I can still see the faces of numerous men who practiced at the bar of this Women's Night Court. To me it was clear that thin was a dirty trade. Some of the lawyers were eventually disbarred. But, surprisingly, some made good. They would take cases in those days for anything from two dollars to about twenty-five, which was usually the fee for defending a woman on the charge of "keeping and maintaining" a house of prostitution. Some of these former gentlemen of the Night Court bar in 1910 hold high office today. One whose name I recall has an important judicial post. It was strange to me then, and it is strange to me today, how these individuals could justify their way of making a living. Though the procedure has been improved since 1910, it is by no means perfect. At least, there is an opportunity today of ascertaining disease and providing for proper cure, which did not exist when I was a young interpreter.
The probation system, too, was in its infancy at that time. Though it was unorganized, it was effective, and there was not so much so-called scientific approach. However, the system was tender and humane. Miss Alice Smith was the probation officer in the Night Court in 1910. She is the mother of probation in New York City. Miss Smith sat in a side room off the courtroom. In the back of the courtroom sat the representative of the Florence Crittenton Mission.
Welfare and religious organizations did not go in for that kind of work in those days, and nothing that exists today can take the place of the kindliness, hospitality, and understanding of that Florence Crittenton League of those days. It had a little home in Bleecker Street. Young girls who were immature first offenders were turned over to Miss Luther, of the Florence Crittenton Mission Home, at the end of the court session. Miss Luther would toddle off with them. There were no guards, no locked doors in that little house in Bleecker Street. That is why the girls didn't run away. There was always a pot of coffee on the stove.
Miss Smith, the probation officer of Night Court, would get to work to find the girls jobs in the effort to rehabilitate them. No public funds were available, but Miss Smith had friends who would always provide the money for a new outfit of clothes, shoes, dental work, or whatever else the girls desperately needed before they could get respectable work.
Among the people who supplied Miss Smith with funds for this worthy cause were Jules S. Bache, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Freedman, and Miss Kelso, who was one of the editors of Street & Smith publications.
The percentage of girls who were salvaged by this simple, humane probation work was very high. The hardened cases, the repeaters, would be the first to say to a "kid" in the station house, the patrol wagon, or the detention cell at Night Court, "Hey, kid, get out of this while you can. Tell the judge you want to talk to Miss Smith."
From my experience in the Night Court I would say that 95 per cent of such cases brought into court then were the results of economic pressure. Provided there is increasing economic security, and provided enforcement agencies keep after the professional procurers who exploit these unfortunate girls, there will be less and less commercialized vice in New York. Of the hundreds and hundreds of cases I interviewed, I do not believe that there were more than four or five above average intellect, or who had more than fifth or sixth grade schooling. The living wage now paid to many unskilled women workers is the greatest factor in reducing the number of these victims of social evil.
The White Slave Division of the Immigration Service was constantly on the alert for persons who imported immigrants for immoral purposes. Such systematized importation was pretty well broken up by the time I entered the service. It had flourished during the eighteen-nineties, but with the amendment of the Immigration Law, putting teeth in it and broadening the powers of the Immigration Service on deportation, organized importation of white slaves was rare in 1910, although there were some stray cases.
One of the Assistant United States Attorneys who prosecuted white-slave cases, and whom I got to know and remained friendly with thereafter, was a young lawyer of ability and sincerity. His name was Felix Frankfurter.