What Did You Do During the War, Grandma?

Joplin Police Chief Joseph H. Myers

During the height of World War One, a covert raid was launched by the Joplin Police Department on behalf of the federal government. Chief of Police Joseph H. Myers, Assistant Chief of Police Charles McManamy, Chief of Detectives William F. Gibson, and an assortment of “street sergeants” met under the cover of night at the police station. Few, if any, of their colleagues knew about the raid. Chief Myers was concerned some of his men might tip off the intended targets.

At eleven o’clock at night, the men set out in squads. Their orders: to raid all rooming houses on Main Street and arrest all female occupants. In a complete surprise, the chief and his men successfully carried off the raid. One hundred and forty two women were taken into custody and taken to the Joplin Police Department. Once there, they were examined by “city physicians under the direction of Dr. R.B. Tyler,” Joplin’s commissioner of health and sanitation. Those assisting Tyler were Drs. W.H. Lanyon, J.B. Williams, D. R. Hill, and R.W. Amos. Of that number, fifty five women were  detained on suspicion of having a venereal disease.  They were to be held for observation and would be released only  after they showed no signs of a sexually transmitted disease.

After the raid and subsequent examinations, Dr. Tyler told a reporter that “Joplin is unusually clean. Few of the girls detained will be required to remain in the detention home.” He estimated that at least ten percent of the women arrested were afflicted with venereal disease. Curiously, as the sun rose in the sky over Joplin, eight women voluntarily  surrendered themselves at the police department for examination.

Judge John McManamy (Also former Joplin Police Chief)

For those fortunate enough to escape detention, they were brought before Judge John McManamy and charged with “improper conduct.” Apparently many, if not all of the women, pled guilty and paid a $10 fine. They were then released on “parole” with the understanding that they were to report weekly to Chief Myers or to Desk Sergeants Dave Isbell or Verna P. Hine. The women would have to report their current address and whether or not they had been “working.”

Police Matron Wathena B. Hamilton and Assistant Matron Minnalin McKenna were to assist women find gainful employment if requested.

Shockingly, it was reported:

“Investigations conducted by the police at the instance of officials of the war department resulted in the obtaining of approximately twenty names of wives of soldiers and sailors in government service, either in Europe or in American  cantonments. Should they be found to be of questionable character, reports will be made to the proper officials and  their allotments stopped, if their husbands request it.”

Talk about government intrusion!

The Banishment of Seers

A few posts ago, we mentioned that Victorian Americans participated in palmistry, spiritualism, and séances.  Throughout the years Joplin was home to numerous psychics, seers, and fortune tellers. An issue of the Joplin Morning Herald from 1895 announced, “Madame Zita LaRoux, the famous trance medium, may be consulted on all affairs of life for a short time only at 619 Joplin Street. She gives valuable advice on all subjects – love, marriage, divorce, lawsuits, business transactions, etc. Names and dates given.”  But by 1913, the city fathers were tired of palmists, seers, and mediums, and subsequently prohibited them from practicing within city limits.

Ad for traveling fortune teller

An ad for a traveling fortune teller visiting Joplin with testimonials

Unsurprisingly, clairvoyants and their followers were upset by the city council’s decision. Joplin City Attorney Grover James, who “took charge of an aggressive fight to drive from the city ‘seers’ and ‘mediums’ that have remained since the passage of an ordinance barring them from practicing in Joplin” received threatening letters. In one week’s time, James received half a  dozen letters after his successful conviction of Mrs. T.J. Sheridan.

One letter read,
Mr. City Attorney,

City Hall

You think you are awful smart to prosecute a pore woman becauz she ain’t of your religion, doan’t you? Your talk at the trile was rite funny. Ha, ha. We’ll git you yet. Watch out.”

Another letter said,

Grover James

Joplin, Mo.

I write this to let you know that you may have misjudged the character of the people you are fighting. In persecuting worshipers you show an ignorance that is amazing. Many men have been shot for less than what you have done.”

