An Illustrated Descent Into a "White Slave Hell" in 1910 Chicago

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Nov. 8 2013 9:10 AM

An Illustrated Descent Into a "White Slave Hell" in 1910 Chicago

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These illustrations are taken from a 418-page 1910 book, The White Slave Hell, or with Christ at Midnight in the Slums of Chicago. Written by Frederick Martin Lehman, a German-born Midwestern pastor, the book combines florid testimony from the minister’s fact-finding missions to the red light districts of Chicago, sermons on temperance, hand-wringing poems, and first-hand stories from madams and prostitutes.

The first four images, which are posed scenarios using actors, are meant to illustrate one girl’s fall from grace. Lehman claimed to have taken the last two images inside a hospital, where ex-prostitutes were being treated for syphilis.

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Sociologist Brian Donovan writes of the widespread fascination with “white slavery” at the turn of the century, noting that “at least fifteen white slavery plays and six white slavery movies were produced in the early twentieth century.” The first such silent film, “Traffic in Souls” (1910), enjoyed such box office success that it inspired a string of yearly imitators.  

Newspapers, magazines, and books depended on the staple narrative of the young white woman, often a new arrival from the country, seduced into prostitution in urban dens of iniquity. The stories mingled a shocked moralism with no small degree of titillation. They tapped into distinct fears of urban life, immigrants and African-Americans (who were often cast as pimps), and female independence.

The prurient public interest in forced prostitution was accompanied by widespread activism from churches and reform organizations. This pressure eventually resulted in new laws in 44 states, as well as the passage of the Mann Act, which forbid the transportation of women across state lines for “prostitution,” “debauchery,” or “any other immoral purpose.”

Actual evidence for “white slavery” rings, however, was scant, and the craze for white slavery narratives died away in the 1920s.

I first saw this book on Consumptive Whore, a Tumblr about nineteenth-century prostitution.

WhiteSlave1
The white slave hell, or, with Christ at midnight in the slums of Chicago (1910), FM Lehman.

Internet Archive.

WhiteSlave2
The white slave hell, or, with Christ at midnight in the slums of Chicago (1910), FM Lehman.

Internet Archive.

WhiteSlave3
The white slave hell, or, with Christ at midnight in the slums of Chicago (1910), FM Lehman.

Internet Archive.

WhiteSlave4
The white slave hell, or, with Christ at midnight in the slums of Chicago (1910), FM Lehman.

Internet Archive.

WhiteSlave5
The white slave hell, or, with Christ at midnight in the slums of Chicago (1910), FM Lehman.

Internet Archive.

WhiteSlave6
The white slave hell, or, with Christ at midnight in the slums of Chicago (1910), FM Lehman.

Internet Archive.

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