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Grand Madames: Bowden Backs Bordellos, Wins Landslide

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:

Published August 6, 2010 in History      15 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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.



August 06, 2010, 11:16:04 AM
"And that's when the whores came in, laying their trick money down.  $100 for rent?  Why not spend it on the whores!"


August 06, 2010, 11:20:33 AM
"And that's when the whores came in, laying their trick money down.  $100 for rent?  Why not spend it on the whores!"

favorite line.  ever.

"One time, during the war......."


August 06, 2010, 11:33:07 AM
We must re-establish the legal bordellos at once, or Lieutenant Commander Data's brave journey back in time will all have been for nothing, and the Romulans will destroy us all!


August 06, 2010, 11:46:41 AM
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.


August 06, 2010, 11:50:15 AM
my proposition is to govern this City in a business like manner,

Someone else said this.... who?  Is it deja vu? :D


August 06, 2010, 12:15:29 PM
This Doctor Parkhurst seems to have been an asshole of dynamic proportions in his early years.
DR. PARKHURST'S UTTERANCE; WHAT HE SAID AND HOW HE MEANT TO BE UNDERSTOOD. Objected to Headlines in The Times, but Repeats (and This is Authorized) that if the City's Evicted Outcasts Do Not Repent "It Would Not Be Right for Us to Do Anything for Them. Even if They Were to Starve or Freeze."


August 06, 2010, 12:25:32 PM

In the Gilded Age (1870s-1890s), prostitution was the most pressing social problem of the day, and nowhere was the battle between morality and licentiousness more pitched than in New York City. There, several organizations and individuals strove to ameliorate the pervasive sense of lawlessness and immorality that allowed prostitution to flourish. One man—Presbyterian minister Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst—took on the fight and became, through determination and courage, the victorious leader of the anti-vice movement of the late nineteenth century.

Parkhurst's Anti-Prostitution Passion

Upon first glance, Charles Parkhurst did not appear to be the fire-and-brimstone type like his contemporary, anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock. Classically educated, bookish, and even-tempered, Parkhurst seemed almost too intellectual to take on the vast, street-level prostitution and vice operations that surrounded his pulpit in Madison Square Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. But Parkhurst’s church lay in the middle of the notorious Tenderloin district—the red-light district of Gilded Age New York—and he witnessed the sexual transactions and commercialized vice from its front steps.

By 1892, Parkhurst had seen enough of the “fallen women,” their pimps and procuresses who held them in sexual bondage, and the police collusion which kept open the many houses of assignation in the Tenderloin. He launched a plan to expose the vice activity in his neighborhood and the corrupt police force that protected it.

The Famous Ruse

On March 11, 1892, Parkhurst and two associates disguised themselves as “sporting” chaps out on the town and visited the suspected house prostitution owned by Hattie Adams on West 27th Street. The men asked for the “circus” of the house, and were joined by seven women in a game of naked leapfrog. Parkhurst was stunned by the brazen sexuality on display, and hurried home to compose the next day’s sermon, revealing the sordid and depraved lives of prostitutes and police collusion necessary for their existence.

“To say that the police do not know what is going on and where it is going on, with all the brilliant symptoms of the character of the place distinctly in view, is rot,” Parkhurst said in his sermon. Parkhurst persuaded officers to raid Hattie Adams’ parlor and arrest the procuress. In the ensuing trial, Adams was found guilty of operating a house of assignation and sentenced to nine months in prison.

For Parkhurst, the Adams case was a twofold victory. Not only did he succeed in holding up Hattie Adams as an example of the wages of sin, but he also exposed—through later sermons and trial testimony—the awe-inspiring web of police corruption that had allowed Adams and others like her to operate brothels without fear. Parkhurst’s information was used as the basis for the 1894 New York State Senate commission’s investigation into NYPD corruption and policy dealers (a.k.a. gamblers who ran illegal lotteries). Known as the Lexow Commission, the investigation reached the lowest of street-level swindles to the highest offices of law enforcement. Many lower-ranking officers were dismissed as a result of the investigation, but some higher-ups were allowed to retire with full pensions.

After the Lexow Report

After the Lexow committee wrapped up the investigation, Parkhurst continued to pursue vice and corruption from his pulpit, and other anti-vice groups, such as the Committee of Fourteen, carried on his work. Parkhurst retired from his pastorate in 1918 at age 76, an eminent figure in the city’s war on immorality. In fact, one of his descriptions of the vice-ridden city is still used today—to Parkhurst, New York in the Gilded Age was like “hell with the lid off.”

