Social Evil Hospital

In the 1860s, civic leaders believed they had found a new way to make St. Louis a national leader. They would control vice with a policy that was sure to become a model for other cities. In 1870, after much discussion, St. Louis became the first city in the United States to legalize prostitution.

Prostitution was rampant in St. Louis by the late 1860s, and disease transmission was high. Rather than try in vain to ban prostitution, the city allowed prostitutes to legally go about their business as long as they registered with the city, worked in licensed establishments, and received weekly medical checkups. Civic leaders could declare St. Louis the only city with proven “clean” prostitutes.

In 1873, the city built a hospital dedicated to the treatment of prostitutes—the Social Evil Hospital. The experiment with legal prostitution, however, was nearing its end. Hundreds of prostitutes initially registered, but most immediately began ignoring the rules. Social reformers claimed prostitution was worse than ever, and in 1874, the city revoked the ordinance.

Afterward, the Social Evil Hospital became the Female Hospital, dedicated to treating women and children. In 1915 the city razed the building, erasing all reminders of one of the most interesting times in St. Louis history. The bare space where it stood became Sublette Park.

5600 Southwest Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63139, USA