LR mayor goes af­ter gos­sips in fi­nal term

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - CELIA STOREY

From the dis­tance of 100 years, Lit­tle Rock Mayor Charles Ed­ward Tay­lor (1862-1932) looks like a pop­u­lar guy. He held of­fice from 19111919 — four terms. You can’t win four elec­tions if most of the peo­ple de­spise you.

But pause to think about to­day’s lead­ers: Even the shoo-in can­di­date will have a de­trac­tor or 20,000.

In July 1917, af­ter a two-week trip to New York on city busi­ness, Tay­lor re­turned to City Hall to find his char­ac­ter had been worked over by gos­sip mon­gers.

The Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Demo­crat re­ported his dra­matic re­ac­tion. But to the ev­er­last­ing credit of both city news­pa­pers, de­spite my avid and de­plorable in­ter­est I fail to find a report that re­peats the slan­der, what­ever it was.

Here’s the Gazette on July 17:

Mayor De­nounces Vi­cious Ru­mors

In­censed at sto­ries which at­tack his moral char­ac­ter, which were cir­cu­lated dur­ing his ab­sence in New York, Mayor Charles E. Tay­lor tonight will call a con­fer­ence of his friends with a view to trac­ing the sto­ries to their sources and bring­ing the orig­i­na­tors into court, if pos­si­ble, as slan­der­ers.

“It has not been my pol­icy,” the mayor said last night, “to ex­pend any con­sid­er­able ef­fort in the de­nial of slan­der which is of­ten one of the un­pleas­ant in­ci­dents of public life, but these at­tacks on me at a time when even my ab­sence was seized upon to give cre­dence to them have reached a point where I must give them my public at­ten­tion. I in­tend to make Lit­tle Rock a city where peo­ple may live pro­tected from char­ac­ter at­tacks.”

In a state­ment is­sued July 16, he de­clared him­self as­tounded by the “vi­cious and ma­li­cious lies re­flect­ing on my per­sonal in­tegrity and morals.”

“I take this method of say­ing to the public, hop­ing that he or she who is guilty may read this state­ment that the au­thor or authors of such ru­mors are guilty of ut­ter­ing ma­li­cious lies. I have lived in this com­mu­nity a long time, and make this state­ment in or­der that my po­si­tion may

be made clear, and that I may be of some ser­vice to the com­mu­nity in stop­ping a prac­tice of vi­cious gos­sip which has grown up here. Dur­ing the last sev­eral years in Lit­tle Rock the public has been nau­se­ated from time to time with vague sto­ries af­fect­ing the morals and in­tegrity of men and women prom­i­nent in this city and state. No one’s rep­u­ta­tion has been safe. The more use­ful an in­di­vid­ual has been in the com­mu­nity, the more likely he has been to be cho­sen as a tar­get for these vile em­a­na­tions from men­tal de­gen­er­ates and per­verts.

“About two years ago nearly ev­ery fam­ily in the city of Lit­tle Rock was af­fected and dis­turbed by vi­cious ru­mors re­flect­ing on the char­ac­ter of ev­ery girl and ev­ery boy who at­tended the Lit­tle Rock High school …”

He added that an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion had traced those ru­mors (what­ever they were) to idle gos­sip. And yet one still heard them re­peated even though they were prod­ucts of “dis­eased and wrong-think­ing minds, be­long­ing to peo­ple whose ser­vice in the world could be likened only to that of the loath­some cut­tle­fish, which has only one in­stinct and that is to muddy and pol­lute the wa­ters sur­round­ing it.”

Be­fore we leap to the de­fense of the cut­tle­fishes, know that the PBS science pro­gram Nova crowned them “Kings of Cam­ou­flage,” and they have the largest brain-to-body size ra­tios of any in­ver­te­brate, per­haps even larger than that of the oc­to­pus.

Be­sides be­ing an apt hand with metaphor, Tay­lor was a mar­ried man with four chil­dren. He’d been su­per­in­ten­dent of the Sec­ond Bap­tist Church Sunday School since 1895.

As Martha Williamson Rim­mer writes in the on­line En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Arkansas His­tory and Cul­ture, Tay­lor and his po­lice chief, Fred Cogswell, “strictly en­forced the laws against gam­bling (with Tay­lor lead­ing two raids him­self), more closely reg­u­lated sa­loons be­fore state pro­hi­bi­tion went into ef­fect in 1916, and, on the rec­om­men­da­tion of his Vice Com­mis­sion, ended the pol­icy of tol­er­a­tion to­ward houses of pros­ti­tu­tion by elim­i­nat­ing the ‘red light district’ in Lit­tle Rock in 1913.”

