The military helped San Antonio’s Red Light District grow. It also closed it

This story is part of a series on Texas public radio called “Turn on red lights“The podcast and additional reporting focus on the history of sex work in San Antonio and the women who ran the industry but were not allowed to make history.

Military service personnel in Fort Sam Houston were known as major customers of the Red Light District in San Antonio during the first half of the 20th century. Although they are responsible for the growth of the county, they are also responsible for the death of the county, according to U.S. history teacher Jennifer Kane.

She teaches at Sandra Day O’Connor High School and Northwest Vista College. While attending the University of Texas at San Antonio, she wrote her master’s thesis on the San Antonio Red Light District.

“We used to have the electric rails that went directly to the Red Light District. And the blue book, of course, was given to the service people when they got off the train lines,” Cain said, noting that the blue book is a library for local brothels. “So, you know, they (the service people) were definitely the best customers during that time period.”

Brothel owners enjoyed official indictment for about ten years, from 1891 to 1901. But even after the “Mad House” ordinance was repealed, the Red Light District grew even larger. San Antonio police did not enforce closures.

By 1912, Fort Sam was the largest military outpost in the country, and the men there helped own brothels in business. But then national health fear in 1917 persuaded U.S. Secretary of War Newton Baker to impose restrictions.

“After World War I, they had a significant problem with the growth of sexually transmitted diseases. And the military fought it quite a bit. And they kept trying to work with the city to close down (the brothels),” Cain said.

“And we do not know, were they deterred or was it just too hard to control? We do not know … the police themselves (were not) willing to enforce it, even though many of them may have been customers themselves, may have worked in these areas as well, you know, outside For the job. “

Most of the brothels were concentrated on the west side of downtown San Antonio – where the railroad track dropped passengers off. But there were brothels elsewhere in the city.

“The Fort Sam Houston Museum received a copy of a map from the National Archives, from 1917 or 18 ‘, showing the locations of all the’ unlimited ‘establishments within a mile of one of the booths. These would be brothels, gambling dens and reputable salons,” the historian explained. And former director of the Fort Sam Museum, John Manguso, in an email to TPR.

He added that an officer in the National Guard remarked about the presence of silly salons and houses in the neighborhood south of Wilson Street – some of which were visible from the main chapel. This neighborhood was purchased by the War Department in 1917 and replaced with a warehouse complex according to Manguso.

The military could have controlled access to brothels near the base, but it still had difficulty working with the city of San Antonio on closing the county downtown. A joint task force composed of military and municipal police officers carried out periodic raids in the district. Still, they did not appear to be as effective as the military or San Antonio City Council would have liked.

“Minutes from the December 17, 1917 meeting reflect an angry City Hall casting a joint blame on the police department for failure to enforce, and the federal government’s hypocrisy on granting alcohol licenses in known brothels. Eventually, the Joint Military-Municipal Committee found “All her arms abandoned her role ‘and recommended a reorganization of the police,” Cain wrote in her work.

Subsequently, the accidental shooting and death of a military policeman ended any further possible cooperation. The details are vague about this incident.

So the military offered the city an ultimatum: close the district once and for all, or ban service personnel from reaching the city center for any reason.

It would have crushed San Antonio’s economy if military personnel stopped spending money downtown, so the city finally closed the borough in 1941. It was the official end of San Antonio’s Red Light District, but of course sex workers are still here.

U.S. military officials are now educating soldiers on sex trafficking, in addition to consensual sex work, with Special emphasis on South KoreaRelations between the sex workers there and U.S. service personnel begin in 1945 – when the U.S. occupied the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, which later became South Korea. Only in 2004 was prostitution outlawed in South Korea.

In 2005, the then president, George W. Bush. Bush, signed an execution order that made buying sex illegal under the military uniform code. Later in 2014, after it became clear that sex workers and service personnel had found loopholes in the law, General Curtis M. Scapruti – who commanded U.S. forces in Korea at the time – issued a memorandum to his soldiers prohibiting any exchange of compensation to a person’s company. For bar games.

Service members face severe penalties and fines if caught paying for sex in the U.S. or abroad – even in countries where sex is decriminal or legal. But reported from Politico, The Washington Post and Reuters Suggests that there is a gap between written policy and actions in real life.

TPR spoke with one sex worker who verified that she had clients who were service members stationed in San Antonio, who has four military bases and is commonly known as a military city, USA. She began her career in sex work in San Antonio. Olive – only her first name is used in this series – Now living in New York.

“I really miss my clientele in San Antonio,” she said. “They were really amateurs, torn military men or, like, stupid guys in college.”

In the next chapter in this series, Olive describes the dangers – and opportunities – that come with sex work, something that 1917 sex workers will recognize.

Please contact us with questions or comments at redlights@tpr.org.

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