Committee of Fifteen Records, 1900-1901

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Overview

Committee of Fifteen Records 1900–1901

The Committee of Fifteen (1900–1901) was a private group of businessmen and professors in New York City that formed to combat “vice”—prostitution and gambling. The group's purpose was to collect evidence showing locations where vice occurred, to spur local authorities to take action, and to promote legislation combating vice. These efforts challenged New York City's Tammany Hall political machine, which took payoffs from those engaged in corrupt activities. The committee also focused on “Raines Law Hotels.” New York state's Raines Law, passed in 1896 to address drinking, prohibited saloons from selling liquor on Sunday, though hotels could still do so. To circumvent the law, saloons added rooms and called themselves “hotels.” These rooms were usually used by prostitutes and unmarried couples.

The Committee of Fifteen funded thirty investigators. Posing as customers, these men tried to visit every establishment in Manhattan where vice occurred, including “hotels,” tenement houses, dance halls, pool halls, and other locations. The group's information led to police raids. The committee also helped people harmed by prostitution and gambling.

The majority of the collection consists of more than two hundred affidavits and investigators' reports. These reports, listed by precinct, include information about the...

Committee of Fifteen Records 1900–1901

The Committee of Fifteen (1900–1901) was a private group of businessmen and professors in New York City that formed to combat “vice”—prostitution and gambling. The group's purpose was to collect evidence showing locations where vice occurred, to spur local authorities to take action, and to promote legislation combating vice. These efforts challenged New York City's Tammany Hall political machine, which took payoffs from those engaged in corrupt activities. The committee also focused on “Raines Law Hotels.” New York state's Raines Law, passed in 1896 to address drinking, prohibited saloons from selling liquor on Sunday, though hotels could still do so. To circumvent the law, saloons added rooms and called themselves “hotels.” These rooms were usually used by prostitutes and unmarried couples.

The Committee of Fifteen funded thirty investigators. Posing as customers, these men tried to visit every establishment in Manhattan where vice occurred, including “hotels,” tenement houses, dance halls, pool halls, and other locations. The group's information led to police raids. The committee also helped people harmed by prostitution and gambling.

The majority of the collection consists of more than two hundred affidavits and investigators' reports. These reports, listed by precinct, include information about the building investigated; the activities occurring there; names, ethnic backgrounds, and physical descriptions of prostitutes and others found there; and information about the investigator and his actions. The collection also includes meeting minutes and correspondence with the New York legislature and city health department. Newspaper clippings about the committee during its one-year tenure can be found here as well. The committee published a formal report, The Social Evil, in 1902 that advocates remedies, but the report does not offer specifics about the places in the city where vice occurred or the people engaged in it. Those details are only available in the primary sources of this collection.

TThe Committee of Fifteen collection provides a vivid portrait of illegal activities in New York City life at the turn of the twentieth century and offers unique insight into the history of prostitution, Tammany Hall, and Progressive-Era municipal reform efforts in general.

Collection Facts

Date Range:
1900-1901
Extent:
Manuscripts
Source Institution:
New York Public Library
Language:
English