Little Bits of History

Man Oh Man

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 25, 2015
Mann Act poster

Mann Act poster

June 25, 1910: The Mann Act is passed. Also known as the White-Slave Traffic Act, it was named after Representative James Robert Mann of Illinois. The law made it a felony to engage in interstate or foreign commerce dealing with transporting “any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose”. It was the last three words that would eventually lead to many problems with the act, making it necessary to be amended in 1978 and again in 1986. Surprisingly, in the 1800s many American cities had designated, legally protected areas of prostitution. As young women came from rural areas to the big cities, they would sometimes find better employment opportunities in these parts of town. The rumors began that these young women were being forced into a life of prostitution by cartel-type organizations.

The Mann Act was a response to fears of moral turpitude. There were many books and pamphlets written about fragile young women being abducted by foreigners with Jewish, Italian, and Asian men being the most often cited. These men would capture, drug, and rape young women and then put them to work on the streets. Feminist Emma Goldman spoke more directly to the real problem involved. Young women left rural American to come to the city only to find work that paid so little they couldn’t make ends meet. In order to earn more money, they took up prostitution not because they were coerced by wicked foreigners but because women and their work were considered second class and the pay was meager.

Between 1910 and 1913, many of the major cities in America began to withdraw protection of the once legal areas. Brothels were closed and morality was endorsed with the usual consequences. The Mann Act was used to prosecute men for having sex with underage females regardless of willingness of both parties. It was even used in the Caminetti v. United States in 1917 because of the “illegal fornication” which was “immoral purpose”. Caminetti and a friend took their mistresses from California to Reno, Nevada. The men’s wives informed police and had them arrested for violation of the Mann Act even though all the parties involved in the “illegal fornication” were consenting adults. Also included in illegal fornication was the interracial marriage of two willing partners.

Other cases making it to the Supreme Court based on the act found that prostitution can only be legislated at a local or state level but that crossing state lines makes it a federal case. A 1913 case found that it was not just prostitution, but also “debauchery” that was being controlled. A 1946 ruling found that consensual polygamous marriages are immoral and therefore can be prosecuted under the act. Fortunately, transporting two women at a time across state lines only results in one criminal charge (1955). Not always used to bad purpose, the Mann Act was used in prosecution against Jack Schaap in 2012 when the pastor at a mega-church was found guilty of transporting a 16-year-old he was counseling across state lines for the purpose of having sex with her. He received a 12 year sentence. This was the last major case invoking the Mann Act.

Prostitution, although hounded, imprisoned, and chained, is nevertheless the greatest triumph of Puritanism. – Emma Goldman

There will never be a day when there is no such thing as prostitution. Quote me: I would like to see prostitution legalized. – Ruth Westheimer

A prostitute can give you all kinds of wonderful excitement and inspiration and make you think that nirvana has arrived on the two-o’clock plane, and it ain’t necessarily so. – Marlon Brando

It is a silly question to ask a prostitute why she does it. These are the highest-paid “professional” women in America. – Gail Sheehy

Also on this day: Great Star of Africa – In 1905, The Cullinan diamond was discovered.
The End – In 1906, a bizarre love triangle ended badly.
Last Stand – In 1876, Custer was defeated at Little Bighorn.
Lady Doctor Elena – In 1678, Elena earned the first PhD awarded to a woman.
Treason – In 1960, Martin and Mitchell left the country.

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