Some people mailed Mr. James spiritualist publications while others stopped by his office to urge him to drop his campaign against fortune tellers and palmists. James, however, just smiled in response. He told the Joplin News-Herald, “I have found that many Joplin society girls attend séances and believe the stuff told them by mediums. When I started to gather evidence I supposed that I would have to obtain it from ignorant and superstitious persons. I found, however, that the elite of Joplin society are some of the best patrons of the mediums. Daughters of the most prominent Joplin citizens can tell me all I want to know about the ‘seers’ I am prosecuting. It may be that I will have half a dozen of the younger social set at the next fortune teller’s trial in police court.”

James confided he had gathered evidence against a local clairvoyant that “should be an eye opener to mining men that have the curtained rooms of mystics for their base of operations.”

According to James, “A woman ‘seer’ told a mining man just where to drill in order to strike ore. She said, however, that there was but one drill man that could find the stuff. She then described the man very closely. Half a dozen bids were made on the work. All of them were very low and reasonable but the mine operator was not satisfied. Finally a man came to him that fitted the woman’s description. His bid was thirty cents higher than any other but it was accepted.” The city attorney then claimed, “It has been shown that this drillman was kept in lucrative employment by the fortune teller who doubtless got a rakeoff for throwing him the work.”

Within a week, the “Reverend” Mary E. Anderson was arrested in Joplin for violating the clairvoyant ordinance. A few days prior to her arrest, Police Matron Vernie Goff visited Anderson in the psychic’s home at 731 Joplin Street and asked Anderson to read her fortune.  Anderson informed Goff that she would first have to buy facial cream and then she would read Goff’s fortune. Goff complied. She purchased a tube of facial cream that normally cost nine cents in a drugstore from Anderson for one dollar. The purchase completed, Anderson read Goff’s fortune.

According the Joplin News-Herald, Goff learned many “interesting things about herself and family that she had never known.”  Anderson claimed Goff had a long lost “Uncle Jim” and told her that her investments in an Arizona gold mine were a smart choice. The only problem was, according to Vernie Goff, is that she did not have an Uncle Jim, nor did she have any investments in gold mines.

Goff told the News-Herald that “the only money she has sunk in stocks was down on her father’s farm near Springfield, where she owns a little stock – that is some cows, calves, and such.”

At around the same time, two young boys had visited Mary Anderson and asked to have their fortunes read. She told them that her fee was one dollar. Unable to pay, the boys decided instead to testify against her in court. There was no need, however, as Police Matron Goff, Mrs. F.B. Cannon, and Miss Wathena Hamilton testified for the prosecution two weeks later. Like Goff, Cannon and Hamilton had both visited Anderson to have their fortunes read for one dollar. Anderson did not help her cause when she took to the stand, only to be caught “contradicting herself on many things.”

Ad for a Joplin Palm reader

An ad for a Joplin palm reader before the prohibition was put in place.

After a three hour trial, Mary Anderson was found guilty and fined one dollar and costs, as it was her first offense. She balked at paying the fine, but when told she would be taken to jail, Anderson borrowed a dollar from her attorney to pay the fine. She remarked, “I won’t have that News-Herald telling about me being behind the bars. I’ll pay the fine first.”

James’ campaign against palmists, mediums, and clairvoyants drove members of Joplin’s spiritualist community to Webb City. The News-Herald remarked, “One of the most notorious ‘seers’ of Joplin purchased property in Webb City and makes the city his home. He is doing a rushing business, it is understood.” But just as in Joplin, spiritualists were not welcome. The News-Herald reported that, “It was when a man came here from Columbus, Kan., for a ‘reading’ and became insane because of things told him by a ‘seer’ that Webb City businessmen began to wonder what became of the much talked of clairvoyant ordinance which was to have prohibited fortune telling in Webb City.”

Source: Joplin News-Herald, Joplin Morning Herald

Proof that Joplin needs a Police Matron

While the Joplin city council had by 1904 agreed to the necessity of a police matron due to popular demand, a year later, no matron had yet been appointed.  As a response, the Joplin Globe ran an article offering proof to the need of the city to hire a matron.  The headline read, “PROOF THAT JOPLIN NEEDS A POLICE MATRON,” and the paper argued the following:

“The police records show the arrest of eighty women during the month of May.  Eighty women are supposed to have been locked up in the Joplin city jail in the last month without the care of counsel of a police matron.  There was none but the regular police force to listen to the appeals of, or to advise these erring women charges of the city.  True, most of them were doubtless hardened and seemingly deserving of little better than they got, but who can say?

