Beware of Lewd Women at the Courthouse!

By Stephen D. Bowling

The Jackson City Ordinance Book reveals a great deal about our little town. The laws and ordinances that it contains were passed in direct response to the city’s issues. There are some strange ordinances, but behind each of them is a particular motivation to change the behavior of the town visitors and residents. We can only imagine what events led to the creation of Jackson’s lewdness ordinance.

The Lewdness Ordinance from Jackson Town Ordinance Book 1, page 16.

As it is written, the undated Lewdness Ordinance is as follows:

The Board of Trustees of the Town of Jackson, Ky do ordain as follows:

It shall be unlawful for any man or men to be found loitering on the streets or alleys of said town, or within the corporate limits thereof in company with lewd women, or a lewd woman, or for lewd women to be found loitering on the streets or alleys of said town, or within the corporate limits pf same in company with men or by themselves, or for lewd women to congregate about the court house or jail and converse with men, or for men to be found loitering about the court house or jail in conversations with lewd women.

Any one so offending shall upon conviction be fined not less than five nor more than fifteen dollars for each offense. G. P. Combs, Chairman J. E. Stivers, Clerk

One of Jackson’s places of ill-fame was the legendary “Philippine Islands” bar and bawdy house. Alfred Little’s notorious “Red House” on East Main Street was also known for its rowdy and drunken clientele.

It sounds like the courthouse, and the jail were popular places for these women and the men who frequented them. The Town Council was also concerned about other sites or businesses in Jackson. The following ordinance in the ordinance book was entitled the “Bawdy House and Ill Fame” Ordinance.

The Bawdy House Ordinance made it illegal to “keep a bawdy house, or house of ill fame, or house where lewd woman and men may congregate for the purpose of having illicit intercourse with each other.” The ordinance also outlawed any structure where “loud and boisterous conduct is indulged in calculated to disturb the citizens and neighbors.” To emphasize their disdain for the practice, the Council set the fine at not less than $25 and not more than $50 per offense.

A condemnation of the “Carnival” in South Jackson appeared on page 2 of the July 16, 1920 edition of The Jackson Times.

In July 1920, a traveling “carnival” pitched their tents just outside the city limits to avoid the City’s Lewdness Ordinance. The “exhibitions” drew the ire of the people of Jackson with the lewd women and “low order men.” The proper ladies of the town were shocked, and several of the town leaders visited the site to check the reports.

Their report of the “more or less debauchery” observed there in the late evening has not survived. One observer noted that they had to go three nights in a row to be certain of what they saw.

The last known charge of operating a house of ill-fame occurred in 1956 when a well-known Jackson lady was charged with the crime against decency for her operation in South Jackson at the site of the old Ewen Hotel. A raid by the Jackson Police Department netted three adultery charges, the ill fame charge, and 13 drunkenness fines. The Jackson Police Court made $100 for the two adultery charges, $50 for the ill-fame charge, and $195 for drunkenness.

There are very few examples of anyone being charged with violating either ordinance. As late as February 1947, it was still an issue when the Breathitt County Sheriff dragged John Spicer and Isabell Arrowood into court and charged them with keeping a bawdy house or house of ill fame. They did not contest the charge and paid $200 in fines. The adultery charge they were facing was dismissed.

The bad behavior addressed in these ordinances did not stop with the town council’s passage of these ordinances. The oldest profession continued in various places in Jackson and a prostitution charge was recorded in the 2010s. It may still be happening in the city, but at least it is not around the jail and courthouse anymore- I think.

© 2022 by Stephen D. Bowling


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Breathitt County, Jackson and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Beware of Lewd Women at the Courthouse!

  1. Tommy Noble says:

    Brother Stephen, It’s always fun and interesting to read about the historical past of our fair city. I have heard some of these stories but reading about them is even better. Your post brought the old stories to life. Those were the days!!! Thanks for sharing this post.


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