For Business and Pleasure: Red-Light Districts and the Regulation of Vice in the United States, 1890-1933 (review)
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For Business and Pleasure: Red-Light Districts and the Regulation of Vice in the United States, 1890-1933. By Mara L. Keire. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010. Pp. xiv, 231. $60.00 cloth)

In For Business and Pleasure: Red-Light Districts and the Regulation of Vice in the United States, 1890-1933, Mara L. Keire draws on a wide range of both primary and secondary sources to provide a cohesive synthesis and creative analysis of vice regulation across America in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

There have been several studies of reformers and the "vices" they hoped to control at the turn of the twentieth century, but much of the scholarship has focused on only one American city (often Chicago or New York) or has dealt with just one of many "vices" (often prostitution). Keire's project is more ambitious. While Chicago and New York figure prominently in For Business and Pleasure, smaller cities such as Bridgeport, Connecticut; Shreveport, Louisiana, and others also factor into the account. Keire also chooses not to focus on just one part of the vice industry. Disparate elements—prostitution, alcohol, and, to a lesser degree, drugs and gambling—are analyzed as components of a comprehensive conception of "vice" that reformers were attempting to control. The breadth of Keire's study allows her to offer a fresh look at the problems posed by vice and the consequences of various reform policies.

One of the central arguments of the book, for example, pertains to the question of how vice should be regulated. In this regard, Keire prefers the approach taken during the early Progressive years to that of Prohibition. She praises Progressives for their "analytical elasticity" and notes that their flexible, localized policies regarding vice regulation helped them to try to "minimize" the "negative effects" [End Page 157] of their programs (p.137). World War I, however, heralded the federal regulation of morality that would reach its zenith during Prohibition. Keire argues that the inflexible intolerance of the "national policing" of vice transformed the criminal underworld. With the stakes raised, the "illicit liquor trade" now became a big (and often violent) business dominated by a few enterprising individuals. In addition, federal regulation also helped create "a criminal urban underclass cut off from respectable society" (p. 138).

While admirable, the scope of Keire's history of vice regulation at times limits her ability to convincingly prove certain claims. Keire may, for example, be giving the Progressives too much credit. As she herself notes, Prohibition evolved directly from the Progressive policies toward vice. Even if Progressives were unable to achieve the total eradication of vice, such a project was their intention. In fact, Keire seems to indicate that many (perhaps most?) Progressive reformers welcomed the involvement of the federal government. Many appeared to do so precisely because they hoped that "national policing" would result in less flexibility regarding immorality. One wonders, then, if the flexible, localized approach of Progressives was less a product of a carefully considered policy and more the consequence of reformers' limitations.

Keire's economic analysis of Progressive rhetoric similarly shows her ability to offer a fresh and compelling perspective on a familiar topic. Whereas other scholars have tended to analyze the overt racial imagery of white-slave narratives, for example, Keire focuses on the images of vice monopolies. Recognizing the antimonopolistic thrust of many Progressive reform efforts, Keire points out how the "language of economics" (not of race) in white-slavery tales provided the "unifying discourse" that served as the basis of legislation that helped Progressives close red-light districts (pp. 66, 70). And yet, as she clearly acknowledges, race matters. How it matters, however, remains somewhat obscure. (Jack Johnson, for example, is missing from the brief discussion of the Mann Act.)

Keire's innovative and wide-ranging history makes For Business and Pleasure a welcome contribution to the field. [End Page 158]

Annemarie Kooistra

Annemarie Kooistra teaches history at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is currently researching the history of prostitution in Los Angeles from 1880 to 1940.