White Slave Traffic

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White Slave Traffic

           Prostitution was talked about in hushed tones, never in public, before the U.S. Senate studied the issue (published as Senate Document 196, 61st Congress, 2nd session), and John D. Rockefeller Jr. financed a “scientific” study of the “white slave” trade in New York City in 1910. Results of both studies were published in a number of popular women’s magazines, shocking the American public.  Annie W. Allen in an article entitled “How to Save Girls Who Have Fallen” published in Survey August 6, 1910 expressed the general view of the time:

“A girl must remain a virgin until she becomes a wife.  She must be made to abhor any other thought.  She must realize that if she does not remain pure, she is no longer in the company of valuable women.  She has fallen and become unfit for her proper uses, unfit for honor and praise.  The race could never have advanced without this belief.  It is absolutely essential to our life.  It is herein absolutely right.”

             This was a belief that led Mrs. F.E. Young, president of the Long Beach federation of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, to tell members in August 1913 that “No girl should be allowed to be on the street alone, day or night.” She warned young ladies to be aware of the traffic in prostitution and the possibility they might be kidnapped by white slavers.

            The National Welfare League had received word through unnamed sources that white slave dealers had been asked to furnish 2000 girls for the Pacific coast during the San Francisco and San Diego expositions.  Since July 25th, several girls had disappeared from nearby Venice.  The league warned that no girl was safe unless she had a trustworthy escort.  What the white slavers did was lure unsuspecting young women into a situation where they would be drugged and raped.  Their reputations would be soiled and they would have nowhere to turn except to prostitution.

            Mrs. Young told the story of one Poly High School miss who had a narrow escape from a scheming madam who was posing as a deaconess in the Nazarene Church in Long Beach.  The teenager had gone to a mission meeting at the church while her parents were vacationing in the east.  She became so concerned about the Africans in Africa who had not heard of Christianity that she decided she had a calling to become a missionary.  The deaconess told the girl that she could go to Africa with her, but first they would go to San Francisco to catch a ship.

            When the mother returned, her daughter told her of her plans.  The older woman expressed concerns but the girl refused to listen, certain she was being guided in her course of action by God.  The mother contacted police who ran a check on the alleged deaconess.  They found that religion had been used as a front for a scheme to lure girls into prostitution.  The said deaconess was a known madam who sold girls she lured to a San Francisco white slave dealer for $300 apiece.

            Young women had to beware.  There were tales of girls lured into automobiles by people asking for directions, never to be seen again.  Theaters, too, were dangerous.  Someone could sit down next to a young lady and, in the dark, apply ether to a handkerchief and put it over her mouth and nose.  When she breathed she would pass out. The culprit would act as if she had fainted and claim he was helping her outside to get some fresh air.

            In order to protect young women and guard against immoral and unbecoming conduct on the beach during the evening, a powerful search light was installed upon the Sun Parlor to scan the sands at night for amorous couples.  But what about the men who preyed upon unsuspecting women?  There was one prominent members of Long Beach society who allegedly did just that.

             Scandal surrounded Long Beach’s most prominent native son, George H. Bixby. George H., as he was called (to distinguish him from a cousin, George B.), offspring of Jotham Bixby, the “father” of Long Beach, was charged with “contributing to the downfall of Cleo Helen Barker.”

George Bixby

            In a court case reported in the September 23, 1913 issue of the Daily Telegram, five female witnesses testified Bixby frequented the Jonquil apartments, a place of questionable moral standards.  According to testimony offered the jury, the Jonquil apartments, presided over by Josie Rosenberg, was the meeting place of many young girls and wealthy men.  Bixby, known at the Jonquil as Mr. King and “the black pearl man,” was often seen there twice a day. “The cross of the legion of dishonor,” was the name that Cleo Helen Barker and some of her girlfriends gave to the gold cross she said had been given her by George H.  Other girls, recruited for the amusement of wealthy men, Miss Barker testified, wore similar crosses, and among themselves, half seriously, jested about their membership in the order of their badge.

            Under questioning Miss Barker told of going to the Jonquil apartments to live, and of being introduced by Mrs. Rosenberg, the proprietor, to a man named King.  Asked if she could point out King in the courtroom the girl pointed to Bixby.  Miss Barker testified that on the occasion of their first meeting, Bixby gave her $6, on the second, $50 and afterwards varying sums, the total aggregating between $500 and $600.  She went on to add that $190 was the largest single amount he ever gave her, and Mrs. Rosenberg got half of that.

Was Bixby being blackmailed?

          Bixby, in turn, charged he was being blackmailed by Cleo Barker, Marie Levy, and others.  Octavius V. Morgan, a wealthy architect, testified in support of Bixby, stating that he too was a victim of blackmail.   The blackmailer’s plan was simple.  They would send a telegram to the intended victim’s place of business and ask for an appointment.  When one was set up a woman would appear and say that she had in her possession “compromising” information and demand hush money in order to keep the matter confidential.  Often the businessman would know the woman, having met her before at some social function (but unaware of her character).  In order to avoid scandal, the money would be paid.

            Morgan swore he gave W.H. Stevens, attorney for the girls connected with the Bixby case, checks totaling $2500.  The defense tried to prove the checks were given as hush money to keep the relations between the architect and the girls quiet.  Marie Brown Levy’s mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Lacey, testified that she consulted with attorney W. H. Stevens as soon as she learned of her daughter’s relations with Bixby in the Jonquil apartments and that she immediately took steps to file suit for $50,000 damages against Bixby. She also testified that she had a claim against Octavius Morgan, for alleged similar offenses by him against her daughter, and that the claim was settled by Morgan through Attorney Stevens for $2500.

            Attorney William H. Stevens and Charles S. M. McKelvey were called by the defense to refute the defense’s claim that the suits and the claims were merely those of blackmailers. Stevens testified that he had acted as Mrs. Lacey’s attorney in the suits against Bixby and Morgan and that he considered that he had a valid claim against the men for their alleged offenses against the young woman, and that therefore the suits against them were brought only in the best of faith. The Bixby attorneys said Bixby’s present legal problems were the result of his refusal to pay the extortion money.  When asked why Bixby had given the girls money in the past, his attorneys explained it was as a philanthropist, to lead the girls away from a life of vice.

            Though George H. fled the area in April 1913 when he heard about the charges, and was later arrested in San Diego, half a dozen friends of Bixby testified George H. had an excellent reputation and would not visit a brothel. Had he contributed to the delinquency of a minor? The jury agreed that Bixby was being blackmailed and acquitted him on the first ballot.

            Society women agreed to extend a helping hand to Barker and Levy and other girls with moral problems. Mrs. Jane Beatty, one of the best known club women in the city said: “I am in favor of not only club women of this city, but all women interested and anxious to aid these girls, who are the victims of circumstance, organizing a permanent committee. Definite plans can then be formulated at a specially called meeting as to the manner of best aiding these girls. Society should realize its responsibility and not by narrow mindedness and skirts of goodness push the girls back into the old life. It is up to us women to aid the Jonquils and all girls practically and sympathetically. I am willing to co-operate and do all possible to save these girls.” (LA Herald 9/30/1913).

            This, and another case that would drag all the way to the California Supreme court (dealing with the flood of 1914 and how Bixby dredged land which may have caused the diversion of flood waters into other areas), took a toll on George H. Bixby’s life.  On December 30, 1922, the 58-year-old died of heart failure, an illness that had plagued him for three years.