Who can say to what depths each separate individual has fallen to what extent any one was irreclaimable?  The charges as a result were in the cat-purse of blanket charges, if the term may be so used.  Twenty-nine of these eighty women were charged with prostitution, twenty-one with lewd conduct, thirteen with street walking, thirteen with disturbing the peace, and one each with drunkenness, petty larceny, interfering with an officer, and being suspected of robbery.  Hard charges, those, yet many cried when locked up.  Some were not really bad.  Surely one or two, at least, might be prevailed upon to repent and change her ways.  Certainly enough soul remained to cry out through the tears of those eighty bad women to justify the attention of a good and worthy police matron.

The records prove that one, anyhow, might have been saved from death, if not also from deeper depths of sin, for one of these eighty was Lucy Scott, the young, fair, but wayward girl who took her own life as she confessed, because nobody would come and talk to her about going to a reform school.  A police matron could have saved one life last month.  Who knows, how many wrecks could have been averted?”

A year later, the position was finally assumed by Ellen Ayers.  See our earlier post on Mrs. Ayers concerning her appointment and reaction to the job.

Sources: The Joplin Globe

Joplin By Gaslight

On a rainy spring night in 1878, Marshal L.C. Hamilton turned to a reporter from the Joplin Daily Herald and proclaimed, “If you want to see Joplin by gaslight, take a trip with me.” Not one to pass up a promising story, the reporter stepped under the officer’s umbrella, and together the two men set out into the darkness. “I’m going to raid the brothels,” Marshal Hamilton declared, “Many of the inmates are behind with fines and complaints are being made.” Together the two men visited several brothels over the course of the night, most of them “so filthy” that the Marshal and the reporter chose to stand outside on the steps, rather than go inside.

Despite the efforts of the “city dads” and the police, Joplin’s streets and sidewalks remained populated by prostitutes for years to come. In 1902, Josie Seber was arrested by Office Meanor for streetwalking. She pled not guilty to no avail. Judge Walden fined Josie ten dollars for streetwalking, but the jury decided the fine was too low and pushed the fine up to fifty dollars. Her counterpart, Etta Pitts, was fortunate in that she was only fined ten dollars, but because she was unable to pay the fine, was returned to her jail cell.

Section of Joplin's 1893 ordinance against prostitution

Joplin's 1893 ordinance against prostitution

As Joplin Police Matron Ellen Ayers would find out, many of Joplin’s prostitutes were addicted to cocaine, morphine, and alcohol. Flo Banks reportedly had a “police record as long as any woman in the city” but in 1902 she declared, “her intention of being good henceforth and forever.” A Globe reporter noted Flo was a longtime “cocaine fiend” but that soiled dove had sworn she had given up her addiction once and for all.

Prostitution was also a family affair for Flo Banks. She and her sister, Pearl Banks, ran a brothel at 629 and 631 Pearl Streets in Joplin. Although it was repeatedly raided by the Joplin police, Flo and Pearl continued their life of crime.  The rewards were simply greater than the risks.

Not all scarlet women came from impoverished backgrounds. Gertrude Rhodes, who was arrested by Officer Theodore Leslie and Officer Ben May for “beastly intoxication” claimed she was from a well-to-do Kalamazoo, Michigan, family. She had married a man whose “weakness was poverty.” They moved to Pittsburg, Kansas, and although her husband idolized her, she grew restless and angry at their poverty. Seeking an escape from her husband and young child, Gertrude Rhodes left her family and headed to Joplin, and within a few days “became scarlet.” After spending time in the Joplin city jail, Gertrude announced her intentions to return to her parents in Kalamazoo.  If she returned to Kalamazoo, only her parents know.

Other girls were more fortunate. Pearl Bobbett left home to travel to Pittsburg, Kansas, after she was promised a job. Upon her arrival, she found that the job required her to dance in a “hooche-kooche” show. Pearl told a Globe reporter, “I had no money or I should have come home at once. I only had $2 when I started. Afterwards they wouldn’t let me leave.” Joplin Police Officer Cy Chapman, who was dispatched to Pittsburg to escort the girl back home, “had to resort to force to get her away from” the show’s managers but not before she had been hit by the showmen with a stick on her neck, arms, and back.

