Thursday, June 13, 2013

Prostitution “almost a necessity” in early Pendleton?

A couple of news articles caught my eye for “Days Gone By” last week about an attempt by agents of Gov. Oswald West to shut down bordellos in 1913. West dispatched a “moral squad” headed by Jack Key to clear out houses of ill repute and send the ladies and their keepers packing from Oregon. In the 1913 stories, it was said that the bordellos had been consolidated in 1902 by then-Mayor Thomas G. Hailey on the west side of Cottonwood street (present-day Southeast First Street between the Umatilla River and the railroad yard). Prior to that these houses had been scattered around the city.

In an article in the Jan. 20, 1902, East Oregonian, Mayor Hailey was interviewed about what he intended to do about prostitution in Pendleton. He answered: “They run places that I do not approve of, but are almost a necessity in a town. I cite as an example the case of Irons and Boyd, who were in court today, for seducing the Wilson girl in Milton. I shall not bother these women, unless complaint is made to me, but I will see that they do not flaunt their vices boldly, and that all drinking and carousing is stopped in their houses. I have tried to overlook these things in the past, but I will not do it any longer.”

In 1902 it was understood amongst the city fathers that suppressing vice in Pendleton, including prostitution and gambling, was a losing proposition in more ways than one. The men of the town would not easily give up their recreations and the activities would just be driven underground (as illustrated by Prohibition). Also, the city of Pendleton received quite a bit of income from license fees and fines stemming from these activities. An editorial in the Jan. 18, 1902, EO stated, “... it is believed by any rational men that an attempt to root out the games and bawdy houses would utterly fail for want of support from the people of the community. This is deplorable, but true. Many persons who inveigh against the allowing of such things would not themselves have the ‘nerve’ to publicly back a movement for suppression, pleading that they could not afford to antagonize the elements that would be so antagonized. It was in the knowledge that such was the case that the mayor and council determined to form some plan whereby the city would reap financial benefit from the situation.”

Mayor Hailey’s compromise with the bordellos was confining the houses to Cottonwood Street and keeping the women off the street. In fact, a city ordinance prohibited the women from coming out to the sidewalk or becoming an annoyance to passersby, and the doors to the establishments were required to be kept shut. The mayor himself made an unofficial visit to the area in October of 1903, and eight women were arrested and fined $5 each for sitting in the open doors of the houses and talking to people on the street.

Thomas Hailey was intent on ridding Pendleton of vice during his tenure as mayor, and he staged many raids on gambling establishments and bordellos to enforce the city ordinances. However, he was forced to work within the framework of the times, which meant compromising his principles to a certain extent to keep the peace between city government, those who wanted to keep their recreations and the citizens who were appalled by them. Unfortunately (for some, I guess), gambling and prostitution are almost impossible to eradicate, and bordellos continued in one form or another in Pendleton until the 1950s before the doors were shut for good.

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