December 22, 1908: Duluth City Council votes to close down St. Croix Avenue brothels 

On this day in Duluth in 1908, the city council voted unanimously to close all “houses of disrepute” on St. Croix Avenue, today’s Canal Park Drive. According to Zenith City Online’s Heidi Bakk-Hansen, “The meeting was packed with religious leaders from various denominations who testified against the ‘scarlet women.’ The Reverend J. T. Moody of the Bethel declaimed, ‘There is a surplus of bad women. They bring about the ruin and the downfall of young men who otherwise would lead a good life. The district ought to be exterminated for the sake of the young men.’ He went on to claim that the elimination of the district would cause the women to go home or perhaps to the Bethel, where they could be ‘saved.’ Another resolution was passed to eliminate alcohol sales in the district, which was loudly cheered by the audience. Mayor R. B. Haven announced that all the brothels would be closed by December 31. Raids began on St. Croix Avenue with the New Year, and within a month, Duluth’s notorious Madam Gain started racking up charges for running an ‘immoral house’ at the Clifton Hotel. She publicly vowed she wouldn’t be defeated, ‘not until I have spent every cent I possess.’ She openly mocked the undercover ‘stool pigeons’ hired by the police, and pointed indignantly at other hotels run by other madams who were free to go about their business unmolested. By May, Madam Gain had leased out the Clifton Hotel; in the summer, she retreated to Superior. By this time, she’d been arrested over 100 times in the ten years since her arrival [in 1900].” Read more about Madame Gaine here.

Duluth’s “Tenderloin” district in 1905. The indicator “FB” on insurance maps meant “Female Boarding Shanty,” code for bordello. St. Croix Avenue later became South First Avenue East and is Canal Park Drive today. (Image: Zenith City Press)

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