Joplin's 1903 ordinance against prostitution

Joplin's 1903 ordinance against prostitution.

But many ended up like Annie “Black Annie” Stonewalk, an African-American prostitute in neighboring Galena, Kansas. Annie, who was arrested in early 1902 for disturbing the peace after a fight with fellow white prostitute Jose McClure, died a few years later in 1904. It was at the home of Mrs. James Burton, where the former street walker succumbed to a slow and painful death from consumption. The Joplin News Herald remarked, “She has been giving the officers much trouble since she arrived in Cherokee County four years ago from Alabama. Her life would have been shortened months sooner if it had not been for Mrs. Burton’s kindness.”

By no means sanctioned, prostitution existed outside the law but for occasional attempts to reign in its excesses.  Of the women who by intent or by desperation were drawn into the trade, little is known except when apprehended by the police or sought out by reporters who sought shocking or pitiful stories to draw in readers.  Never the less, any history of Joplin is incomplete without acknowledging their presence and their impact upon the city that Jack built.

Sources: Joplin News Herald, Joplin Globe, Joplin ordinances.

Joplin’s First Police Matron: Ellen Ayers

In the immediate years following 1900, Joplin continued to aggressively expand with more mines, more buildings, more wealth, and more vice. Back alley crap shoots, billiard halls, saloons, bars, and brothels were common sights. Just like mining towns in the American West, Joplin had its share of soiled doves. In 1904, a mix of Victorian morals, a steady number of prostitutes, and petty crime led to the public to demand that the Joplin Police Department hire a police matron.  A police matron, often an older woman, was placed in charge of female prisoners in the city jail.  The Joplin city council responded to the growing problem in the spring of 1904 when it unanimously passed an ordinance that required the city to hire a police matron.  The only hitch was that the hiring would have to wait until the next fiscal year as there was no money in the then city budget to pay the matron’s salary.

It was not until two years later, in 1906, that the city hired a police matron.  Over forty eager women applied for the position, but many were quickly turned aside for lack of skills, deportment, and experience deemed necessary for a qualified police matron. The field of candidates was narrowed down to three women: Mrs. Dona Daniels, matron of the city’s children’s home; Mrs. Agnes Keir, who oversaw Joplin’s chapter of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA); and Mrs. Ellen Ayers.  Mrs. Daniels refused the offered position.  Mrs. Keir had her admirers and fans amongst the members of the YWCA, who all threatened trouble to the city council should they attempt to steal her away.  Through the process of elimination, Mrs. Ellen Ayers was selected as the successful applicant.

Joplin's first police matron, Ellen Ayers

Pictured here, Ellen Ayers took on the role of police matron at the age of 64.

Described by both a local Joplin paper and the city council as highly qualified and trained for the position, Ellen Ayers’ appointment was closely followed by the newspapers.  She was described as a “kindly faced, white haired woman of 64 years,” originally from near Portsmouth, Ohio, and moved as a young child several times, first to Trenton, Missouri, and then to Pleasant Hill, and finally to Paola, Kansas.  The uncertainty of safety found in the border counties between Kansas and Missouri prior to the outbreak of the Civil War may have been the reason her family moved temporarily to Kansas City, only to return after the war ended.  During the war, Ellen Fields, as she had been christened by her parents, met Felix M. Ayers, whom she married in 1864.  A farmer and Union veteran from Kentucky, Felix was gave up his plow for the miner’s pick and moved his family to Joplin in search of a more prosperous life.  He worked as miner until his health failed him, which may have prompted his wife to take on the candidacy of a police matron.

