Texas History

Interested in Boning Up on Dallas's Old Vices? Then the Library's Got Just the File For You.

I went over to the Dallas Public Libraries' Texas/Dallas History & Archives Division Web site in search of something entirely unrelated to this post. (Hint: It has to do with this photo taken by our pal Justin Terveen.) There, I noticed that the department was still in the process of updating its manuscript collection finding guides, which it began doing over the summer to assist researchers in need of sorting through old boxes of yellowing papers. Among the recent additions: "District Court - Dallas County - "Vice Court Records," which consists of three cubic feet of docs discovered by accident. From the library's description:

They were labeled Vice Court Records, a misnomer that stuck and was kept for convenience. Most misdemeanor court records have been destroyed over a certain amount of time. These court cases were found amongst the Dallas County Civil District Court records. Most of these papers fall within two series, one, a June 1909 case conducted by County Attorney Dwight L. Lewelling against saloons in Dallas who have installed a screen obstructing the entrance, something which could have one's liquor bond revoked at the time. The other major series deals with the attempt by the North Dallas Improvement League in 1910-1911 to battle attempts by the City of Dallas, and the Mayor and County Commissioners to establish a legal red light district where prostitution would be allowed. In October of 1910 they began filing injunctions against those who owned and ran property used for prostitution. These court records contain Writs of Injunction, and some include Plaintiffs' Original Petition, Citations, Sheriff's Certificates of Service, Defendant's Answer and Affidavits. No file is complete and the decision of the courts is not present. Also included is a group of miscellaneous court cases not relevant to either the saloon door screen cases or the North Dallas Improvement Leagues' battle against authorizing the red light district known as Frog Town. A miscellaneous series also exist which contains blue law and more liquor board injunctions.

The prostitution cases are especially of interest. By 1906 the Dallas City Commissioners had proposed that the area of northwest downtown Dallas, Frogtown, become a sanctioned red light district. A poor area with working class inhabitants, Frogtown was bordered by North Dallas, a rising neighborhood home to the business elite. A law passed by the Texas State Legislature in 1907, Article 4689, made it possible for citizens to file injunctions against anyone affiliated with a bawdy house, which the North Dallas Improvement League began to do beginning in October 1910. The case was finally resolved in March of 1911 when the Texas Supreme Court issued a writ of error ruling that the Dallas ordinance authorizing the prostitution reservation was void, because the city commissioners cold not suspend state law, only the state legislature could do that. The city of Dallas would have to legally enforce state laws against prostitution. Researchers should view Not in my Backyard, by Gwinnetta Crowell for a detailed study of this confrontation.
And, as luck would have it, on January 31 at the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Theater on the SMU campus, Crowell will discuss that very thing during the 11th Annual Legacies Dallas History Conference. Till then, here's David Kirkpatrick's unpublished history of Frogtown.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky