Shortly after Alice's memoirs were first announced, the Bulletin presented their reasons for running "A Voice from the Underworld." Unlike other editorials about "the prostitution problem" that ran in competing San Francisco papers like the Examiner and the Chronicle, the Bulletin, under the editorship of Fremont Older, stressed the importance of asking sex workers themselves their opinions about upcoming legislation that would so sharply affect their lives. It was an approach that was controversial, yet central to the purposes of the paper.
June 21st, 1913.
The Life of a San Francisco Outcast Woman to Be Published by The Bulletin as a Step Toward Solving Problem Raised by the Red Light Abatement Bill.
In answer to what The Bulletin and its friends have ascertained is a wide-spread demand, this paper is about to commence publication of a serial fact-story of remarkable interest, entitled, “A Voice from the Underworld.”
The writer, who uses the pseudonym of Alice Smith, has led for the past six years the life of a prostitute in San Francisco.
The deep concern felt throughout California in the problems of prostitution has borne fruit of late in two legislative enactments. One is the so-called Red Light Abatement law, aimed at the abolition of houses of ill-fame. The other is an appropriation of $50,000 to found a refuge home for the unfortunate woman thus set adrift.
Our legislators did not consult the women of the underworld. The women themselves must speak. They must tell their side freely and fully, and their words must be weighed and studied. Otherwise our best efforts are but experiments.
The State Legislature had struck at one form of vice, wholly ignorant as to whether the alternative is a worse form of vice. It would build a refuge for women, without knowing in the least whether women will flee to that refuge.
The Legislature is in the position of a doctor who gives his patient a pill without asking a question of the sufferer. The pill might do nothing, or it might cure, or it might kill, or it might stop one sickness and start another. The sensible doctor would first learn the patient’s symptoms at first-hand.
The demand for a sincere and complete revelation of the life of the half-world comes from many sources. All over America and Europe today prostitution is a moot problem. Lawmakers, humanitarians, women’s clubs, scientists, religionists, educators, the general public, are inquiring, “Why this sore spot in our society? What is prostitution? Is it necessary? Is it curable?”
Many roads have been explored in search of the answer. The theorists have tried their way. The official investigators of the Rockefeller Institute and of New York and Chicago have tried theirs. The theorists have failed; and there is just a suspicion that certain investigators were mainly anxious to scrape the muck from the boots of the nation’s wage-payers and employers.
To give the truth about prostitution and the life and character of the prostitute, to supply this knowledge so necessary yet so strangely neglected, is the immediate object of The Bulletin in printing this story, “A Voice From the Underworld.”
Still Greater Purpose
The Bulletin has yet a greater purpose. This paper, as no other journal in the United States, has held to the ideal of pleading the cause of the outcast and downtrodden. In these columns, with their wide circulation and varied classes of readers, many powerful tales of human experience have been printed—experience of the condemned people, oppressed people, ostracized people, the people against whom a ban has been pronounced by those who do not understand.
Thoughtful readers of these Bulletin serials have added much to their own breadth of mind and grasp of life. Donald Lowrie’s great story, “My Life in Prison,” so marvelously changed people’s attitude toward ex-prisoners that the change deserves to be called a revolution. Abraham Ruef’s exposure of political graft taught thousands of voters exactly what they had escaped from, and clinched them in their purpose to keep our government clean. Maurice de Martini’s “Life Story of an Adventurer” clearly showed that in our efforts to remove the deeper causes underlying crime, we must not neglect that more superficial problem, the corruption of our police.
All these stories, each in its degree, brought home to the Bulletin’s readers the great truth—the truth so easily forgotten by those who do not understand—that all men are brothers; made of the same stuff, ruled by the same desires, equally moulded as clay under pressure of environment; despite all seeming differences, good or bad, still the same humanity.
This truth—the truth of determinism—is the truth of Christ. Learning it, men cease to understand other men, but open the doors to them and extend to them the eager hands of help.
In this spirit the Bulletin has printed these life-stories; and in this spirit it is about to print “A Voice From the Underworld.” Only occasionally do the sufferers of the world find a voice; when such a spokesman is found, able to tell in living words the things she knows, the record is of value. Such a voice is Alice Smith.
In certain of its features, her story is typical. Through just such successions of petty circumstances many another woman must have come who is now among the shadows. The less typical, purely personal incidents give her narrative that strange interest which we all feel in one another’s daily lives.
The earlier years of the life of Alice Smith, her early home, her innocent young ideals, will forcibly recall to many a happy wife the circumstances of her youth. Later portions will illuminate to many a mother the pitfalls amid which her daughter now wanders. The remainder will be a plain portrayal of the life of the underworld.
At the close, if the reader has not suffered a change, has not replaced condemnation with pity, and disgust with sorrow, the Bulletin will have failed. But it will not fail. Irresistibly the life of this modern Hester Prynne was shaped by petty circumstances toward one tragic goal. Chance, accident, character, family, poverty, prudish responsibility, all played their part in her life, as in the lives of us all.