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Degraded Women

October 18, 1888 — 15th Annual Convention, National Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Metropolitan Opera-House, New York City


Beloved Co-Laborers: — 

In compliance with a suggestion made to me by our National President, Miss Willard, and with the financial backing of the National and Wisconsin Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, I proceeded last May to Northern Wisconsin to make investigation into the condition of degraded women in that part of the country.

A financial report of this work will appear in due time in its proper place. At present we shall concern ourself wholly with a consideration of the facts brought to light upon investigation.

It was not our object to attempt either to corroborate or refuse the specific charges made from time to time by our daily newspapers as to atrocities committed thee. Nor was it considered essential to our object to record merely such evidence as would stand in a criminal court; but the object of the trip was to carefully collect evidence so well corroborated that when given over to our workers it would be convincing to every reasonable mind that we, as a philanthropic organization, were at least thoroughly equipped for work by an intelligent comprehension of the real situation. But there has appeared in newspaper print one or two articles which demand our attention because they have in a sense, an official stamp. In view of the fact that a “detective,” sent by the governor of Wisconsin to the north, it is claimed, to investigate into these iniquities, reports that there is no necessity for state interference in the matter, and a prosecuting attorney and a former speaker of the assembly of a northern village denies the existence of such a condition of things as has been described in relation to the dens at Marinette, the question will naturally arise, “Where was the need of an investigation on the part of the W.C.T.U.?

A little later on we shall speak again of the communication from said prosecuting attorney. As to the report of the governor’s detective ruth compels me to say.

1st. The governor’s detective, Mr. James Fielding, although claiming to have had some experience in this line in time past, is not a professional detective by any means, but an elderly man who is employed to seep, dust and do a little writing in the office of the State board of Charities and Reforms in the state house at Madison, Wisconsin.

2d. I have had several conversations with him, (and he has always treated me in a very gentlemanly manner) and he told me frankly that he never made a tour through Northern Wisconsin, but went only to one town, viz. Marinette.

3. He further told me that he never entered but one den, that one commonly known as Mike Leahy’s den at Marinette.

4th. He further state to me that he never interviewed but one set of inmates, those found in the aforementioned den.

5th. He further state that he knew himself to be the only detective ever commissioned on such an errand by the governor, and the governor’s private secretary, Col. Casson made a statement to me to the same effect.

6th. He further showed me a coy of the Milwaukee Journal for February 7th, 1887, and an article in that paper headed, “Where Satan Rules,” which article I read all though in his presence, and he stated explicitly that he wrote that article as the report of his investigation.

In view of these facts elicited by me from Mr. Fielding, tis report of hi, which we reproduce in full, needs very little discussion, He never made the tour he describes:

The following is his report as published in the Milwaukee Journal.






The stories about Northern Wisconsin divers which have culminated in the breaking up of dance houses in various lumber and mining towns by local authorities in both Wisconsin and Michigan received an impetus bout a year ago when Chief Ries, of Milwaukee, sent officers north and brought back here girls from Hurley and Bessemer, by request of their parents. There was no pretense at the time that they had been abducted or ere held against their wills, and the reason for the police interfering was by request of their parents, who said they ere under age, and that they wanted them brought home by legal process. It afterwards transpired that they had been in the habit of frequenting saloons in Milwaukee, and had formed the acquaintance of a bartender who was at work in Boardman’s dance house at Hurley, and that he persuaded them to go back with him, he paying their fare and they knowing just where they ere going and what was expected of them.

All manner of exaggerated stories about the girls were printed for a time, and then the excitement died out when the plain facts were ascertained and nothing more was heard about the dives until last fall. When one day in Chicago Blanche Bonneville procured the arrest of Maud Cassidy n the charge of having inveigled her into a dance house at Marinette, where she claimed to have been detained against her will and made to submit to all manner of indignities. This case is now pending in Chicago, the Cassidy woman having forfeited her bail, been afterwards arrested in Ashland, and the preliminary hearing developing a statement that Blanche[e] Bonneville had spent one season at Morrison’s place at Florence before se ever saw Maud Cassidy and that she knew all about dance houses when she went to Marinette.

The arrest of the Cassidy woman gave a new impetus to dive literature and a Chicago paper turned loose a dime novel, sensationalist, who painted the matter in lurid colors, distorting and embellishing facts and adding to one season’s horrors all the crimes that had been committed on the range from the time a white man first set his foot in this country. This meteor of horrors was suddenly broken off by the authors disappearing and leaving his employers a pretty to the wildest speculation for several days, when he suddenly loomed up with another story to the effect that he had hired a air of saddles, horses and an Indian guide to go through the woods on horseback looking for dance houses; that one night while he slept the Indian ran away with the horses, and that the daring investigator would have perished I the wilderness if he had not run across a hunter’s cabin where he was thawed out, fed and taken back to civilization. The only improbably thing about the story was that it could not possibly happen. No livery man up north or anywhere else would let a stranger have a pair of horses to be gone a week with an unknown Indian for a guide; and if he would no sane man would go horseback through a forest I the hope of finding dance houses where there are no inhabitants, when it it is a well known fact that such places exists (sp) only in the neighborhood of lumbering and mining centers, all on the line of railroads, where men congregate after being paid their season’s wages.

Despite their improbability newspapers in various parts of the country copied these cheap narratives and found silly people to believe them, until Gov. Rusk made up his mind to find out how much fire there was behind the foul smoke with which it was sought to invelope (sp) northern Wisconsin. Accordingly James Fielding, of Madison, a man who has had years of experience both as a sheriff’s officer and a detective was detained to loo over the northern country, and see what was really done there, and report accordingly, so that the governor could decide as to just what extent the social evil prevailed and whether it involved any greater horrors than are common to all large cities, where it has come to be looked on as something tat can be regulated but not suppressed.

Being a man of common sense, Mr. Fielding proceeded in a deliberate manner, and as his report to the governor shows, began at the beginning. One of the charges was that young and innocent girls were being lured from Chicago and Milwaukee under false pretenses of being furnished work, and were then held as prisoners in dance houses, guarded by brutal ruffians, high board fences and savage dogs. For several days Mr. Fielding looked over the situation in Milwaukee, being aided by men of experience who knew his mission. He failed to find evidence of any girl every having gone north from Milwaukee to lead a life of shame, unless she had been a street waler, or an inmate of a house of ill-fame before, and knew exactly where she was going. While here he discovered that Mira Mudge who kept a dance house in Florence was in the city and he set a man to watch her, discovering that she came in response to a letter from two girls who were in the country hospital and who wanted to go away if anybody would pay their way. She was shadowed to the depot with them and two other girls who had been boarding in notorious houses here. As the party were all of a kind the detective wisely concluded that the town would be well rid of the whole of them and took no action.

