Woman’s Home Association Tried to Help the “Fallen”

Jeffrey D. Nichols
History Blazer, February 1995

Mrs. Dora B. Topham was the head of organized prostitution in Salt Lake City in the early 1900s. She was given the titles of “Belle London” and “Madame of the Stockade.”

The late 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed an international campaign to eradicate prostitution, the “social evil.” Locally, the Woman’s Home Association began in Salt Lake City in 1894 as an interdenominational church program to rescue “fallen” women from a life of prostitution. Lack of funding and support from the surrounding community prevented the association from achieving its original goal, but the organization did provide employment for poor women for a number of years.

The association’s president and chief spokesperson, Cornelia Paddock, was well known for her charitable work and her authorship of anti-Mormon novels. The wife of Alonzo G. Paddock, who was engaged in mining, Cornelia had a city directory listing under her own name in the 1890s as an “authoress.” Two of her works, The Fate of Madame La Tour and In the Toils, helped to fuel the national debate of the 1880s over Mormon polygamy and church political control of Utah Territory.

According to Paddock, the Woman’s Home Association spent months attempting to find a suitable location for a “home for erring girls” where they could be reformed. A committee reportedly investigated about thirty suitable homes but could not find an owner willing to rent a building for such purposes. While condemning Salt Lake City’s lack of compassion for “women who are destitute and homeless,” Paddock wryly noted that “there have always been some property owners willing to rent houses to those [women] who do not wish to reform.” Blocked in its effort to change the lives of prostitutes, the association decided to concentrate instead on providing employment training for poor women.

By January 19, 1895, the association had opened offices in the Alexander Block at 372 South Main Street. The WHA operated a free employment agency, receiving applications from women who desired work and from persons wishing to engage them. By the end of the month Paddock could report that between 30 and 40 women had applied for work and that the association had successfully placed many of them, mostly in domestic, laundry, and sewing work.

Paddock continued to plead for donations of food, clothing, and equipment, especially for the WHA’s immediate goal of establishing a sewing room on the premises so that the association could directly employ applicants. By late February the sewing room had been completed, and a number of women were engaged in “plain sewing” jobs for individual customers.

The association continued to live a precarious financial existence, surviving on contributions ranging from fifty cents to twenty-five dollars. Paddock reported in March that while applications and walk-ins continued to pour in, the WHA did not have enough funds to continue beyond the end of the week and still lacked the facilities to provide overnight shelter for the homeless. The association was forced to give up its sewing room, but its first annual report indicated that 139 women and 167 girls had registered for employment.

Paddock persisted in her efforts to aid “fallen women” and reported in 1896 that sixteen had been cared for, including eight who had been sent to the Home for the Friendless in Ogden. She became a familiar figure in Salt Lake City’s Police Court, exhorting women arrested for prostitution to allow the association to help them reform and gain honest employment. After her death in January 1898 Paddock’s associates tried to continue the work, but the association was apparently disbanded by 1901.

Ironically, seven years later, in December 1908, the Salt Lake City Council, then dominated by members of the American party, took the opposite approach to prostitution and welcomed the opening of a red light district called The Stockade on the city’s west side (between 500 and 600 West and 100 and 200 South), operated by the notorious Ogden madam Belle London. Widespread opposition to this officially sanctioned “sin district” forced its closure in September 1911.