Prostitution in Chicago Exterior view of the Heitler Resort, a house of prostitution at 310 North Peoria Street (formerly 169 Peoria Street), in the Near West Side community area of Chicago Marching on the Levee DistrictPortrait of Frankie Fore sitting in a room during a vice quiz in Calumet City (formerly known as West Hammond) Illinois Image of policeman Andrew Wodarczyk, in uniform, standing at the front door of 121 East 30th Street after a vice raid in Chicago Exterior view of Vic Shaw's resort, associated with the Moore case, at 2014 Dearborn Street in Chicago, Illinois. A person is standing in a broken window on the first floor. Vic Shaw, who ran a house of prostitution, was associated with the Moore case Image of policeman Andrew Wodarczyk, in uniform, standing and pointing at a sign at the rear entrance of 121 East 30th Street after a vice raid in Chicago, Illinois. This sign reads: Venereal Disease Keep OutExterior view of Freiberg's Hall, located at East 22nd Street and South Wabash Avenue in the Near South Side community area of Chicago, Illinois. This building, also known as Freiberg's Resort, was the scene of an explosion View of Houses on Federal Street, in the levee district. A particular address, 2117 South Federal Street, is noted on the image. Federal Street is located in the Armour Square community area of ChicagoImage of a portrait of Ike Bloom, the proprietor of Kreiberg's, a notorious dance hall in the Levee district. This image was taken from a portrait that hung in the Police Station located at 210 West 22nd Street, in the 3rd District, 3rd Precinct in the Near South Side community area of Chicago
Full-length portrait of Vic Shaw, resort keeper associated with the Nat Moore case, sitting in a room in Chicago, Illinois. Resort probably refers to a place of prostitution and viceFull-length portrait of Pearl Moore, levee character, associated with the Nat Moore case, sitting in a room in Chicago, Illinois. Moore was probably associated with prostitution or other vice. Levee districts in Chicago were vice areas with resorts or venues for prostitution, gambling, dance halls and other illicit activity Image of a portrait of Stanley Birns, a police detective. He is standing in uniform for a formal portrait. Detective Birns was killed on July 7, 1914 in a gun fight in the levee district. Another policeman, Joseph Merrill, was woundedPortrait of resort keeper Vic Shaw, the woman marked with an x, on the stand at an inquest in the Moore case in Chicago, Illinois. Vic Shaw ran a house of prostitution Portrait of Police Captain Max Nootbaar. He is sitting in a room, which includes a typewriter in the background. Nootbaar was appointed by Chief Gleason to head the levee district operations Informal portrait of Attorney Charles E. Erbstein and gangster James Colosimo, sitting in a room. Colosimo ran brothels and saloons in Chicago. He reputedly was murdered by Al Capone on May 11, 1920
Prostitution was never legal in Chicago. The notorious Levee district, ostensibly closed down in 1911 - 1912, was a place where brothels, gambling houses, and illegal saloons were publicly allowed to exist, tolerated or ignored by the police, the city government and the citizenry. Organized crime controlled large and highly profitable illegal enterprises in this district and elsewhere, paying off police and politicians. Highly publicized, periodic efforts at reform had little impact. The income and employment generated by these businesses, and by organized crime's involvement in other enterprises, was especially important in times of economic hardship and during elections.
See: All cases involving prostitution

Portrait of Vic Shaw - click on image to view larger versionProstitution in contemporaneous records and reports was termed "the social evil" or "vice", and those who ran the illegal enterprises were termed ‘The Vice Lords’ (JCLC p.500-511). The Levee district was notorious, in Chicago and around the world, described by many contemporaneous commentators and visitors to the city, including William Stead, If Christ Came to Chicago (1894), the most famous journalist of his time.

The most extensive reform effort directed at prostitution was in 1911 1912 after the election of Mayor Fred A. Busse, and the appointment of the Vice Commission. The 1911 Vice Commission Report was focused on prostitution and the regulation of the sale of alcohol (JCLC p.486-490). Throughout this period, the regulation of the sale of alcohol and the concern with drunkenness and syphilis, was inextricable from reforms directed at prostitution. And the enactment of state and federal laws imposing a prohibition on the sale and distribution of alcohol resulted in an entirely new set of regulations and administrative bureaucracies.