Read more at Suite101: Charles Parkhurst, Vice Cop: Prostitution’s Foe in Gilded Age New York

When the municipal grand jury asked him for hard evidence, Parkhurst personally hired a private detective and, with his friend John Erving, went to the streets in disguise to collect proof of the corruption. From the pulpit on March 13, 1892, he preached a sermon backed with documentation and affidavits. Parkhurst’s campaign led to the appointment of the Lexow Committee to investigate conditions, and to the election of a reform mayor in 1894. Although Tammany Hall did publicly clean house, it remained influential on the both the political front and in organized crime until the 1950's.

His first wife, Ellen Bodman, died on May 28, 1921. He married Eleanor Marx on April 18, 1927 in Los Angeles. [1] He died on September 8, 1933 by sleepwalking and walking off the porch roof in his Ventnor, New Jersey home.


August 06, 2010, 12:28:51 PM

Campaigns against the "social evil" in New York City

Industrialization, immigration, and changing gender roles in late 19th century New York City formed the perfect social conditions for an explosion in prostitution.

Before the Civil War, the city had a population of 700,000, including 6,000 prostitutes—one in 117 inhabitants. By 1892, continuing waves of  immigrants from Europe had swelled the city’s population to 1,800,000 and the number of prostitutes, according to the city’s physicians, social workers and police, to at least 30,000—one in every 60 people.

The deplorable poverty, overcrowding and underemployment - "how the other half lives," in the words of muckraking journalist Jacob Riis - encouraged thousands of New York City women to pursue prostitution for a living.

A Contemporary Account of Prostitution

During the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s), journalists and civic leaders formed an agenda for social activism to counteract prostitution and the social conditions that victimized women. In his 1882 survey New York by Gaslight, Virginia journalist James McCabe illuminated life in the Tenderloin, New York City’s infamous sex district, as part expose and part cautionary fable.

Centered on West 23rd Street and 6th Avenue, the Tenderloin hosted a majority of the city’s 700 brothels. The “silk-hat” parlors were the most elegant establishments, employing young, beautiful and cultured women and catering to men of means. “Lawyers, physicians, judges of courts, members of Congress, and even ministers of the gospel from all parts of the country” frequented these houses.

Second-class brothels were rougher in every way—the women more desperate, the men less refined, the procuresses predatory. Further down the ladder, the bagnios of Soho and the Lower East Side acted as catch-alls for society’s most desperate women. “The doom of the fallen woman is sure,” McCabe wrote. “Once entered upon a career of shame, the whole world sets its face against her.”

Before Social Activism

Before the Progressive Era, prostitutes had few resources to turn to for help. Religious societies operated "houses of refuge" for women seeking escape from prostitution, but any assistance was given with a heavy dose of moralizing; often, women were obligated to repent before receiving aid.

The law was more harsh. Women convicted of prostitution were sent to the state's prison-workhouse on Blackwell’s (now Roosevelt) Island. More often, though, savvy brothel-keepers paid extraordinary bribes to police who allowed them to operate in full swing. The police, in turn, colluded with political operatives from Tammany Hall, the corrupt Democratic club that ruled every aspect of New York City administration.

Reforms in the Progressive Era

The chain of malfeasance prompted a burst of social activism from the city's religious leaders in the Progressive Era. In February 1892, the Reverend Charles Parkhurst, pastor of Madison Square Presbyterian Church in the Tenderloin, gave an incendiary sermon denouncing thirty houses of prostitution in his own precinct and the Tammany machine that kept them in brisk business. “To say that the police do not know what is going on and where it is going on…is rot. Anyone who, with all the easily-ascertainable facts in view, denies that drunkenness, gambling, and licentiousness in this town are municipally protected is either a knave or an idiot,” Parkhurst said.

Concurrently, a group of leading New York City citizens formed the Committee of Fourteen to investigate the widespread problem of prostitution. It concluded that numerous saloons, cheap hotels, music halls and restaurants acted as de facto brothels for prostitutes and their customers. Even a statute (Raines Law) meant to prohibit saloons from selling liquor on Sundays didn't help - since hotels were exempt, hundreds of barrooms simply added a cot in a backroom and called itself a hotel, naturally catering to vice. Not until 1912 did the Committee of Fourteen manage to pressure such places to close.