Denizens of to­day’s River Mar­ket District would be as­tounded by that scene from 1911. As his­to­rian C. Fred Wil­liams ex­plains in His­toric Lit­tle Rock: An Il­lus­trated His­tory (His­tor­i­cal Pub­lish­ing Net­work, 2008), in an area be­tween Rock and Main streets bounded by the Arkansas River on the north and Third Street on the south, there were 19 known houses of pros­ti­tu­tion em­ploy­ing about 75 work­ers, with an­other 200 to 600 women work­ing in ho­tels, parks and “assig­na­tion houses.”

Women beck­oned from the door­ways of joints that also jacked up the price of liquor. We know this be­cause in Jan­uary

1912 Tay­lor ap­pointed a bira­cial Vice Com­mis­sion — 23 white and 5 black cit­i­zens — to in­ves­ti­gate the flesh trade. The Gazette pub­lished their report in May 1913. Arous­ing con­sid­er­able ire, it blamed “the per­fidy of men” for driv­ing women to pros­ti­tu­tion and also pointed to ex­ploitive wages be­ing paid by spe­cific busi­nesses, in­clud­ing four laun­dries.

On Tay­lor’s dead­line — noon Aug. 25, 1917 — all the “bawdy houses” had to close. But it didn’t stamp out vice. Five years later the City Coun­cil was still writ­ing or­di­nances against it.

Clos­ing the district also cost the city an es­ti­mated $800 per month in fines. And then in 1916, the elim­i­na­tion of all sa­loons (with their fines and their li­cense fees) took a 30 per­cent bite from the city bud­get, Wil­liams writes.

Mean­while, Tay­lor was tak­ing out loans to pay for pro­gres­sive im­prove­ments: em­pow­er­ing a health depart­ment to in­spect dairies and slaugh­ter­houses; ex­pand­ing the fire depart­ment and the sewer sys­tem; col­lect­ing house­hold garbage. And so the city “sank pro­gres­sively into debt,” as Wil­liams puts it.

Which is why Tay­lor had been in New York — ob­tain­ing an ex­ten­sion on about $575,000 in city loans.


Led by for­mer U.S. Con­gress­man Charles Ch­ester Reid, the rally to de­fend the mayor’s honor July 17 drew 250 of his “per­sonal friends” and pro­duced some won­der­ful in­vec­tive. Here’s part of the Demo­crat’s report:

Such terms as “he-gos­sips,” “skunks,” “cowards,” “liar,” “sniper,” “skulks” and “as­sas­sins” were fre­quently heard dur­ing the speech mak­ing, and the Rev. Sam Camp­bell de­clared that if the au­thor of the re­ports was dis­cov­ered he “ought to be hanged as high as Ha­man.”

Camp­bell was Tay­lor’s pas­tor. Here’s a bit of the Gazette’s ac­count:

Mayor Tay­lor also de­clared there were spies in the meet­ing “as cow­ardly as the spies em­ployed by Ger­many,” and with­out call­ing names, bade them report the re­sult of the meet­ing to “head­quar­ters.” …

A mo­tion to of­fer $1,000 re­ward for ev­i­dence lead­ing to the con­vic­tion of the slan­der­ers was voted down upon the ground that it placed a pre­mium on the work, but a mo­tion au­tho­riz­ing the chair­man to ap­point five mem­bers as a com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate all the sources of the ru­mors and to em­ploy any means nec­es­sary to lead to the ar­rest of the slan­der­ers, was adopted. Chair­man Reid said that he would not make public the names of the com­mit­tee, in or­der that its work might be un­ham­pered. Tom Mills acted as sec­re­tary of the meet­ing and took the name, ad­dress and tele­phone num­ber of ev­ery per­son present in or­der that he might be called on if nec­es­sary to as­sist the com­mit­tee, and it was an­nounced by the con­sent of those present that all of the mayor’s friends should re­gard them­selves as de­tec­tives to trace the slan­ders to their sources.

Lo and be­hold, soon one of the gos­sip mon­gers ac­tu­ally came for­ward … with un­for­tu­nate re­sults.

Next week: Mayor and Doc­tor in Fight on Street

Con­clud­ing para­graphs of the Arkansas Demo­crat ed­i­to­rial “Rep­u­ta­tion is a bub­ble,” pub­lished July 17, 1917

The front page of the Arkansas Gazette pub­lished July 17, 1917, re­port­ing Lit­tle Rock Mayor Charles E. Tay­lor’s out­rage over gos­sip about him

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