This Day in the Law
June 25

The Mann Act Passed by Congress (1910)

On June 25, 1910, Congress passed The Mann Act in an effort to protect women and prosecute individuals who transported women across state lines for an "immoral purpose" such as prostitution.

At the beginning of the 20th century, many women began moving to urban areas to find work. As women entered the workforce in poorer urban areas, they no longer were protected by the traditional system of courtship. In fact, prostitution became rampant in certain areas and many women were transported across states. George Kibbe Turner, a muckraker, called this prostitution phenomenon against women "white slavery."

With the rise of "white slavery" Congress worked to combat the problem. In particular, Illinois congressman James Robert Mann led the charge to pass a new law to protect women against the transportation of women for immoral purposes. Congress worked to pass such a law through its power to regulate interstate commerce.

On June 25, 1910, Congress passed The Mann Act in an effort to combat forced prostitution. The Mann Act states in relevant part:
An Act To further regulate interstate and foreign commerce by prohibiting the transportation therein for immoral purposes of women and girls, and for other purposes.

That any person who shall knowingly transport or cause to be transported, or aid or assist in obtaining transportation for, or in transporting, in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or in the District of Columbia, any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose, or with the intent and purpose to induce, entice, or compel such women or girl to become a prostitute or to give herself up to debauchery or to engage in any other immoral practice; or who shall knowingly procure or obtain, or cause to be procured or obtained, or aid or assist in procuring or obtaining, any ticket or tickets, or any form of transportation or evidence of the right thereto, to be used by any woman or girl in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or the District of Columbia.

However, The Mann Act was so broadly worded that courts had a difficult time in interpreting and enforcing it. Still, the U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly held prosecutions of The Mann Act to be constitutional and even celebrities faced prosecution.

For example, in 1944, actor Charlie Chaplin was acquitted of a Mann Act indictment from a paternity suit. And in 1959, rock ā€˜nā€™ roll star Chuck Berry was convicted of violating the Mann Act. He served twenty months in prison for transporting an underage Apache girl across state lines who was later arrested for prostitution.

The Mann Act has never been repealed but has been amended multiple times. For example, in 1978, Congress updated the definition of "transportation" in the act, and added protections for minors of either sex.