Although she was selected sometime around the end of 1906, she had to wait several weeks due to the fact that the city, despite the passage of the ordinance two years earlier, was still not ready for its new police matron to assume her duties.  On November 27th, Mayor C.W. Lyon formally recommended that she begin her duties, which some hoped would allow the Joplin police to “much better work” at in “exercising influence to restrain wayward feet.” It was not until December 1, 1906, that Mrs. Ayers officially began her job looking after the female prisoners of Joplin’s city jail.  While she had a residence at 1922 Pearl Street, an office and private apartment were prepared for her on the second floor of the city building, which was shared by both the city’s police and fire department. Described as inexpensive but “substantial” the paper promised a certain amount of coziness for its inhabitant.  Adjoining her living area was a wooden door, built to conceal a barred one behind it which had a cement floored cell for female prisoners.

Floor plan for the second floor of the Joplin Police Station

Floor plan for the second floor of the Joplin Police station, which also served as the fire station and city hall.

Mrs. Ayers approached her job nervously, admitting that the work was new to her, but professed her resolute determination to do a good job.  While unaware of what was entirely expected of her, she told a reporter that she thought that “firmness and kindness” were the most essential elements of her job.  Likewise, it was thought that the new police matron would provide motherly reassurance to the wayward women of Joplin.  Mrs. Ayers was the mother of four children; the only surviving child, a daughter, was Mrs. Myrtle Gobar.  One of the duties assigned to the police matron was inspection of the food served to the women, and on her first go Ayers quickly rejected a breakfast for her first charge, Nettie Waters.  Declaring the meal inedible, the police matron demanded a new one.  Nettie may have appreciated the care, but unfortunately did not get to experience much more of it as she was ordered off to the State Industrial School for Girls in Chillicothe for a year.

One week and twenty-four women later, a reporter caught up with Mrs. Ayers to obtain her reaction to her new job.  It was a job, Mrs. Ayers said, that demanded constant attention and required her presence nearly twenty-four hours out of the day at the city jail.  With the exception of when she left on business or for meals, the police matron found herself always in the city building.  The most striking and shocking revelation for Mrs. Ayers, was the “depravity” of the women she encountered.  While ages varied, many of the women were jailed for prostitution and street walking.  Of their vices, the police matron complained that many were addicted to cigarettes and “coke.”  Coke in this sense was the local term for morphine and cocaine.  She estimated two-thirds of the women were addicted to either morphine, cocaine, or both.  The police matron experienced the needs of an addict in one of her first days when a new arrival grew terribly sick and demanded a physician.

“She awakened me with the most painful screams.  I went to the door, and she was crying loudly, and complained that she was very sick.  I immediately went down stairs to see about getting a physician but the officers informed me that it wasn’t a physician she wanted, but rather some morphine.”

Beyond the dark and depressing side of Joplin’s prostitution problem, she also encountered women who arrived at the jail for other reasons.  One was a young girl, perhaps 16 or 17, who to Mrs. Ayers dismay constantly smoked during her conversations with the police matron.  Another girl was Alma Richards.  Described as appearing to be 14 years old, despite being much older, and possessing “dark eyes,” the girl had been to the Missouri State School for the Deaf and Dumb in Fulton, and despite being ascribed those qualities, communicated to Ayers through writing.  By this communication, the matron explained, she learned that the girl refused to go home due to the presence of an abusive father, who reportedly brutally beat her after she broke a window.  Alma’s presence at the jail caused its own news, as the city did not want to release her, and the Industrial School at Chillicothe refused to take her as she was older than 18 and reportedly, “unmanageable.”  Alma Richards’ fate is unknown.

Joplin's city hall, police and fire station

This building served as Joplin's city hall, fire station and police station. Mrs. Ayers' office was likely along the left side of the building pictured here.

For three more years, Ellen Ayers performed the role of matron for the Joplin Police Department before leaving the position in 1909.  After a period of time, she was replaced two years later in 1911 by Vernie Goff who worked the job until 1914.

As for Ellen Ayers, at some point before 1920, her husband Felix passed away.  In 1920, she lived a widow with either a nephew or niece, but by 1930 had her own room in a boarding house at age 87.  Despite the trials and undoubted stresses of the position as Joplin’s first police matron, Ellen Ayers did not let the job overwhelm her and hopefully lived the next 20 years of her life knowing she made a valuable contribution to her community as the city’s first police matron.

Sources: 1880, 1920, 1930 United States Censuses, Joplin Daily Herald, 1918 History of the Joplin Police Department.