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

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

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

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

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.

Advertisement

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Nicolas Sarkozy, Thrice Married, Says Gay Marriage Humiliates the Family

  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 22 2014 1:29 PM “That’s Called Jim Crow” Philip Gourevitch on America’s hypocritical interventions in Africa.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 1:37 PM Subprime Loans Are Back! And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 22 2014 3:33 PM Killing With Kindness My in-laws want to throw me a get-well-from-cancer bash. There’s no way I can go.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 22 2014 4:06 PM No, Women’s Soccer Does Not Have a Domestic Violence Problem Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 3:16 PM Watch the Best Part of Beyoncé and Jay Z’s On the Run Tour
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.