• IdentificationICU.SPCL.COMMITTEEOF15
  • TitleGuide to the Chicago Committee of Fifteen Records1909-1927
  • PublisherUniversity of Chicago Library
  • LanguageEnglish
  • Date1909-1927
  • Physical Description26 Volumes (1 box)
  • RepositorySpecial Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.
  • AbstractAlso known as Manuscript Codex 1028, these twenty-six volumes were gathered for an investigation of Chicago crime, focusing on prostitution and the illegal sale of alcohol. Notes are from on-scene investigations, summaries of court records and newspaper clippings.

© The contents of this finding aid are the copyright of the University of Chicago Library

Chicago and Illinois


Politics, Public Policy and Political Reform

The collection is open for research.

When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Chicago Committee of Fifteen Records, [Box #, Folder #], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

The Chicago Committee of Fifteen was initially formed in 1908 as a private organization that sought to combat pandering in Chicago. Its original directive was to investigate and publicize the venues typically associated with vice. The Committee sent investigators (typically in pairs) to designated "sin districts" to gather first-hand observations such as names, addresses, phone numbers, and observed illegal activity at the end of which the task force members would contact the police and swear out affidavits. In 1911 the Committee was re-vamped to increasingly target prostitution, primarily because city officials such as Mayor Fred Busse were interested in exploring the question of whether prostitution should remain a regulated business in segregated vice districts (such as the Levee at 22nd and Dearborn) or should the districts be outlawed, thereby scattering prostitution throughout the city and making it more difficult to keep in check. There were a number of social concerns that the investigators took note of including, but not limited to, crime, vice, military personnel attendance, interracial contact, and potential illegal sexual activities (such as prostitution, miscegenation, and homosexuality).

The related Chicago Vice Commission members initially favored segregation, but eventually shifted their attitude and concluded that segregation and regulation had failed and that the vice districts should be abolished. They published a report in 1911 entitled The Social Evil in Chicago, which asserted that prostitutes had few other economic or educational opportunities for improvement.

One of the more startling findings of the Commission was the connection between low wages and a woman's decision to enter prostitution. Generally a woman earned an income 40 percent lower than what was deemed necessary for independent living, while the average prostitute was able to earn well above it. Even though their research indicated a need for minimum-wage legislation, many members on the commission rejected any connection between wages and vice.

It was after the city refused to follow the recommendations of the Commission and establish a new city bureau to investigate and prosecute prostitution that Chicago's anti-vice leadership passed to the Committee of Fifteen.

Typically, each entry begins with a list or addresses that the observers visited, followed by the time of day (or night) they entered and exited, and then a brief indication of the kind of information that was gleaned. Terms such as "General Observation" and "EVIDENCE" indicate what level of vice was observed. After the summary page, typically the entries of observations for the date follow.

Also listed as Manuscript Codex 1028, this collection is comprised of 26 volumes of material containing research data from the Committee, and an additional box of sources. Volumes 1-24 consist of the hand-written records of the researchers' observations at particular sites and venues of supposed criminal activity. Volumes 25-26 are the records of court cases that resulted from these research endeavors and primarily address pandering allegation. The additional box contains a collection of ledgers that holds lists of addresses, the purpose of which is unclear. It is possible that these ledgers were taken out by investigators to keep track of addresses that they visited in any given evening, though there are no dates recorded to clarify. Many of them are empty or very nearly empty.

The following related resources are located in the Department of Special Collections:

  • NamesCommittee of Fifteen (Chicago, Ill.)
  • Subject
    • Prostitution -- Illinois -- Chicago
    • Crime -- Illinois -- Chicago
    • Prohibition -- Illinois -- Chicago