state.  She dismissed the popular belief that men needed sexual intercourse for health.  And she braved criticism by providing medical services to unwed mothers. Her unfashionably short haircut (picture) signaled her independent attitude.

martha ripley, 1900 hclib

Recognizing a need for better maternity services in Minneapolis, she rented a small house on Fifteenth Street and hired a nurse in 1886.  Within a year, the Maternity Hospital was incorporated as a homeopathic lying-in hospital. By 1896, the hospital moved to a five-acre tract at the corner of Western and Penn Avenue North, pictured here.

minneapolis maternity hospital 1, ripley, from mhs

The Maternity Hospital’s track record was remarkably successful.  Dr. Ripley insisted on aseptic practices and a cottage system (picture) in which babies were cared for in domestic settings.  Not one child was lost during actual birth in the first eleven years, and for the decade ending in 1937 the maternal death rate was 1.35 per thousand as compared to a state-wide average of 4.5.

A new building for the Maternity Hospital was constructed shortly after Ripley’s death in 1912. This building still stands at 2215 Western Avenue, though the hospital was shuttered in 1956. A bronze memorial plaque in her honor was dedicated in the State Capitol rotunda in 1939.

Notes:  Material for this post is taken from Thomas Neville Bonner, To the Ends of the Earth:  Women’s Search for Education in Medicine (Harvard, 1992), Mary Wittenbreer, A Woman’s Woman / A Woman’s Physician:  The Life and Career of Dr. Martha G. Ripley (M.A. Thesis, Hamline University, 1999), and Winton U. Solberg, “Martha G. Ripley:  Pioneer Doctor and Social Reformer,” Minnesota History 39:1 (Spring 1964): 1-17.

The photo of Martha Ripley is from the Minneapolis photo collection at Hennepin County Special Collections. The photos of the Minneapolis Maternity Hospital are from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

social composition of near northside neighborhoods, map from a study of social conditions, 1925

“The mixture of races in this district is detrimental”

Published March 24, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

It’s map Monday. This “Social Composition of North Side Neighborhoods” was drawn by a researcher associated with the Women’s Cooperative Alliance, which assembled an encyclopedic analysis of moral conditions in the city in 1925. The Cooperative Alliance was a consortium of women’s groups organized in April, 1917 to identify and eradicate conditions contributing to juvenile delinquency.  The Alliance had broad community support and attracted active representatives from nineteen local women’s organizations, including the Council of Jewish Women, the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis and the League of Catholic Women.

None of this would be obvious from this map, which seems merely to codify popular ethnic and class prejudices. The key on the right side shows how the research cartographer divided this district into sections defined by race, ethnicity, class and moral rectitude. It delineates blocks of “American Born, socially inadequate” from “American Born, socially adequate.” It distinguishes areas inhabited by “Colored” from those dominated by “Foreign Born Slavics” from those defined as “Jewish” and “Jewish, prosperous families.” These categories were separate from the sections annotated as “Miscellaneous Nationalities unskilled wage earning families” and “Scandinavian- thrifty comfortable homes.”

These crude characterizations obscure the complex and contradictory mission of the Women’s Cooperative Alliance, which employed twenty-four staff members, who had assembled this data in this report to demonstrate the need for a more wholesome urban environment for children. They lobbied for improved lighting in the city parks and better enforcement of juvenile curfew laws. They monitored the treatment of women and children in the judicial system—an issue that I will discuss more in a later post. They fought to mute the siren song of commercial amusements. The women associated with the Alliance would have been delighted to see the city shutter all of its dance halls, pool halls, movie theaters, candy stores and carnivals, just as Prohibition had closed its saloons.

The work of the organization had yet another element. More than 3,000 women volunteered with the Alliance to serve as block, precinct and ward workers, who were charged with visiting every home in their district to ascertain conditions and educate mothers. They hoped to reach out to immigrant mothers in particular, who they feared had neither the resources nor the knowledge necessary to keep their children out of pool halls, movie theaters, saloons and dance halls.

This map—which was part of the group’s five-part Study of Social Conditions–sought to guide this work by illuminating where education was most necessary. The accompanying text explained that the moral crisis was acute on the city’s North Side where the greatest “evils” were “prostitution and the liquor traffic. Not only are many of the furnished rooms over stores on Sixth Avenue vice resorts, but in many of the homes through the district women are prostituting themselves before their little children.” There was plenty of blame to go around, the writer asserted. “This vice is not confined to one race but occurs between colored and white, both Gentile and Jew. It does not include many Jewish women. The making of liquor, however, is reported by social workers to be common among the Jewish women and under cover of junk peddling it is easily distributed.” The problems of the North Side, according to the researcher, were rooted in its polyglot character. “The mixture of races in this district is detrimental,” she concluded. “The situation grows more serious because of the continual influx of migrant people of both races.”

The map is from a Study of Social Conditions, held at the Minneapolis Collection at the Hennepin County Central Library. Information about the Cooperative Women’s Alliance is from the vertical files at the Minneapolis Collection  and Leigh Ann Wheeler, Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood in America, 1873-1935 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).