Posted by: history591seventeen | April 4, 2009

Gender Roles of 20th Century Chicago

           After reading Karen Abbott’s Sin in the Second City, it is easy to see how gender set up male/female roles in 20th-Century Chicago. Equal rights or equal opportunities were not yet available to women. Men held all the power. One gender clearly controlled the other. In this time period, women were considered subservient

            According to Abbott, because of the opportunity of employment and the glamour of city life, many flocked to Chicago. However, women who came unescorted were in much danger. “Predatory men met these girls at deports. They professed love at first sight, promised work and shelter and protection” (xi-xii), and in the end many of these girls were drugged, raped and sold to the madams that ran the brothels, in the Levee district.

            The women who were victims of this abuse were not only subject to gender roles, but they were also subject to the role that morality played in the 20th Century. Women, who lost their virginity through this practice, had no other place to go. They could not go home, for they had disgraced their families, but they had to eat; prostitution seemed to be the only means to support themselves.

            Therefore, one could say, many used gender and the double standards of morals to their advantage. Expectations of female behavior kept the brothels supplied with women to service their male clientele and white [female] slavery was also a direct result of these abusive acts that kept the brothels full.

            Twentieth Century-Chicago was a time when one’s gender could mean great power and the corruption this power created. Many politicians of this time period chose to look the other way in regards to the illegal operations in the Levee district. There were also men who benefited and controlled the Levee district. Men like Michael Kenna, or better known as Hinky Dink. “Hinky Dink and Bathhouse John took a portion of every dollar made in the red-light district” (58). These were the men who offered protection to the brothels. Big Jim Colosimo and Maurice Van Bever were known to operate a white slavery ring (57), thereby supplying the district with the needed victims.

            Men may have run businesses, but women, like the Everleigh sisters, ran brothels to serve men. At one time, these two women had been prostitutes, and then became madams, determined to cash in on the success gender roles had created, and in a sense take advantage of men in the way women were being exploited. The Everleighs had been madams elsewhere, and decided to try their fortune in Chicago.

            From the beginning of their Chicago establishment they decided to serve a different type of clientele and employ a different type of prostitute. Their clientele would have to be wealthy and gentlemanly, and their girls would be paid top dollar, be “drug-free”, and wanting to work there. No one would be able to question them about supporting white slavery.

            Therefore, the Everleighs’ Club became the choice of the rich and famous, so to speak. “The Club entertained sports icons like James J. Corbett and Stanley Ketchel and, on one fateful night, Jack Johnson; theater celebrities like John Barrymore; a circus star named the Great Fearlesso; and gambling virtuosos, most notable ‘Bet a Million’ Gates” (72). When Prince Henry of Prussia came to Chicago, in March of 1902, he visited the Everleighs (74). Clearly, the Everleighs were servicing the male gender and racking in the money to provide it.

            One client, Marshall Field Jr., son of the famous millionaire, was thought to have been shot at the Everleigh Club, by one of the girls, of which wounds he did die (81). However, most likely by family influence, a cover up occurred to preserve the Field family name. In fact, 31 years later, the sisters still state that Marshall Field Jr. “the young heir had never been a guest of the Club” (91). This incident demonstrates how powerful this generation of men had become.

There seemed to have been a time when society turned away from the corruption that was occurring in the Levee district. However, the National Purity Congress came to Chicago in 1901, and started to awaken the need for reform to occur in the area; these reformers included men like minister, Ernest Bell, who preached against allowing the operations in the district to continue. He set up the Midnight Mission and preached across the street from the Everleigh Club every night. Reverend Sidney C. Kendall was a reformer and a powerful speaker. Bell had said, “[Kendall’s] whole soul was torn and bleeding over the shame of making commerce of women” (109). Clifford Roe was a prosecutor who wanted to see an end to this white slave trade (124).

        The last event that may have affected the inequitable balance in Chicago’s gender war was the suffrage movement. On January 27, 1911, four hundred women joined together to march on city hall. These women were upset with city officials and ready to take over anti-vice matters themselves. The women stated, “. . . there would be no Levee district at all if only women could vote and be elected and so on and so forth” (219). On October 5 1912, the Levee district was finally shut down, ending this abuse of the female gender (241).

            Chicago in the 20th Century was not a time of equal treatment of men and women. Men held most jobs and the power; it seemed that in order for a woman to be successful in 20th Century-Chicago, she needed to find a way to meet the needs of men.




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