For reformers all along the rhetorical spectrum, red-light districts were the strongholds of organized vice.
Usually located near a city's commercial downtown, red-light districts abutted the respectable entertainment district and were easily accessible from the train depot.
New Orleans' Storyville was the most famous district created through city ordinance, but other cities, including Shreveport, Houston, and El Paso, also had legal red-light districts.
87] Working from the premise that the red-light districts across the country needed 60,000 new prostitutes a year, white slavery writers argued that "commercializers" had turned the districts into "clearinghouses" where they bought and sold women in order to keep the brothels filled and the districts functioning.
96] District supporters tried to answer this criticism by arguing that red-light districts attracted tourists, provided a significant number of jobs, and strengthened the city's economy, but these arguments held little appeal for elite Progressives.
101] White slavery writers attributed the changing economic structure of urban vice to the enterprising men who had reputedly taken over the business of vice after politicians created segregated red-light districts in the 1890s.
Concurrently, in red-light districts, madams and saloon proprietors used the comparison between corrupt corporations and anti-vice associations to condemn the unpopular and seemingly arbitrary enforcement of anti-vice laws.
The Vice Trust metaphor was more unstable, both conceptually and politically, than either the analogy between prostitution and debt peonage or the comparison of red-light districts to marketplaces.
119] Reformers intended the white slave traffic acts, of which the 1910 Mann Act was the exemplar, to disrupt the movement of women into red-light districts in order to halt prostitution's production.
154] The empowerment of ordinary citizens, combined with the absence of a jury trial, meant that through the red-light abatement laws, Progressives sidestepped government officials, overrode the popular toleration of prostitution, and effectively challenged the tacit localization of red-light districts.
156] By this measure, the anti-vice reformes' efforts were an indisputable failure; however, if reformers intended to destroy the economy of the red-light districts, not improve prostitutes' circumstances, then a different conclusion emerges.
Neither rhetorically peripheral, nor politically ineffectual, anti-vice reformers used the white slavery scare as a catalyst to clean up municipal government and to close down red-light districts.
By the end of World War I, anti-vice reformers had closed the red-light districts in over two hundred cities, see Standard Statistics of Prostitution, Gonorrhea, Syphilis (pamphlet), page RL-1, 1919, file 1, box 170, ASHA; Joseph Mayer, The Regulation of Commercialized Vice: An Analysis of the Transition From Segregation to Repression in the United States (New York, 1922), 9.