Digging into the Backstory: Part One

In the process of doing research into Baltimore’s history, particularly its housing history — one comes across some peculiar, lurid, or just plain interesting news items.  This one, in particular, caught my eye:

News clip from 1895 about Baltimore's slums and brothels.

News clip from 1895 about Baltimore’s slums and brothels.

The text reads as follows:

“That was not a pleasant duty that the ladies of the Social Purity League took upon themselves in Baltimore on Tuesday night, but it was one in the performance of which they learned a good deal about the seamy side of life, and the information they obtained will give them subjects for sermons for years to come.  Baltimore is notorious for its brothels, said to be under the protection of the police, who have been accused of blackmailing the inmates, and of course the more brothels the greater the revenue of the police blackmailer, and he is not going to do anything to suppress them. It required a great deal of courage for those good women to dive into the Baltimore slums, and it is hoped their visit will do a great deal of good.”

How bad were the slums of Baltimore in the late 1800s?

Some demographic information, extracted from a report released by the US Congress in 1894:

25,000 people were counted in a “slum census” conducted in Baltimore.  (The study was also done in Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago).

Of those 25,000 “slum dwellers”, almost 41% of them were foreign-born, and close to 20% of them were unable to read or write.  In the slum areas of the city, there was 1 saloon for every 105 residents, about double the number as you’d find in the rest of the city. It’s interesting to note that in Baltimore, the average number of people residing in any one slum dwelling was 7.71.  In New York City, that number skyrocketed all the way to 36.79.

Source:  Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, PA), October 17, 1895
Source: The National Tribune (Washington DC), August 2, 1894, page 4




  1. kevin kelly

    My grand-pop was born in [ 212 south payson st.] in 1895,john eugene kelly.He was born the same month as george herman ruth.They played sand-lot ball as kids.

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