Having satisfied himself that no abduction or anything of the kind was going on in the Cream City, the officer quietly borrowed a line of samples for a business which he understood and betook himself to Marinette, Wisconsin, where he formed the acquaintance of various classes of people and was finally taken out to see the sights, one night going to the place managed by a man named Walsh. This is the house where Blanche Bonneville claims to [have] been detained against her will and to have been so fearfully abused. The story of the officer as reported to the governor is that the house is no better or no worse than hundreds of houses of ill-fame to be seen in cities. That the inmates were all of that class denominated “old timers,” who felt more at home there than they could possibly feel in a respectable place. There was a sitting room back from the bar and a long hall in which a dance took place while he was present, the figures being about as emphatic as would be be seen in a tough dance anywhere eels, and all hands ending at the bar. Without being suspected by the proprietor, he talked to the girls, and found that each had about the same story to tell, that she had come there knowing what the place was, and had run in debt to the landlady, who had advanced money to buy clothes, &c., and that while she might leave it if she chose it would be at the sacrifice of her trunk unless the debt was cleared off which was not likely to happen, as one lot of garments would be worn out or torn up in rough gambols and dancing by the time it was paid for and a new debt must be incurred to get more. All the girls were more or less addicted to drink, ad the bar was likely to get what money they might accumulate not already due for finery.

Satisfied that no one was held there under physical duress and that the place was simply a house of ill fame, the officer contented himself with getting evidence that would convict all parties of the offense, if deemed advisable, and went back to Marinette — the young fellows who took him to the place thinking they had “had lots of fun shocking the old man.”

Finding that Dune Bereridge who formerly kept the Bay Shore house had closed it when the newspapers began to write the town up, the officer merely drove by there on his way to Peshtigo, where he found ap lace very similar to the one at Marinette. From there he took a tour through various mining and lumber towns finding that there was a resort for fallen women and depraved men near each one and that while they were as tough as such places usually are in new countries, o cases could be found where any of the inmates were restrained by any duress except debt which hung over them all, either in the shape of bills for clothing, drinks at the bar, or as fines for disobeying the rules of the place. In no case were there any young girls pining for home as he managed to get an opportunity to talk privately with every girl he met who did not look absolutely depraved. In each instance he managed to be taken to these places by some of the local “bloods,” who supposed they were entertaining an innocent old chap who had never seen the elephant; and in each instance he jotted down names and evidence sufficient to convict all the inmates if that had been his errand. Returning to Milwaukee the detective hunted down, one story which he had read in a Chicago paper about a girl said to have been abducted from Ripon taken to Marinette and so brutally beaten that she died. He found her in Milwaukee, living a fast life, and told her that he had lately been in Marinette, and that some girls naming them had asked if he knew her, when he said he lived in Milwaukee. Yes, she said, I have spent three winters at Marinette in the dance houses, and always had plenty of fun and made a boodle, and I would go back this winter if I were not afraid that the houses would be aided on account of what the newspapers are saying. Satisfied with this explanation the officer returned to Madison and reported to the governor that there were houses of ill fame in Wisconsin and that the lumber and mining towns had a large share! But that they were not enough in need of inmates to have to resort to kidnapping to get them, as they were in reality sewers which drained off some of the social miasma which was engendered in the large cities. I no instance could he find a girl who claimed to have been taken by force or to be detained by any influence stronger than debt and the fear of losing her trunk. Some of them said they were swindled out of their money by “their men,” and by being persuaded to buy things they did not need. Most of them said they went there in a spirit of adventure and in the hope of making money having grown tired of leading a similar life in a city, and having found a “landlady” who would advance money enough to emigrate with the bill generally including an old debt they owed where they were before starting North. The only exception to the rule was found at Merrill, where a girl claimed to have been inveighed into Doyle’s place and detained for debts she did not owe. Even she did not claim to have led a correct life before she went there. As she was young, Supt. Whitehead was given a hint to look her up. He went there and found the girl who refused to leave under any circumstances and he had to get papers and take her by legal process, having decided that as she had made complaint she should be placed under better influences whether she wanted to or not. The girl is now at the House of the Good Shepherd.

In satisfying himself that there was no truth in the stories about the  North containing prisons where women were made slaves to the passions of brutal men, the governor necessarily came into possession of evidence that would convict the keepers of a great many houses but does not consider that it is his province to regulate the social evil in every town, as the local authorities are supposed to control such things. But if any of the stories of flagrant outrages had proven true he would have made it hot for the perpetrators. As it is, if local authorities refuse to act on request of citizens saying they have no evidence, they can get it by addressing the governor who will furnish them enough to break up any dance house in the state.

In regard to the Blanche Bonneville case referred to in the “detectives” report it is pertinent to ask, — Is our W.C.T.U. content to allow such a condition of the law to remain, as permits of Maud Cassidy putting a price on Blanche Bonneville’s head, and allowing Mike Leahy to pay that price enforce her into a life of crime, and this simply because it can be shown that she went once voluntarily into such criminality? When I was at Ashland, Maud Cassidy was at liberty and in that city, plying her trade at as lively a rate as ever, it was said. Now if Blanche gets a life of slavery because she lacks “previous chaste character” by being inmate of a den, why not administer at least an equal dose as a penalty to Mike Leahy, owner of the den and Maud Cassidy, agent for it? Is it because they have previous chaste character that they are given such extraordinary license in propagating crime? By reading over this article we discover that the governor’s detective as mouthpiece for the governor is made.

1st. To excuse, or justify Maud Cassidy’s present [?] trade by Blanche Bonnersville[‘s] past sins.

2nd. To excuse or justify the existing social conditions in the North, because this evil “has come to be looked upon as something that can be regulated but not suppressed.”

3rd. And to further excuse or justify the existence of these dens as “in reality sewers which drained off the social miasma which has engendered in the large cities.”

