What Will I Wear?

One of the recognized lures for young women to enter a life of shame in the Edwardian era was a familiar one. Clothes. In 1859 when Dr. William Sanger asked some 2,000 prostitutes what had launched them into their life the answers were surprising. The majority had been lured not by seduction, violation, or bad company but by destitution, inclination and seduction/abandonment topped the list.  The fact that inclination came in second must have been a hard pill for Victorians to take given their predispositions about the role of virtue in a woman's life and general beliefs about sex in general.

So, in 1904 Police Chief Brown and Matron Bond had their hands full with a young miss who had run from her grandmother in Perry, had been sent to the Guthrie Rescue Home and had left there to go to Oklahoma City. She was being seriously wooed by someone on West Second Street , i.e., "Harlot's Lane", to enter full time into the sporting life through clothes: silk skirt, drop stitch stockings, new undervest, new corset and the 'inevitable' high heeled slippers.  She was  taken by Police Matron Bond and Mrs. Matthews to the local Rescue Home. So, as the headlines put it, she was "Rescued from a Life of Shame."  

In its historical context, Oklahoma had since about 1895 through the early years of 1900 been in a financial decline. The Cherokee Strip had opened in 1893 and some wandering and adventurous types had set out to stake their claim. Vast numbers of the downtown offices, houses, and businesses were vacant and anyone who wanted to rent space was welcome.  As is often the case, vice survives in the toughest times.

On the home front this might have meant less money for frills, even if your family believed in such things on social or moral grounds, and so the lure for a dreamy girl might have been too much.  The same thing, unfortunately, can still happen to today. Hopefully, we can learn from the lessons already learned by women of an earlier age.

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