Committee of Fifteen records

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Collection Data

The Committee of Fifteen was a non-partisan citizens' committee established in 1900 to investigate the cause and extent of the increase in prostitution and gambling in New York City and to promote legislation necessary to correct the problem. The records consist of correspondence, minutes, investigators' reports, and other records of the Committee of Fifteen. Correspondence, 1900-1901, of George W. Morgan, assistant secretary of the Committee, is with the public, Committee members, New York State Assembly members, and the New York City Dept. of Health. Other records of the Committee's investigations include notebooks containing entries detailing visits and violations; affidavits and reports made by investigators; and scrapbooks of press clippings, 1900-1901, about New York City politics, police and vice.
Committee of Fifteen (New York, N.Y. : 1900) (Creator)
Baldwin, William Henry, 1863-1905 (Correspondent)
Morgan, George W. (Correspondent)
Seligman, Edwin R. A. (Edwin Robert Anderson), 1861-1939 (Correspondent)
Smith, Charles Sprague, 1853-1910 (Correspondent)
Smith, Charles Stewart, 1832-1909 (Correspondent)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1900 - 1901
Library locations
Manuscripts and Archives Division
Shelf locator: MssCol 608
Citizens' associations -- New York (State) -- New York
Crime -- New York (State) -- New York
Gambling -- New York (State) -- New York
Poverty -- New York (State) -- New York
Prostitution -- New York (State) -- New York
Slums -- New York (State) -- New York
Social problems -- New York (State) -- New York
Vice control -- New York (State) -- New York
New York (N.Y.) -- History -- 1898-1951
New York (N.Y.) -- Politics and government -- 1898-1951
New York (N.Y.) -- Social conditions -- 19th century
New York (N.Y.) -- Social life and customs -- 19th century
Minutes (Records)
Records (Documents)
Biographical/historical: The Committee of Fifteen was established on November 27, 1900 at a meeting of prominent New Yorkers concerned about the dramatic increase in vice, particularly gambling and "the social evil," prostitution, in New York City, and the unwillingness of the police to suppress it. The group called for the formation of a non-partisan citizens' committee to insure that the authorities fulfilled their legal duty to prevent and eradicate vice. The committee eventually selected was dominated by bankers, lawyers, and businessmen: William H. Baldwin, Jr. (chairman), Felix Adler, Joel B. Erhardt, Austen G. Fox, John S. Kennedy, George Foster Peabody, William J. O'Brien, Alexander E. Orr, George Haven Putnam, John Hansen Rhoades, Edwin R. A. Seligman, Jacob H. Schiff, Andrew J. Smith, Charles Sprague Smith, and Charles Stewart Smith. The members adopted a plan to determine the causes and extent of gambling and prostitution in New York, to discover the persons responsible, and to reveal their findings and recommendations in a published report. They also promoted legislation that would make it easier to prosecute the offenders and simplify the administration of the vice laws. The committee hired a team of investigators that scoured the city's bars, pool halls, dance halls, "disorderly houses," and tenements during 1901, posing as clients to determine the locations where prostitution took place. The evidence was collected and evaluated by December 1901, when the committee disbanded. Its report, The Social Evil With Special Reference to Conditions Existing in the City of New York, was published in 1902.
Content: The records of the Committee of Fifteen contain the correspondence of its assistant secretary, George W. Morgan, with the public, committee members, New York State Assembly members, and the New York City Department of Health. The 258 letters to the Department of Health report the location of "disorderly houses." Other records of the committee's investigations include two notebooks containing entries for each location visited with a chronological log of visits made and actions taken against the various dwellings and businesses, typed lists of the locations visited and the types of violations found there, and 28 boxes of affidavits and reports made by the investigators. The amount of information for each location varies, but many of the report forms include the name of the investigator, his age and address, date of his visit, address of the building, description of activity at that site and investigator's action, amount of money paid, name, physical description, and ethnic background of the prostitute or others at the location, and general remarks. The reports are arranged by police precinct. In addition, the collection contains 30 scrapbooks of press clippings about New York City politics, police, and vice (November 8, 1900-November 30, 1901), typed abstracts of the events of the day (for the same period), and a typescript of the defense testimony in the trial of police captain John D. Herlihy (1900-1901).
Physical Description
Extent: 17.5 linear feet 49 boxes
Type of Resource
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b11652265
MSS Unit ID: 608
Archives collections id: archives_collections_608
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 216eff30-6f84-0133-9b03-00505686d14e
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