It remains to be decided by the W.C.T.U. whether they shall be contented with any such adjustment of the matter, as will allow of a slave trade, even in degraded woman, and also whether they will compromise on a “regulation” instead of a suppression of this iniquity, as the laws of the state warrant, and whether they desire sewers to drain this social miasma off into northern regions, instead of penitentiaries into which to thrust all guilty of engendering social miasma.

The Governor’s “detective” again freely admits that inmates of these dens re detained by fines, and the withholding of their clothes and wages. Now if it were true that this commerce in shame were even “regulated,” would this state of affairs exist? The first attempt at regulating a commerce is to present fraud in trade. Hence the question arises, is this evil even “regulated?”

As to the nature of his whole report I simply call attention to the 3d, 4th and 5th statements which he personally made to me, and which are noted in advance of his report.

Now as regards my own work in investigating this northern region. My notes specify some fifty-nine of its dens (not nearly all of them to be sure) of which I have more or less information, and some 575 degraded women, from whose condition of living or life experience I draw my illustrations. These cases to which I refer are as recent as one year, unless I specify a time. I gather no information from newspaper clippings, but have gained personal evidence always.

It was my design to devote one month to this work. The month extended itself to four, and then I left the field inexpressively saddened by the growing conviction that there were hundreds of girls here crying out against cruel taskmasters who “made their living bitter with hard bondage,” and there was no Moses at hand to deliver.

My method of procedure was to first get a story that was being passed about from mouth to mouth, and then ferret out the real facts upon which it rested. That meant in many cases a futile search, as you may be sure. But unless I found reliable persons having some personal knowledge of the incident, it was rejected, excepting I such cases as I was able to get strong corroborative testimony of some other sort.

It was necessary to see inmates of dens and judge of their age and apparent guilt or innocence. It was necessary to interview a certain number of them, and it seemed particularly desirably [sic] that your agent enter in person some of the so-called “stockaded” dens and view the real situation. All this was accomplished. As to the methods pursued in accomplishing it, it is only necessary to say that a considerable experience I working among the degraded women in the dens of our large cities, gave the clew as to the best methods of so doing, without arousing suspicion as to the object I view. Every step of my way was known and watched and aided by Christian ministers and members of the Y.M.C.A. A constant correspondence and consultation was kept up with Wisconsin State Superintendent of the Social Purity Department, while the state and national presidents were kept informed in a general way of my proceedings. Personal investigation was made of most of the cities and villages of especially interest on all the railroads of northern Wisconsin, your agent sometimes returning to them the second third and even fourth time, to satisfy herself of the accuracy of statement of cases reported to her.

A large number of questionable houses were visited; dens of infamy of both the ordinary and “stockaded” sort entered in various pretexts, at hours when a woman could do so with the greatest safety; the neighborhood of those places was canvassed for information; physicians, lawyers, ministers and local officers were interviewed and in some cases pains were taken to cultivate an acquaintance with persons known to have information, which, through timidity, they were slow in parting with. Right here I wish to express my deep obligations to the Christian ministers of the north who were always forward in rendering every aid in their power when called upon. If any approach to danger was feared, there was always a trusty Christian friend or minister of the gospel within summoning distance. The testimony of a certain number of degraded women was taken. But in every instance where a statement is based upon such evidence only, or the statement of a degraded man only, it will be so stated. I have at hand notes enough to swell my report into a large volume. But to make my investigations of greatest utility to our workers, it is necessary that I withhold a large portion of my information so as to make space for various explanations and a description of some of the features of the evil, as well as statements in regard to its extent. Therefore, if at any point my assertions do not seem to be supported by sufficient evidence, I trust that you will refrain from hasty judgment until further opportunity presents itself to utilize all the testimony at hand, bearing on that particular point. Having once accepted the truth in all its force, I believe every woman’s heart will cry, “Lord what wilt Thou have me to do?” It is to the accomplishment of that end that I have performed this summer’s painful task, and I now commit its result to Him who commands us to “seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”


There exists also, scattered here and there, the den of the ordinary type which as to its general feature is not unlike the phase of the iniquity as seen in large cities. So we pass over a description of these dens, kept by both men and women, as being of no especial interest to use except in so far as they tend to take on the characteristics of the capitalist’s “dance house” and their keepers are being graduated by experience into the more menacing form of the iniquity. Let us give right here a picture of the dance house as described by a reliable witness whom I personally know, in the International Record, for December, 1887.


In the mining and lumber towns which have sprung up so rapidly in the “new north” of Michigan and Wisconsin, the saloon naturally found congenial soil, and consequently had a luxuriant growth. But the saloon found it profitable to join forces with the brothel. And the combination thus effected produced the dance house, an institution of concentrated iniquity. The “house” is usually situated on the outskirts of the “town” in the woods, and in many instances surrounded by a close, high fence or stockade. The bar-room is supplied with a piano and a violin and with girls, some ten to twenty or thirty in number, who are ready to dance with all comers. In addition to these, there are managers, (male and female,) bar-tenders, musicians, watchmen and bull dogs, and woe to the hapless inmate who incurs their displeasure! The girls are hired to dance for their board, with the understanding that one-half the proceeds of their prostitution shall e their own. But they are required at once to pay over all money received by them to the clerk, who credits one-half to the house, the other to the girl. A system of fines is in force, by virtue of which the house manages to retain the l ion’s share of all receipts. The girl must be kept in debt, in order that they may be more easily controlled. The “frequenters” pay twenty-five cents each per dance. All women not otherwise engaged, are required to respond to the call for a dance at any hour of the day or night. Should a woman refuse to take to her room any many who makes a demand for her, she is fined the share due the house. Fines are imposed for drunkenness and disobedience, as the caprice or greed of the proprietor may suggest. Should a girl have a man of her own, she is charged twenty-five dollars, and he is supposed to look after her interests. The whip, the fist, the boot, the revolver, the bull-dog, and other similar means are used to keep them in subjection. Broken bones and murder are not uncommon. Fresh supplies of inmates are necessary, and some of them are obtained by means of false representations. Most of the newcomers are not, it is true “of previous chaste character;” but they can have had little conception of the utter vileness of these dens. In one town known to me the police when appealed to by women who have been abused, have taken them out and set them at liberty. But in another town the police refused on application to go on any such mission of mercy.”

From my personal investigation, I am satisfied that this picture is not overdrawn.

