This section is from the book "The Transmission Of Life. Counsels On The Nature And Hygiene Of The Masculine Function", by George H. Napheys. Also available from Amazon: The Transmission of Life.
The social problem we are considering must be studied in its origin in order to prepare any method for its solution. We ask, therefore, what is it leads so many women, usually almost necessarily, young, healthy, and handsome - for they must be all these to ply that trade - to open or secret sin ? Rev. Dr. Muhlenberg, in his sermon already quoted, answers thus: " Some with no excuse, others, if not with excuse, yet with palliations either in their bringing up apart from Christian influences, and amid constant exposure to temptation; or, from their having been the victims of seduction; or from the extremities of destitution; or, allow me to add, in a fondness for finery, copying their sisters in higher life, who, by their example of vain show in dress, have more to answer for in this matter than they suspect."
It is popularly supposed among men that in the greater number of cases it is the strong passions, the insatiable lusts of those women, which lead them to take up this mode of life. Such an opinion displays entire ignorance of woman's nature and facts. It is, probably, the rarest of all the causes which lead to public immoral life. It is true that many of these women claim and pretend to exhibit great erotic passion, but this is nearly always fictitious, adopted as an attraction, merely a "trick of the trade." The excessive frequency with which they indulge blunts their sensibility and precludes the possibility of much real feeling.
Probably the most common and fatal temptation to young women is simply money. They can gain more, and can, consequently, dress finer, live more idly, and fare better for a while by this than by any other means at their command.
Then there are a very great number who are brought up to the business. The Board of Health of the Citizens' Asso-ciation of New York estimate there are at least thirty thou-sand children between the ages of five and twelve in that city who are subject to no parental control, receive no instruction either religious or secular, and are constantly exposed to the corrupting influences of a hotbed of vice. Ten years later they become a vast army of prostitutes and thieves.
Bo long as this is the case, it were indeed vain to expect the cessation of the evil.
Seduction and violence are constant, but not the most important, sources of supply. Country girls and female immigrants are not unfrequently " allured to boarding-houses where scoundrels, with lying promises, or with lures of money, with the baits of vanity, with the stupefying cup, or with violence, rifle them of their all, and leave them, lost strangers in a strange land, for other harpies to devour" (Rev. Dr. Muhlenberg.) It is notorious to those familiar with the vices of our cities that there are so-called " employment offices," or "intelligence offices," which are in reality snares for the unwary, and that the proprietor (male or female) is in connection with a house of ill-fame, and sends to such places those whom he thinks will be entrapped.
Opulent satyrs, cloyed with ordinary means of vice, and bent on provoking exhausted senses with novelty, offer large bids for youth and virtue; stimulated by them, a class of evil old women make it their business to be on the watch for giddy and vain girls, and set before them every temptation to forsake the path of chastity.
From these various sources the numbers of the lost are constantly maintained in our great cities, and constantly increased.
Is it a Necessary Evil?
Divines, philosophers, and physicians have united in the expression of the opinion that prostitution is a necessary evil, not only in the sense that it is unavoidable by any known regulation, but that it is necessary to the interest, even to the morality, of society at large. St. Augustine, the eminent father of the Latin church, in his book De Ordine. says: "Suppress prostitution, and you will plunge society into libertinage" (aufer meretrices, turbaveris omnia libidinibus). The severe Cato recommended that young men should visit the brothels when their passions were ardent, so that they might not be tempted to invade the sanctity of marriage.
" I regard prostitution," says Mr. Acton, " as an inevitable attendant upon civilized, and especially closely packed population. "When all is said and done, it is, and I believe ever will be, ineradicable." And to like effect the Rev. Dr. Muhlenberg, of New York: "The 'social evil' is ever in proportion to the wealth and luxury of a community."
Such opinions are discouraging, and are not to be accepted as the solution of the problem. There is absolutely no moral evil which is inseparably connected with human society. Herbert Spencer, in his " Social Statics," points out with lucid and logical language the perfectibility of the human species. And it is a libel on man, " made in the image of God," to say that there is any crime, especially so flagitious and enormous a crime as this, from which it is impossible for him to refrain. Granted that our efforts to escape it have hitherto been abortive; yet there is no cause for despair; we simply have not sot about it right.
The doctrine of St. Augustine above quoted seems to us monstrous, and contrary to known facts. In what countries are the obligations of marriage most sacredly respected ? Is it in those where brothels are most abundant? We trow not. Are the large cities, where such dens are located, more conspicuous for marital chastity, than the rural districts where none exist ? The proposition is an absurdity.
