February 5, 1914: Duluth’s Madame Gain found guilty of running an immoral house

Duluth’s “Tenderloin” or “Red Light District,” highlighted in red on this detail form the 1909 Sanborn fire insurance maps of Duluth. The map’s legend shows that the letters “FB” on a structure stood for “Female Boarding House,” a euphemism for bordello. (Image: Zenith City)

On this day in Duluth in 1914, Mary Gain was found guilty of running an immoral house. She had been charged previously, but the case ended in a mistrial. Between the mistrial and the beginning of Gain’s new trial, State Attorney General Lyndon A. Smith began a probe into Duluth police misconduct, including malfeasance by Commissioner of Public Safety William A. Hicken. There was a mass meeting at the Armory, which ended in calls for an “extraordinary grand jury to investigate the police department.” During this, Gain revealed the existence of her account books, and a list of police officers who received payouts from her totaling $40,000 (over $900,000 today). Neither Hicken nor Police Chief Chauncy Troyer denied her claims. A closed grand jury convened, and a corruption investigation continued through much of January. Gain, under subpoena, revealed her books, as did two other madams. The day after Gain’s trial began on January 29, the grand jury report was released. The Duluth News Tribune castigated it as “an abundant, copious, dripping whitewash,” refused to accept its conclusions and accused three of the jurors of conflicts of interest. Gain’s contribution was for naught; the grand jury found that “no money was paid by prostitutes to members of the police department for protection.” They concluded that police officers “borrowed” money from prostitutes and madams, but paid it back, and that this practice should be stopped. They also found that prostitution was rare in Duluth, and rooming houses obeyed the law. After nearly another year of appeals and delays, Gain was finally sent to Stillwater State Prison to serve a seven-year sentence. After one year in prison she was paroled, possibly due to a petition collected by her brother signed by 4,000 people.

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