Instead of this trade in shame being left in its development to immoral women of shallow intelligence, who do not tend to organize as is the case in our large cities, it is in the hands of shrewd business men who purposely refrain from excess in the vices they organize to perpetuate, that they may be the better equipped for engaging in clear-headed deliberate deviltry for the money there is in it. The evil is propagated in village as well as city life and is of enormous proportions as compared with the population.

Owing to the systematic organization of men of business intelligence to take advantage of the “previous chaste character,” loop-hole in laws against procurers; and further, owing to the fact that a woman in degraded life cannot, of course, legally demand wages for her crimes, these men can amass large fortunes with small capital. They busy themselves gathering defenceless women together against whose character they generally collect testimony as to some former offence against chastity as a matter of self-protection, and then reduce these women to a form of slavery as much worse than anything of the ordinary sort as enforcement into a life of shame is worse than enforcement into a life of industry. In two cases of which I have notes, legal processes were brought against the young women so as to enable den-keepers to get their clutches on them and be able to show in self-defence if trouble resulted that court records cast a doubt upon the women’s characters.

Many of these houses are defended by “stockades” which prove at a glance that the keeper either designs resistance to the officers of the law and indignant citizens from without, or else designs to prevent the scape of the victims within. Either argument shows a bold equipment ot challenge the laws of the state, and the “stockades” and bull dogs which do exist are equally useful for both purposes.

There is no attempt at making these dens anything like the “gilded” pace of tinsel, and show that we are accustomed to think of as typical. Crime in its boldest and brazenest form is peddled out in the busy seasons of the year to a class of customers who are largely foreigners of the lowest type, whose crude senses can appreciate nothing but unvarnished filth in its most concentrated form. The men who run these dens are all either foreigners or of foreign extraction. But the victims of den keepers and frequenters are largely young American girls who, if in times previous guilty, are of a higher grade of civilization.

During the quiet seasons of the year, these dens are patronized largely by the business and laboring men of the neighboring villages, but I the early spring of the year the lumbermen come into town, and at that season a house made to accommodate a dozen girls for instance, will be crowded to hold thirty or fifty girls, beside the male frequenters. At the least reckoning there must be three or four inmates to a single little ten by twelve room. Is it asking too much of a decent imagination to expect it even to conceive of the depravity resulting from such overcrowding.

Having amassed a fortune, the men who own these places readily influence a certain class of newspapers to white wash them, their money commands votes for the candidates of their choice they gain the friendship of influential business men by financial favors, and as prosperity goes on they engage in the active work of planting new centers of business. To show how these men influence papers, apparently, we refer to cases cited further on, and the following illustrates their effect on politics.

The keeper of den in the town of ______ was under bonds to appear to appear before the circuit court, the sheriff and district attorney, who were Republicans, having determined to suppress his business. But this keeper went to the Democratic county convention, and secured the election of a sheriff and district attorney to his liking, who immediately stopped all proceedings against him, and his place has been in full operation ever since. As regards the influence these den keepers acquire because of money influence, we will now refer to the case of the district attorney and speaker of the assembly who wrote to a Milwaukee paper an article tending to show that the description of the atrocities committed in his city had been greatly exaggerated. The county records show that the capitalist den owner of that city ahs not only loaned money to the corporation and railroad, but to the very family of which the writer is a member, and that there was a heavy mortgage held by the den owner on the property of that family, at the very time that communication was written.

Jack Mahoney, of Ashland, is commonly reported to keep seventy-five thousand dollars in a local bank. LeClaire of Hurley, is said to out one thousand dollars a week in a local bank. The wealth of Bill Diamond, of Marinette, is variously estimated as all the way from one hundred thousand to one million dollars. In four cases where I made inquiry of business men who professed to know what they were talking of, the income of these den keepers was never estimated as less than a thousand dollars a week. But whether these reports are accurate or not, makes small difference, the very fact that they are current reports is quite enough to bring many servants to the feet of these men.

With an income which, to say the least, is very large, these den owners can command extraordinary means of controlling inmates of their dens, and of mitigating the indignation of more righteous men. The den capitalist is often shrewd enough to have his dance house legally owned by the mistress or male den keeper, thus he readily evades the law. In case an unwilling inmate has been pounded into subjection, it generally is shown that an underling who calls himself “husband” to the girl, does the pounding. Then he pleads in court that he was drunk and did not know what he was doing. Each girl is induced to “buy a husband” for about twenty-five dollars. He is usually a man about town who is allowed certain privileges by the den keepers, and in case an attempt at escape is made, this husband is the man who generally hunts the girl down and returns her to the den. Thus again the den owner and den keepers evade punishment, and have underlings about town, (so-called “husbands” of the girls) who are as good as sentinels to guard the house and prevent the escape of inmates.

I have heard described the mock marriage ceremony and divorces through with Le Claire, of Hurley puts the inmates of his den. A gentleman also informs me that he has seen handbills scattered about the streets of that city announcing to the public the arrival of fresh lots of girls. In view of the fact that “previous chaste character” is usually wanting in these girls, the control a den keeper is allowed over them is enormous, and it is wholly justified to almost the entire public by the simple statement, “She is not a chaste woman.” One den keeper says: “Go on with your prosecutions, your fines don’t cost me anything, I make the girls pay them.” Another states that people who want to befriend degraded women will let him alone, because the more trouble they make him the more he proposes to abuse the girls in his den. When Pres. Wade’s den at Washburn was closed out, Wade simply took his ten girls over to Ashland and sold them to Jack Mahoney for forty dollars apiece. The four hundred dollars he raised in this manner was just enough to pay the costs of the suit against him. An escaped victim further states that when the ten were turned over to Mahoney they found a fine of forty dollars against them. Theus they were compelled to buy their way into slavery. Those capitalists who own several dens in various places, find it an easy matter to transfer girls furniture and everything except the flimsy house, from place to place, so that local prosecution does not suppress their criminal opportunities, nor will they cease their business until imprisoned where they cannot longer carry it on. But the officer of the law is too apt to put a great difference between den-keeper and den-inmate to the disadvantage of the latter.

When Press Wade’s den was raided the inmates were marched through the streets in shackels and locked up in cells, while he walked the streets as free as any man. When Hunter’s den at Wausau was raided last summer, Hunter lay in jail three hours only while his victims lay in jail two weeks.

These den-owners are monopolists sometimes. They like to see the law against the keeping of dens of infamy enforced in the case of all upstarts. Sometimes they themselves open suit against others for being in that business.