The closing of the Levee in 1912 did not mean that there was no more commercialized prostitution in Chicago , but the operation of brothels in an open, accessible public area, such as those in the Levee district, was not continued in the flagrant manner in which it had existed previously.

Prior to 1912, the Levee was an area the police did not enter, and the new regime did document that and attempt to change it.

Included in the Commission Report of 1911 and in contemporaneous academic studies are details and statistics on vice, and a history of the development of the industry in Chicago. In addition to the 1911 Chicago Vice Commission Report, the most comprehensive and scholarly treatment of the subject is: Walter C. Reckless, Vice in Chicago ( Chicago , 1933). This is a well written, sociological study, with extensive demographic, public health and economic data on aspects of the industry in the notorious vice districts of Chicago . Topics include: the changing demographics of the business of prostitution; organized crime involvement and control of vice; exposes of government graft allowing and supporting organized crime involvement; fraudulent voting practices which perpetuated organized crime control of government offices; police protection of and involvement in the business; and the periodic enforcement by city and state officials in response to pressure from citizen’s groups. Vice is principally prostitution, but also includes the distribution of alcohol, especially during Prohibition, and other illegal activities in the segregated districts of Chicago . This is a comprehensive, serious study with a wealth of demographic and court data, including: an exhaustive review of prior reports and commissions, official data primarily on the post World War I period, and in some categories data going back to the early part of the century.

The social reform movements, advocates for and against prohibition, and religious proselytizers produced a variety of hortatory literature often including statements attributed to public figures of the day. For their language, diction, and allegations of unverifiable facts, these books and pamphlets offer, if nothing else, a vernacular time capsule of public speech, and occasional glimpses into the life and conditions of the day.

See, Grant Eugene Stevens, Wicked City (Chicago, 1906), published by G.E. Stevens. This is an odd combination of novel, puzzle, mystery story, and commentary upon the "Wicked City Redeemed", including some contemporary illustrations and photographs. The structure of the book is to collect and solicit opinions and pronouncements from a variety of public figures and fictional persons as to whether Chicago is a "wicked city". Much attention paid to drinking, gambling and the white slave trade.

Additional sources include:

Duis, Perry R, The Saloon - Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston, 1880-1920 (Champaign, 1983) (repr. 1999). An unusual and especially relevant history of public drinking and its legal regulation, comparing Chicago and Boston. Very useful in counteracting stereotypes and misinformation about these two surprisingly different saloon cultures, and their connection to political life in the two cities. Topics include: the official regulation of alcohol, the criminal prosecution or non-prosecution for alcohol related offenses, the temperance movement, the economic constraints operating on the saloon keeper, the industry protective associations, ethnic and racial patterns associated with public drinking, saloons and immigration patterns, the enormous profits from the sale of alcohol and where they went, and the importance of saloons in political campaigns and ward politics in Chicago. The work includes a rich collection of contemporary photographs and illustrations.

Lyle, John H, The Dry and Lawless Years (New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1960). An account of the illegal and other activities of the mob, the police and others by a practicing attorney, a member of the Illinois legislature, a member of the Chicago City Council, and a self-styled ‘crime busting’ felony court judge in the 1920's.

Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan, Big Bill of Chicago, (Bobbs Merrill, NY 1953). A detailed political history of the tumultuous politics surrounding the elections and reelections of Mayor "Big Bill the Builder" Thompson. Thompson was Mayor from 1915-1920, and reelected in 1927-1930.

Richard Lindberg, Chicago by Gaslight – A History of Chicago’s Netherworld, 1880-1920 (Academy Chicago Publishers, 1996). A lively, anecdotal account of historic events, political scandals and the notorious underworld. A valuable table lists all mayors, police chiefs, state’s attorneys, and sheriffs from 1871-1920 (p.214). Photographs and illustrations are included.