In examining this whole subject with an impartial desire to ascertain the exact truth, we have failed to find a single redeeming feature in the vice of prostitution, without it be that there are women wretched enough, friendless enough, desperate enough., to be forced to this mode of life to escape starvation. And this is indeed sorry praise to give it. It only gives them a chance to sell their birthright to heaven for a mess of the devil's pottage.
The opportunity of illicit intercourse never protects marriage. Chastity, not allowed sensuality, is the safeguard of the household. The more a young man sees of abandoned women, the less is his faith in woman in general, and the more feckless becomes his libertinism.
How can it be Stopped?
The theories which have been propounded for the abating of this formidable and hydra-headed evil have been numerous and diverse. We shall confine ourselves to the examination of a few which have been brought forward within the past few years.
The boldest is that advocated by a "Christian Philosopher" in a work published in 1869, called "Monogamy and Polygamy Compared." This anonymous writer maintains that Christian precept and example both advocate a plurality of wives, that such a system has really no seriously objectionable features, and that by absorbing all the female population into the married state it effectually kills prostitution by depriving it of any material. This theory we do not deem worthy of sober attack.
Valuable for its practicality is the plan of repression suggested by Dr. George J. Ziegler, of Philadelphia, in several medical periodicals in 1867. He urges that the act of sexual connection be, ipso facto, the solemnization of marriage, and that when any such single act can be proven against an unmarried man by an unmarried woman, the latter be at once invested with all the legal privileges of a wife. By vesting this power in the woman, no man would risk himself in the company of a dissolute, scheming girl, who might force him to a marriage, and ruin him for life. There are many strong points in Dr. Ziegler's article, to which we refer our readers for full particulars (see list of authors at the close of this section). The strongest objection to it would be that it would considerably increase the temptations to destroy family purity, married women being the only ones who could be approached without danger of being forced into a misalliance.
Last year (1869) Dr. Charles Drysdale, of London, a sociologist of eminence, brought forward a proposition intended to inflict the death-blow on prostitution ; it consists, to give his own words, in a general determination to have "early marriages, and very few children (indeed, none at all, perhaps, as in France, for some years), and greater facility for divorce, as obtains at present in Indiana, and some other States of the United States."
We question very much whether these three recommendations would not have the very contrary effect from that desired. We have made considerable inquiry of private individuals from the States of our Union to which Dr. Drys-dale refers, and all our informants seem convinced that the facile divorces have in nowise helped the morals of the community. We have already shown that precisely in Chicago, where divorces are notoriously easy to procure, the number of prostitutes in proportion to the population is greater than in Paris itself. How premature marriages, and the absence of the endearing ties which children knit between father and mother could increase purity of thought and chastity of life, we confess ourselves quite unable to perceive.
The fourth method suggested is based upon the undoubted fact that it is money - which may stand for bread and butter, or for fine clothes, or for intellectual gratification, or for any of the numberless pleasant things it can furnish (among which a quiet conscience and a sound body are not included) - money, that in the majority of cases is the real tempter. Give women, say the reformers of this school, the same opportunities to earn their living, to satisfy their tastes, to make money, as men have, and the number will be few, who will be obliged, or who will care, to make it by destroying their reputations, their peace of mind, and their bodily health.
Finally, there are those who believe in throwing all theories aside, and going to work at once in collecting these lost sheep of the Master into mission houses and halls, in setting forth to them the temporal and eternal dangers of their lawless life, in providing those who will accept with remunerative labor, and situations adequate to their capacities, and in trying upon them the effects of sound religious instruction. Such are the Midnight Missions which have been established by zealous and pious Christians in most of our cities; such the Magdalen asylums supported by the Protestant denominations ; and such the " Houses of the Good Shepherd," organized for the same purpose by practical Catholics.
These admirable institutions all accomplish a good work, although in comparison with the magnitude of the harvest, the laborers are indeed few. We have attempted to form some idea of their actual efficacy by examining such reports as we have been able to obtain. From these it appears that the Midnight Missions rescue from a life of sin nearly three-fourths of those who enter the Homes; and we are informed by a responsible Catholic authority that the proportion of the saved in the Houses of the Good Shepherd are between two-thirds and three-fourths. But satisfactory as this is, it is discouraging to see how few can be induced to enter these doors of escape when they are opened. The Midnight Mission Home in Amity Street, New York, in its report for the year 1868, shows only one hundred and twenty-two receptions ; though it is true that these excellent charities, like so many others, are sadly cramped for want of means.