The following conversation took place between a Christian minister rand an officer of the law, in relation to a notorious den-keeper.

“That man ought to be driven out of this town, his business is too indecent to be tolerated” ! Exclaimed the minister. “Yes,” agreed the official with hearty alacrity “I think just that too, he ought to have the law executed against him. What right has he to come into this town and monopolize all this profitable business? There’s some of us fellows would like a hand at the business too, but what chance have we got against him? As soon as we start he has so much money and influence, he just cleans us out, so that there won’t be any competition. It is a shame to let such a place as [t]his exist!

This case shows three things: The capitalist monopolizes the business. The officer of the law yearns to monopolize it himself; and the only use the officer sees for the enforcement of law against the keeping of a den is the favoring of one den-keeper above another.


Through the action o indignant citizens a notorious den-keeper was driven out of the town of _____ and the den burned. But last summer at a meeting of the “Business Men’s Association” — as I was told by one who was present — it was decided to notify the keeper that it would be agreeable to the citizens of that place for him to return. His place was rebuilt, a notice printed to that effect in the local press and when possession was taken of the new den, printed invitations to the “Opening of the Summer Sporting Resort” sent to each business man of the place.”


I hang my head in shame in making this accusation against members of my own profession. But I know whereof I speak and gave this phase of the iniquity most careful investigation, and as a member of the medical profession was afforded unusual opportunities in this line.

In one case the city health officer and manager of a hospital acknowledged they had labored for the opening up of a den in their town, for the sake of the practice it would afford them. One of them estimated that fully sixty per cent of his patients was to come as the result of the opening up of the den.

The health officer of the place showed me his “Contagious Diseases Acts” that had been passed through his influence by local authorities “patterned after the English acts” he said, and requiring all degraded women to be examined either at their own or public expense. In another instance the mayor of the city was a physician and made regular examination of the inmates of the principal den of the place, and each girl was equipped for her shameful traffic, by a physician’s certificate rendered doubly sure and official by the mayor’s signature.

Contagious disease acts are enforced in almost every one of these northern towns and cities, with more or less rigidity. The following city ordinance I quote from the Ashland Weekly News for May 18, 1887 — “Resolved, that the board of health is thereby authorized to make such orders and regulations to prevent the spread and contracting of contagious diseases, and cause such examinations of the inmates of houses where such diseases exist, or are likely to be contracted as in the judgement of said board may be reasonable and necessary. And in such cases as the board may deem it proper, they may prescribe reasonable fee for such examinations, to be paid the city physician as said board may deem proper and just.”

I hold some of the printed certificate blanks such as physicians keep on hand to fill out upon application. But I consider the wording too indecent for public print. They are given to young women who make application for them, whether they are inmates of dens or not, so that they can assure their male associates that they may sin, with all immunity from physical danger.

I did not find a physician in the north, who did not, if asked, say “yes, I issue such certificates.” I was told this repeatedly, although I trust it was an exceptional experience on my part, that I invariably met with this affirmative answer.


I have repeatedly had valuable information imparted to me, under pledge of secrecy. If only I could make use of this evidence it would be startling g indeed in some instances. But as one man expressed it “These men would rather enjoy the fun of making a target of any man informing against them.” In one place every man but one of the half dozen I interviewed began by whitewashing his town and ended by berating it as the “worse place on God’s earth for crimes,” or words equally emphatic. One alderman represented it very favorably at first but in the second interview told me in confidence that there was a detective in the place employed by him and a few others to find out which of the town officials were burglars.

And there is real reason for fear in openly opposing and exposing these infamies.

The woman who saw the girl with ball and chain on her ankle, try to escape from Le Claire’s den, tells me that hands were laid on her three times one night but she managed each time to escape, and she confidently believes it was some one who knew she had dared tell what she had seen.

In the town of Commonwealth, lives Capt. W.E. Dickinson and his family. Seven years ago he notified a den keeper that he must leave the place within twenty-four hours or else be arrested. The man left, but in revenge took the Captain’s little five year old willie with him. Not satisfied with that diabolical deed they sent back and tried to take the seven year old little girl. The agony of these parents in their fritless search for their boy goes beyond the power of pen to express. Such a tale of [?] search, wasted fortune, and broken health and hearts. And they must stand addition the aggravation of knowing villians [sic] who boast that they know where the boy is, but if effort is made to force them to tell, he will be murdered. The offer was once made that if they would place in the hands of Bill Diamond (the notorious capitalist in crime in N.E. Wisconsin) a certain sum of money, beyond the captain’s means, the boy would be returned.

The boy is [?]; he is in the custody of criminals but the parents cannot reach him, and Mrs. Dickinson tells me she knows personally a half dozen, who have, when attempting a crusade against these dens, been threatened with the remark by the den keeper, ”somebody besides Capt. Dickinson will lose a child if he don’t mind his own business.” “This is the truth of this story as told me by this family with whom I am well acquainted and there is not the slightest foundation for the counter tale that Northern papers love to repeat that “the bones of Willie Dickinson were found in the woods a long time ago.”


The following will show their alertness in hunting game: “Mrs. ____ tells me that she entered a store one day the proprietor of which was a familiar friend and her husband’s employer in the lumber business.

“How is your husband to-day?” he asked. “Oh he is much better, he was able to go to work” she said. “Then you are not likely to become a widow soon?” he asked playfully. “Oh dear no!” she exclaimed with mock solemnity. “No such good luck will ever happen to me.” She passed out of the store to be followed by a strange man who overheard the conversation. He hurried ahead to return to meet her face to face three times. Then he rode past the house five times that afternoon. It proved to be the notorious Chas. Le Claire, proprietor of half a dozen or more dens of infamy. He evidently thought her dissatisfied with her domestic relations and consequently a good case to become acquainted with and get influence over. This case happened several years ago, but he man still prospers in the pushing of such business.

My work was done in the dull summer season, when the keepers were rather sending girls away than procuring them, so that there was small opportunity for gaining evidence against the procurers. I secured the name and some bits of history in regard to seven or eight of them, which may be of use in the future. One of them, who was educated for the ministry, has in times past made use of his natural ability and education, to hold evangelistic meetings the better to gain influence over young innocent girls and to carry them north to Wisconsin dens. Many cases given in illustration of other points, will incidentally mention the activity of procurers so we need not dwell upon this subject now.