Parkhurst’s evidence, which he personally witnessed at local brothels disguised as a customer, prompted a state commission to investigate his charges, and eventually uncovered and brought down hundreds of Tammany players in the city’s biggest conspiracy to date.

Despite institutional reforms and a growth in social activism in the Progressive Era, life for individual prostitutes in New York City remained desperate as the twentieth century dawned.


August 06, 2010, 12:58:32 PM
Ah.  The Jacksonville Connection and why Bowden would have referenced him:  Nelly Bly cornered and questioned the good doctor.  Nelly being a contemporary of Cora Crane, when she was writiing for Pulitzer, and Cora for William Randolph Hearst.
There were more high-profile interviews. For five hours, she closely questioned New York's leading moral reformer, the Reverend Dr. Charles Parkhurst, president of the Society for Prevention of Crime.

Parkhurst had shot to prominence nearly two years earlier, on Valentine's Day 1892, with a sermon decrying corruption among police and politicians delivered from the pulpit of the Madison Park Presbyterian Church. To substantiate his charges, the clergyman launched a crusade involving undercover investigations of the city's brothels and other dens of iniquity, not unlike Bly's earlier efforts. Parkhurst always maintained his campaign was not against the "unfortunate inmates" of these corrupting locales, only against the collusion between their proprietors and police that allowed such decadent commerce to flourish. . . .

Bly pushed the Reverend Dr. Parkhurst to concede that many women were winding up in prostitution because they had so few other remunerative employment opportunities. He said he was open to reforming any fallen soul who expressed interest but did not elucidate on what the alternatives might be. Bly found him "thoroughly honest in his views," if "a trifle self-conscious." The interview filled an entire page. . . .


August 08, 2010, 08:27:55 AM
I love these stories Stephen-keep them coming!


December 07, 2010, 10:41:29 PM
I was reading my family's geneology book and uncovered that my great, great aunt had a boarding house near where I think Cora Crane's bordello was.  Stephen, do you have a rough idea of where exactly all of the bigger bordellos were located?  Im trying to see where her house was in relation.  I think it was smack dab in the middle of all the brewhaha, which naturally leads me to several other questions lol.


December 07, 2010, 10:57:20 PM
Field.  Im in the position of questioning my own Aunt Ruby's downtown boarding houses.  Looking up the old Sanborn Maps, at least one of them was listed as a 'female boarding house', which was the insurance euphemism for bordello.

Ward Street, running from Clay Street (right at the westernmost edge of the new Courthouse, all the way west to the other side of present day I95 was the Bordello district proper.  In 1903 there were 43 of the Grande Bordellos, and several dozen Lesser Houses, but by 1916, there were about 65 of the Grande Houses, and who knows how many of the Lessers.  Bordellos were legal in Jacksonville until the 1950s.

Ward Street was renamed Houston Street, after Sam Houston who moved from Texas with his wife and bought a lot of property after the great fire.

We are running an article on the Bordello district early next week, thanks to the help of the City's Historic Preservation Commission.  People involved with the sustainable Springfield district will find the letters surrounding the demolition of the last three Grande Houses in 1980 will be dismayed at the familiarity of the process and the language of the city while demolishing the last of this heritage.

Ock and I did an urban archeology run down Houston Street last week and identified three buildings that were doubtlessly part of the Ward Street trade.

The Grande Houses of Ward Street were called 'The Line'.

However, even though most of the Grande Houses were on Ward, a sizeable number were not.  They spread out across the nearby blocks in small sets of rooms and apartments.


December 07, 2010, 11:00:26 PM
Cora's Bordello, "The Court", prophetically named, as it turned out, was on the southwest corner of Broad and Houston Street.  Right across the street from the new courthouse.,9050.msg191309.html#msg191309


December 07, 2010, 11:09:29 PM
Sweet.  Thanks a lot!  Are you going to have a map detailing the known 'hotspots' in this article?


December 07, 2010, 11:13:29 PM
Sweet.  Thanks a lot!  Are you going to have a map detailing the known 'hotspots' in this article?

Just got a major portion of them scanned yesterday.  but yes.

The Turkish Baths, the Hotel De Dreme, the Russian Tea Room, The Colliseum, the Court, The New York House, The Senate and a number of others are about to be revealed once again.
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