Old Missoula

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End of the "line" in Missoula - 1917

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The article below appeared in The Missoulian – Jan. 5th, 1917


Missoula’s “Line” Ordered Closed February 1

City and County Authorities Give Notice to Restricted District

To Enforce Laws at End of Month

Missoula Officials Take Action Without Compulsion From Ford

To Whom It May Concern

You are hereby notified by the undersigned that on and after February 1, 1917, all state laws and city ordinances in regard to keeping or maintaining or renting for the purposes of prostitution and also all laws and ordinances relating to inmates thereof, will be strictly enforced.

It is the intention of the undersigned to close the redlight district and this notice is served for the purpose of allowing persons interested to make preparations for same.

H. T. Wilkinson

Mayor of the City of Missoula,

J. M. Brechbill,

Councilman of the City of Missoula,

Thomas E. Kemp,

Councilman of the City of Missoula,

John L. Campbell,

City Attorney.

J. T. Green,

Sheriff of Missoula county,

Fred R. Angevine

County Attorney

Red lights will be made white next month and dead laws will be made alive. The city commissioners of Missoula, the city attorney, the sheriff and the county attorney of Missoula county, decided after a conference yesterday to issue the foregoing order closing Missoula’s restricted district after February 1. The action was not unexpected. Enforcement of the law against houses of prostitution has been looked for since the election of Attorney General S. C. Ford, who persistently promised during the campaign to make effective this and the prohibition measure.

Since Mr. Ford’s recent affirmation of his campaign promises strong pressure has been brought to bear on Missoula officials by persons anxious to have the restricted district closed. Women’s organizations, the ministerial association and the Missoula Civic league used whatever influences they commanded to bring about the action taken yesterday.

Attorney General Ford, however, had not requested city or county officials to enforce the law. In fact, Mr. Ford will not be able to do anything himself until the evidence of neglect by local officials is before him. The Missoula city and county officers forestalled action by the attorney general by taking a prompt stand.

Based on Statutes.

The notice which was served on every owner of property now being used for immoral purposes and every person conducting a house of prostitution, is based upon Sections 8,397 and 8,398 of the Revised Codes of Montana, 1907. The former says:

“Every person who keeps any disorderly house, or any house for the purpose of assignation or prostitution, or any house of public resort, by which the peace, comfort and decency of the immediate neighborhood is habitually disturbed, or who keeps any inn in a disorderly manner, and every person who lets any apartment or tenement, knowing it is to be used for the purpose of assignation or prostitution, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

Revenue Affected

If November’s fines be taken as an average, the city will lose almost $15,000 in annual revenue after the local redlight district shall have been abolished. Inmates and property owners of the restricted district paid a sum of $1,245 into the city treasury for the month of November, according to the report filed with the city council by Police Magistrate Allen. Women of the district paid $705 of this; the rest was divided as follows among property-owners: J. C. Johnson, $37,50; Tom Joe, $77.50; Ruby Dale, $25; Gail Edman, $25; Hallie Goldsmith, $25; Foo Kee, $30; Bessie Rose, $25; Effie Rogan, $50; May Trenton, $25; B. W. Brown, one of the heirs of the Gleim estate, $182.50; Lena Costello, $25. The total for the property-owners, real and alleged, was $540 for November.

Since the first of the year preparations have been made by women in the restricted district for the expected law enforcement. Many of them have already left Missoula, and yesterday, when rumors of definite action became general, actual packing began all along the “line.”

Persistent reports of an invasion of rooming houses and private residences by women from the district have drifted about the streets for weeks. City official (upon whom the chief burden of keeping the city clean will now fall) are aware of these reports but have, they say, been unable to confirm them. They are inclined to believe that the danger of promiscuity has been exaggerated. The imminence of prohibition will have a discouraging influence they declare.

They do not, however, say that enforcement of the law will cure the evil. They are frank, in fact, in saying that it will not. “Prostitution cannot be effaced by law,” said one of them. “One might as well speak of effacing poverty by making it unlawful for anyone to be poor. The causes of prostitution are deep-laid. The choice, apparently, is between the open and the surreptitious. Opinions differ there. But it is not for us to choose. The law is on the statute books and it should be enforced. If it isn’t a good law, let it be changed. Our sworn duty is to enforce the law; that is what we are doing.”

Lurid History

Missoula’s “line,” soon, it seems, to pass out of existence forever, has had a long and lurid history. In the old days of honkatonks and open gambling it was a wild, vigorous institution. Murder and robbery were frequent, for booze flowed free all along the “line,” and nothing was barred. Then all of West Front street and most of West Main street were lined with houses of ill fame. But of recent years restrictive policing has diminished the district’s size and disorderliness. At present there are less than 60 women there, and hardly a dozen houses of prostitution.

Ford Prepares Notifications.

Helena, Jan. 4 – Attorney General S. C. Ford today announced that he is preparing letters to all the county attorneys of the state, suggesting that they enforce all laws upon the statute books and especially that the illegal districts of Montana be closed. This is in keeping with the statement of Mr. Ford in December, that he meant to put an end to “red light” areas in Montana.