In almost every case brought into court it has ben readily shown that whatever the girls’ previous character may have been, the offer made her when she went north, and which she accepted provided for a life of industry not of crime. But in answer to this charge when I have made it to northern business men the reply almost invariably has been, “if girls are fooled into entering these dens they are only hotel girls and such!” What an unworthy vindication of so infamous a traffic! There is large enough opportunity offered for every woman who wishes to make capital of her person to do so and remain where she is. There is no necessity for her to face the rugged climate and forest wilderness of the north to find a master to make capital by selling her virtue for her. Whatever can be said of the woman’s previous character the very fact that she goes north to work proves a better intention than laws of our land allow her protection sufficient to carry out. Nevertheless, procurers, by taking advantage of thee “previous chaste character” statute, are allowed to defend themselves against a charge of present fraud by proving a past sin in the victim. Now we have always been led to suppose that intention in the act, was given large consideration in the courts. The girl intends to work. The procurer intends to out-wit her and lead her to sin. Which is the criminal then, the outwitted woman or the procurer? But he is justified in present fraud by the victim’s past sin. I know that the argument brought in at this point is, that even though the procurer may talk of work to the girl, ten chances to one that she would have gone on a straight offer of an opportunity to sin. In fact her “previous character” sheds strong light on this probability. Again, I ask, in the fact of direct testimony, is it right to resort to circumstantial evidence? Do we convict on supposition or facts? The procurer has bee caught making use of a lie about hotel work. Here are his burglar tools for entering the industrial field and stealing working girls That is the evidence to convict him upon; a supposition as to how he might have got the girls out of the industrial world is not proper evidence upon which either to conclude to leave her in a den of infamy or let him out of jail. Again, law would teach us that no criminal can be punished a second tie for the same offence. But when procurers learn that women lacking “previous chaste character” can be procured for their dens and the laws of our land will not punish the procurer he knows that he can punish a girl for a previous breaking of the seventh commandment just as often as he can recapture his victim and sell her to a den keeper. Hunter, of Wisconsin, boldly hangs out his sign on a “stockaded” den, “Cosmopolitan Hotel, boarding by the day or week.” And girls have been repeatedly induced to enter there to work, while every resident of Wausau knows the place is not a hotel.

This ought to be enough to prove that he boldly enters the industrial world to treacherously lead girls out into the criminal world. No further testimony is needed.

There are volumes of most pathetic disappointments connected with the whole damnable conspiracy. Oh! that you, dear friend, could sit by the side of these victims and hear their story.

All over this fair land of ours are hundred o young women who have known sorrow such as will never enter your life and mine, dear friend, because there is no sorrow that can enter a woman’s life equal to remorse over a sin that is made to doom her to the hopeless lot of an outcast. But these young women, in spite of the hopelessness in which they live, still cherish a yearning desire that at some time and some where in the merciful providence of a forgiving God, the desert will be made to blossom as the rose, and the waste places be restored. But they are chary of institutional life, and seek to avoid the necessity of immurement with women of their own class, feeling that that very lot will but confirm their hopelessness. In contrast wistful longing for relief, they at last meet with the offer: “Come north, servant girls are wanted in hotels, good wages will be paid you and no questions will be asked as to your past.” A hasty survey of the horrid past — a thought of the disgraced motherhood, desertion worse than widowhood — the insults of men, the contempt of women.

“Yes, I will go. Thank God, I have found a place where I can go and give no account of the past, if I will only give my best to the future!”

And then the laws of our lad justify the villain’s present treachery by his victim’s past sin. Ashes for beauty, treachery for trust! How long will his ting last, that the law stands ready to crush the earth the degraded woman who so much as lifts her head in good intention.


There is a large class of young women who have been entrapped into and rescued from these dens. They claim they were chaste until they were taken north. Their experience has been horrible. It is not in accordance with principles of ordinary humanity to bring forward these instances and open p the whole question of their conduct before and since this terrible wrong was done them. The mere questioning of their cases is added injury, if they are innocent. Therefore we ignore this class, because to discuss them is to do them injury. But we can discuss those of them who were rescued at the extreme moment of danger, and a few others.

Generally speaking, it is the intention of the procurer to evade all penalty of the law by furnishing himself beforehand with proof that the girl has sinned in times past, but frequently in view of a good reward he grows careless in the matter.

Here are a few instances: Charles Le Clair himself secures for his den a poor deaf-mute. In order to illustrate the difficulties of getting at reliable information as regards these more scandalous crimes and my method of procedure in these cases. I wish to give this case somewhat in detail. Charles Le Claire, now of Hurley, formerly kept the stockade den in Merrill, at present run by Hugh Doyle. I was told the particulars of this deaf-mute case first by a reliable woman in Hurley. I had already made one visit to Merrill and learned all I could, but had not even heard it whispered there that such a crime as this was even committed in that community. I now retraced my steps to get corroborative testimony.

I called first upon a physician, who could tell me nothing of the case, but referred me to a man connected with a newspaper published in the place  of infamy, but in jail; so that their presence in dens of infamy, even if in the majority, does not in the least justify the existence of these dens.

But there are often girls of quite another type under the same roof. The description that one of these young sixteen year old escaped inmates gave me, of the harder type, was pathetic for it revealed the comparative innocence of the former quite as much as the hardness of the latter. She said “There is a woman named ______ in that den, and when you go there you need not ask her to leave for she won’t. I think she must be real wicked because she makes fun of religion and don’t try to do right. I don’t believe that she would reform even if you gave her a chance.”

