Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January 27, 1910: This Day in Ypsi History

Ypsilantians opening their Ypsilanti Daily Press a century ago read of the passage of the Mann Act, which forbade the transport of James Mann across state lines--he was too valuable to Ypsilanti. No, not really.

The measure was introduced by Congressman James Robert Mann, who also introduced legistation that became the Pure Food and Drugs Act, passed four years earlier in 1906. Persons convicted under the Mann Act include Charlie Chaplin, whose relationship with actress Joan Barry went into court--in 1944. He was 55 and she was 24 at the time--both consenting adults. The Mann Act made strange bedfellows. Two other persons charged with violations of the Mann Act were Frank Lloyd Wright (charges were dropped) and Charles Manson (charges also dropped).

Here's some interesting backstory on the cultural context in which the Mann Act was passed, from here.

"The Mann Act was born during the "white slavery" hysteria of the early 20th century. Along with other moral purity movements of the period, the white slavery craze had its roots in fears over the rapid changes that the Industrial Revolution had brought to American society: urbanization, immigration, the changing role of women, and evolving social mores. As young, single women moved to the city and entered the workforce they were no longer protected by the traditional family-centered system of courtship, and were subjected to what Jane Addams called the "grosser temptations which now beset the young people who are living in its tenement houses and working in its factories."

"As Progressive Era social reformers (many of whom did not distinguish between sexually active women and prostitutes) began to call attention to what they saw as a widespread decline in morality, foreigners emerged as an easy target. Unfettered immigration provided an endless supply of both foreign prostitutes and foreign men who lured American girls into immorality. Muckraking journalists fueled the hysteria with sensationalized stories of innocent girls kidnapped off the streets by foreigners, drugged, smuggled across the country, and forced to work in brothels. Borrowing a term from the 19th-century labor movement, muckraker George Kibbe Turner called prostitution "white slavery," and in a 1907 article in McClure's Magazine claimed that a "loosely organized association... largely composed of Russian Jews" was the primary source of supply for Chicago brothels. Pulp fiction and movies (then a novelty) fanned the flames even more."

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