Grand Madames: Bowden Backs Bordellos, Wins Landslide

November 16, 2010 16 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Recorded on the pages of is the story of the Landslide Election of JET Bowden to Mayor of Jacksonville in 1914. Bowden, who had been Mayor at the time of the Great Fire of 1901, had also been Mayor of LaVilla prior to the first Consolidation of Greater Jacksonville. The world famous bordellos of Ward Street had been under his protection and care, and he did not take this duty lightly.

So much so that during the Great Fire, firemen valiantly fought to save William Astor's beautiful block of buildings, and in the process ended up saving the Bordello District from flames.  People naturally drew their own conclusions as to what the firemen had hoped to rescue after the flames and only after a full investigation was it concluded that the Fire chief had acted properly in defense of the city.

Cora Crane, would build her famous establishment The Court that same year.

But after the Great Fire an invasion of yankee carpetbaggers brought with them Temperence sentiment and racial segregation, leading to a move to shut down Ward Street.  In 1914, the old mayor, confined to a wheelchair gamely decided to run on a platform of reopening them.  What follows is his actual platform statement:

Jacksonville, Fla., September 19, 1914.

Before leaving for the mountains last June, in conversation with a number of my friends, I consented, and gave them my word, that I would be a candidate for Mayor at the coming City Election.  Since my return home I have been told that the impression had gone abroad that I had concluded not to run, and many of those whom I had assured that I would be a candidate have approached me on the subject.  My answer has always been that when I made up my mind, last spring, to make the race that theb and there I had determined to continue in the contest and that I expected to win, and I again reiterate that I will be a candidate before the next Democratic City Primaries, and I want to thank those who have urged my candidacy and assured me of their hearty support.

I have been approached by some of the friends of one of the most formidable pronounced candidates urging my withdrawal.  This candidate, in my estimation, is a most excellent fellow, and I believe would make Jacksonville a good Mayor, but I know that I will, and, for that reason, I am not going to withdraw for and living human being.

The people of this City have honored me on two different occasions by placing me in the Executive Chair.  Many years ago, I served as Mayor of LaVilla, the western end of the City, before it was annexed to the greater city, and during the years of 1899-1901 I occupied the position as Mayor of the greater city.  The older residents of Jacksonville know what kind of Mayor I would make.  I happened to be in that position at the time of the Great Fire that destroyed one hundred and forty four acres of the City on May 3rd, 1901.

Those were strenuous times, and the old citizen remembers well what we had to contend with.  I am not ashamed of what I accomplished for our stricken people then, and particularly point with pride to that portion of my administration.  But this City has changed.  Thousands of new people have come among us, that know nothing of those days or my policies, and I feel that I should give them an insight to some of the things that I propose to do in case they should honor me with handling the affairs of Jacksonville for a third time.

I want to be Mayor.  I want to be your Mayor.  I want to be everybody's Mayor.  I want to be the Mayor of the rich as well as the poor, of the good as well as the bad, Of the church going as well as the non church going people, and I don't propose that if I am elected to be any man's Mayor, nor the Mayor of any class, clique, religious or freak kind, but my proposition is to govern this City in a business like manner, without playing to the galleries nor trying to build up political rings for the purpose of self advancement, and nobody realizes more than myself that Jacksonville is one of the most Cosmopolitan cities to be found anywhere, being made up of people from every part of the globe, and being the gateway to the State of Florida.

For that reason, the administration of the Laws of Jacksonville should be most liberally construed and enforced, and I do not propose to grind down upon any class or condition of people, but I do not mean to say that in the construction of the city's laws that my construction of them will be most liberal.  At this point, I do not wish to be misunderstood, for I do not propose to allow gambling to run rampant or the flagrant violation of any of its laws, but there is one thing I want to assure the voters as to government and control of what is known as 'The Social Evil'.

I do not propose to scatter prostitution throughout the residential portion of this City, but I will consider some scheme of this nature. The appointment of a committee consisting of one or two good thinking people from each of the eleven wards to consider and designate the location wherein this class of people can be segregated, for I am a firm believer in the segregation of what is known as a social evil, but for my part of thinking this evil is not such a terrible evil after all---my honest conviction is that these poor unfortunates are the greatest safety valves to society.  As a rule they are beat and banged around by every new mayor coming into office, but I for one propose to give them all the protection that is possible.  I do not mean that I will allow them to flaunt themselves conspicuously upon the streets, but after a suitable location has been designated for them, there they shall go, and there they shall be governed by stringent rules, and as long as I am Mayor, there they shall stay and I promise to give them all the police protection that is accorded to any other citizen, and as long as they behave themselves in a manner in keeping with their occupation and do not offend the moral element of the community, they need not fear being molested during my administration.

But the scattering of the prostitute as has been done by the present administration I consider as the greatest evil imaginable.  This thing has been tried in many large cities ---Doctor Parkhurst of New York City, be special acts of the Legislature, broke up the segregated districts of that city, harassed and scattered these unfortunates throughout the hotels and flats of New York City, throwing them directly in and among the good people of that city, and today he is one of the strongest believers in segregation and I do not think that any worse thing could have been done for the betterment of society that what has been done right here in Jacksonville with these people, and from time immemorial prositution has existed and will exist to the end of time, and my way of thinking is that those entrusted with the administration of law should recognize this condition and not try to prohibit, but to control

Many have asked me if I felt that my physical condition warranted me in undertaking the duties that would necessarily fall upon the Mayor on account of my being a paralitic. To that question I answered that my affliction was not caused by a diseased condition, but from an unfortunate accident, having been thrown from a sleigh some eight years ago: The runner of my sleigh striking me on the head crushing my skull, but I know today, from experience that I have gone through, from tests that I have put myself to, that I was never in better health than I am at the present time.  Any man that can travel from Jacksonville Florida to New York in five days by automobile over the rough mountains of Virginia, travelling fourteen hours a day, and get out of his automobile at his destination in as good a condition as I was last June, must be in a healthy condition, and I want to say right here that I made this trip for the purpose of putting to the test my physical condition at the time, as I did not care to enter this contest if there was any chance of being injurious to me.  As to my mental condition I will leave that for the public to judge.

I know that the asylums are full of people who believe that they are of sound minds when they are in fact in the opposite condition, consequently it is not for me to say whether my mind has been affected by my unfortunate accident, but for those who come in contact with me daily.  However, I do not believe but that my reasoning powers are the same as years gone by.  I speak of these things for the reason that as soon as the campaign is opened, my opponents will urge that I am in no condition to be your Chief Executor.

In conclusion, allow me to say that there is nothing connected with the office of Mayor that I do not understand, having served for two terms, and I believe I made as acceptable officer as Jacksonville has ever had.  My time is my own, being a man of leisure, and I want something to do.  I want to serve you not only for the honor of being Mayor, for that I have been.  The people of this City have exalted me twice to that position, and as far as honoring me, they have do so in the past to the fullest extent.  I am greatly interested in Jacksonville, being one of the largest property holders in this City, consequently I want to see Jacksonville have a business head, one that will at all times look to the interests of all the people and one that will not be playing to the galleries, and one that will not be swerved by the arguments of cranks aor those who consider themselves better than the ordinary citizen---in other words, "The Better Than Thou" crowd; that kindmight just as well stay away from the Mayor's Office if I am honored in that position next June.  Soliciting your support, and assuring my friend that I am in this fight to the finish, I am:
Yours Truly,

JET Bowden.