There is no doubt in my mind that inmates seek favor with the keeper and a consequent mitigation of their hardships by telling falsehoods because they are perfectly hopeless of ever bettering their condition in any other way. I am told by escaped inmates that the threat is constantly made by the keeper to enter compliant I court, against a girl for making trade in her virtue, and see that she gets the full penalty of the law, unless she remains under his protection as an inmate of his den. And there is no doubt that may a local official thinks he has discharged his full duty, when he has compelled a girl to return to the den , if he has any doubt of her good intentions and fears she may “scatter the evil” by being about town and not responsible to any keeper. And the cases are few enough in which any one, officer of the law or not, would believe the professions of good intention on the part of a degraded woman. Then again, in many instances strong drink, has been used as the hammer for welding the shackles on the poor slave. All of these dens are saloons and most of them licensed too; the girl, whom we will suppose an unwilling inmate of a den, must upon entrance dance for her board. She has besides her board — or is supposed to have if she obeys all the rules of the place — half proceeds of all the drinks to which she is treated, and thus she can earl a little money, if even she does not sin any lower. Girls say they are often allowed to live thus for some time without further molestation, with the promise that they can go, just as soon as the fine that is entered against them upon their arrival, is paid off. They choose this less evil in hopes of escaping the greater by earning a little money. But the keeper knows full well, that he has his victim just as soon as he gets her drunken. Thus from the very start, drunkards are made of them, and the girl, knowing this fact looks upon all efforts a reformation as perfectly hopeless, and she knows an offer on the part of a good friend can hardly result in the reformation so much desired, because she could not live soberly enough to enter the industrial world again. I am further told that efforts are mad by the den-keeper to frighten the young girl out of all thought of trusting good people to befriend them, for fear they may be placed in refuges, which are described to them as places of torture for exceeding anything even they have experienced.

Right here I wish to relate an experience in attempting the rescue of a girl we will call Nellie from Hugh Doyle’s den at Merrill. We ere told of the case by two former inmates who desired us to rescue Nellie, if possible. I had already been at the door of this den once. This time, accompanied by the superintendent of the Social Purity department of the Wasau union, and the Methodist minister of Merrill, I proceeded. We called first upon the district attorney who assured us that it was not necessary to have a warrant made out upon which to procure Nellie, as we intended doing, because “Hugh Doyle was a pretty fair sort of a man for one in his business, and never bid any girl when she was demanded.” He recommended a certain constable as especially reliable if we wished one to accompany us.

Now I had heard also of another girl, commly [sic] called “the doctor’s girl,” of whom it was reported that she had been tricked into the den and held against her will, I had also hear that at the instigation of friends a thorough search through the house had been made by officers, to find this girl, who at the time was taken off into the woods by Miss Emma, mistress of the den, Hugh Doyle declaring no such girl had ever come to to this den, while friends pleaded with tears in their eyes for her recovery. As to these rumors I do not know even yet, how much is true and how much false.

Upon reaching the den Nellie was produced and surprised us considerably by declaring that she did not wish to go away. As occasion offered I questioned inmates aside, and received very unsatisfactory answers about “the doctor’s girl,” but enough to convince me she was still there. With the determination of making as much as we could out of the visit, we insisted on being shown over the house. We found several of the girls’ doors locked and Miss Emma the mistress told us the girls were “straightening up their rooms,” and didn’t want them to be seen. Miss Emma told us there were eight inmates, where as we found the table set for fifteen, and the cook informed us se would need to set a second one to accommodate all the boarders. I managed to question one girl aside, and readily elicited the information that there were persons held there against their will. As we entered the dance hall and bar-room (combined) we found the eight who were supposed to be all the inmates there were, arranged in a row against the wall, and Hugh Doyle pompously catechized them for our benefit as to their willingness to stay, and the freedom and the good treatment accorded them. They all united in assuring us that they had come of their own will, and were well treated and well paid and wished to remain. There was but one exception — a girl who, when we offered  to take her with us, did not deny that she wanted to go, but refused to put her trust in us. It was curious to see the amount of satisfaction the officer got out of the fact that we had gone on such a quixotic errand.  As soon as our backs were turned he was convulsed with laughter at our expense, not supposing that we saw him. I had not told the officer of my search for information about the “doctor’s girl;” hence my amazement, when after entering the carriage for our return, he gold us which one was she, and a little of her history, although nothing of her compulsory confinement there. If it be true that officers searched for the girl, then their search was all a farce, for they know about her presence in that den. All this occurred Jul 27th last. Since then I have had the following letter which continues the history of this Nellie and the “doctor’s girl,” so I will reproduce it. It is from the lady of Wasau who accompanied me on this expedition. She had heard that two inmates had escaped from the Merrill den and claimed the protection of the sheriff, and she immediately went up, hoping to get affidavits from them that would be of assistance to me in this work.

“I have so much to tell you that I really do not know where to begin. Mrs. _____ and I went to Merrill, W. engaged the services of a notary and then went to the jail. The girl was “Nellie” ______, the other girl was the girl from ______. She said that she was taken there by the Indian doctor, she had been playing the piano form at his entertainments. Let me explain here that there is a traveling “Indian” [?] going about the state of Wisconsin, selling patent medicines to crowds he calls together by giving entertainments, and and he was very anxious to marry her so she came up here wit him expecting to be married to him. He took her out to drive one morning and they drove to Doyle’s he telling her that it was a saloon, and wanted to get a drink. She said she did not know what kind of a place it was until she saw the girls in their short dresses, and then he wanted to get out and go in, but she refused and he and Doyle took her out by force and locked her in the kitchen. She has never seen the Indian doctor since.

Nellie’s story was a sad one of going up there to work in a paper-mill. She was hired by Tom Doyle [the keeper’s brother.’ She can neither read nor write, and I think the girl has the stamp of death upon her face. She was not a bit like the bold, brazen girl we thought her that day. She appeared so sad and broken, my heart ached for her. The notary who promised to come to the jail saw fit not to appear.”

It seems the good women who went to Merrill to befriend these girls were told that the sheriff was going to take them back to Neenah, whence one of them came, and Doyle was to be tried there. Doyle, meanwhile, fearing trial, took all his girls but one (who was sick, so he left her behind in the den at the tender mercy of a half-breed watchman) and went to Stevens Point, some sixty miles below. There was a Republican convention held there at that same time. [Query. Was the opportunity to gain influence with politicians another inducement for going?]

The ladies boarded the same train on which these two girls were placed who were going to Neenah, which train passes through both Wasau, the home of the ladies, and Stevens Point, before reaching Neenah. The sheriff was on the train, but not with the girls. They were placed in the hands of a man going only to Stevens Point. From the looks of the man, and the motions of other men, there was every reason for the ladies reaching the conclusion that all was not right, but that the girls whose tickets were not bought through to Neenah, but only to Stevens Point, had really been turned over to a procurer to be taken to Hugh Doyle’s in Stevens Point. The Girls have not bene heard of since that time, and we firmly believe they were returned through the treachery of the sheriff to Doyle once again, so that their testimony against hi could be hushed.

