No passion for prudery: morals enforcement in nineteenth century Houston
Hyman, Harold M.
Master of Arts
This thesis might properly he viewed as a case study in the relationship between morality and the criminal law. The criminal law defined unacceptable behavior and was designed to penalize immoral conduct, but individual communities decided upon the proper level of enforcement. Drinking, gambling, and prostitution were either prohibited or regulated by the criminal law, yet those vices were abundant and obvious in downtown Houston during the nineteenth century. Morals offenders received thirty per cent of the indictments from grand juries during the 188's, but convictions were rare and harsh penalties were virtually non-existent. Houston tolerated more immorality than was contemplated as permissible under criminal, law. The primary source material for this work was the grand jury indictments in Harris County, Texas during the 187’s and 188's. Those indictments suggest that the major forms of immoral conduct in Houston were gambling, prostitution, and the illegal sale of liquor. Indictments for sex crimes were rarely brought, but when they were, the law was selectively enforced against blacks. This thesis consists of six sections - an introduction, a conclusion, a chapter on the perception of immorality by grand juries and the police, a chapter on prostitution, a chapter on sex crimes, and a chapter on drinking and gambling. This thesis, also, contains a chart of the distribution of morals indictments during the 188's according to grand jury foremen and a map locating the saloons of 1885 and the houses of prostitution of the 188’s.