Now, while hunting up these cases, and the deaf mute case, I incidentally secured statements from influential men who all agreed in their statements that Hugh Doyle never enticed girls under false pretenses or kept them against their will. But I have ferretted out six such cases — four of whom were held at that very moment against their wills, and who knows how many more there may have been. Two have made a half dozen efforts to escape and were defeated, but at last were ferreted out and freed by the parents of one of them. Two escaped and claimed protection of the sheriff, and gladly went to jail instead of returning. Another was rescued by a man who tore a board off the back fence and et her out. (Hugh Doyle’s den is the most effectively “stockaded” of any I saw in the north.) This man with the escaped girl hastened through the woods towards the railway station, but wandered two days and nights without food or shelter and finally emerged from the woods sixty miles below at Stevens Point. Another girl has managed to convey word to her sister of her whereabouts and unwilling detention.

Last spring, two W.C.T.U. women tried to rescue the two girls I  have spoken of as making ineffectual attempts to escape Doyle’s den by a procurer. The procurer refused to give up the girls declaring to these women that he had a right to them having bought them of the chief of police of Green Bay for twenty-five dollars apiece. Later, when at Doyle’s den in Merrill, Miss Emma, its mistress, told me I the presence of reliable witnesses that these girls were bought of the chief of police of Green Bay. In addition to this, I have the affidavits of these two girls, declaring that they were first arrested by this procurer who asked them to go to work in a hotel at Merrill. They were suspicious and refused to go. Then they were arrested for street-walking, and one of them states under oath that they were threatened with imprisonment by the chief of police unless they would go. I find further this statement of their case in “The State Gazette,” published at Green Bay, March 1, 1888: “The two street-walkers, and A — who were before Justice Grignon Saturday, were fined $10 apiece and costs of the suit — the total amount aggregating $35 and given until noon Monday to leave the city. The fine was paid by an interested spectator and the chief of police saw that they left on the 1:40 rain south,” of course the “interested spectator” was the procurer, and in all probability this procurer was the man who had them brought up on a charge of street-walking in order that he might secure the legal right to procure them for Doyle’s den.

Although I am rejoiced to be able to say, that I believe that sensational picture of a den with a stockade as high as its roof, a whole pack of trained hounds and an armed doorkeeper, — is an exaggeration; upon the other hand there are up north more formidable obstructions to a girl’s escape from a life of shame, than even these express. The “stockade” is simply an unusually high-board fence; the dogs, so far as I know are limited to two or three, when they are kept (and they usually are); and it is a question whether they are as danger as a timid girl would fear they were! In two cases, however, I have learned of the existence of a dog that the bravest man would not care to face. I have never encountered an armed door-keeper. The real obstacles are: 1st. A total lack of sympathy for the girl in her terrible fat, on the part of men, women and officers of the law. 2nd. A persistent determination to maintain these houses as a “necessity” and regulate the evil by compelling all girls whose appearances are against them, to live in the houses. 3rd. A demand on the part of virtuous (God forgive the misnomer!) women that their virtue be protected by the degradation of young girls. One minister of the Gospel, tells me that he fears that the majority of the women members of his church openly advocate the protection of their virtue by the maintenance of the white-slave. Another minister tells me the woman most active in the Congregational church of a little village, boldly asserts that these places mut be encouraged. Judging from my own personal experience, I should say that in some villages of the north, a Social Purity member is as much a subject of hatred, even on the part of man professing Christianity, as is an abolitionist in the South. Men and women both in some places boldly assert their belief in the utility of the den of infamy, either as a matter of revenue or source of protection. Of course where this condition of things exists, the girl who might wish to escape a life of shame has no one to turn to with the remotest hope that her pitiful story will be believed. In one den two escaping girls were captured by the chief of police, who went on a search for them, and taken back. The mistress of the den administered a beating in the presence of the chief, and he made no effort to interfere. Then one of the girls managed to get out a complaint for assault and battery. Two former inmates of that den declare that the girl was mysteriously made way with out of revenge, before the case was prosecuted. They believe she was foully dealt with. The other girl escaped a second time, and was befriended by Christian people in whose hands she happened to fall. Upon her complaint the mistress of the den was then arrested for assault and battery and plead guilty. I conversed with two girls who were arrested when they wished to escape the town, but were rather returned to the custody of the den keeper. Their case, which we told was to come off at nine A.M. really came off at nine P.M., the previous night. I feel confident this move was made on the part of officers to defeat us in our determination to keep the girls away. “I heard an officer of the law tell them.” “It’s allright if you girls will stay in your place, nobody objects to your business. These houses are a necessity. We’ve got no fault to find with you as long as you behave yourself and live in them; but we want you to understand you’ve got to stay I them and can’t come out to raise hell.”

I refrain from relating many more observations and reliable incidents related to me, in corroboration of this point, but I am compelled for want of space to withhold them.

I close my report with a description of still another method of restraint that has been used, and will show the lengths to which den keepers will go to keep their victims in custody. While in Hurley I was conveyed by a reliable Christian gentlemen [sic] to the home of a woman for whose veracity he vouched. She told me the following story:

“It was the week before last Christmas and between seven and eight o’clock in the evening. I was coming along second avenue from town and was just coming down the embankment across the Wisconsin Central railroad track. I had already crossed the Lake Shore road. I heard something that sounded like the clinking of a chain, and I thought it must be horses running always with part of the harness. I looked this way and that but could not see a runaway. I kept hearing the noise but could not see anything.  I saw a woman coming towards me, and from the direction of Le Claire’s den (two blocks off) but I never thought of her in connection with the noise. But oh! dear me! I never can forget the awful look n her face. There is an electric light right there, and I could see it as light as day. Her eyes stood out with horror. She had a circular on that was flowing loosely around her, and spread out with the wind. Her dress was all up on one side, and she was holding in her hands a ball that was fastened around her ankle by the chain that I hear rattling. She was running as hard as she could. She was across the track just in front of a train that was coming, and there was a cutter with two men in it just behind her. But she dashed past the train and they had to wait for it, and so she got a little ahead. She ran up the embankment on the other side and then down across the Lake Shore railroad, and then up the other bank of the ditch. But by this time the train had got past and the men drove on and overtook her there and thrust her into the sleigh and took her back to Le Claire’s den.

Very respectfully submitted
Kate C. Bushnell, M.D.
New York City, Oct. 18, 1888



Source: W.C.T.U. State Work, Madison, Wis., November 1888, Vol. III, No. 7. pp. 1-6.