The Telegram-Tribune made an oblique reference to the prostitution trade in town. The History Center of San Luis Obispo County has produced a free video podcast called “The Darker Side of San Luis Obispo.” The segment titled “Soiled Doves” documents organized prostitution in town back to the late 1800s. Railroad construction, oil field development, sailors on shore leave all had money in their pockets. Combined with the era’s limited job prospects for single women the prostitution trade flourished with a wink and a nudge just uphill from the downtown business district.
When Federal money taps opened to build and man two major military bases nearby and several subsidiary projects there were millions of dollars in the pockets of young men looking for excitement. The September 29, 1941 issue of the Telegram-Tribune said that Camp San Luis Obispo soldiers, officers, civilian employes and commercial accounts would be paid $1.5 million.
The October 24 issue carried a wire service story that outlined what was going on in Salinas and an unnamed town in California.
Dr. R. A. Vonderlehr the public health service’s expert in venereal disease had an opinion about how to address the problem.
“We want to repress prostitution. But from a scientific standpoint I would favor segregation under these circumstances:
“Examine all prostitutes.
“Place them in an institution with a big wall around it containing only one entrance.
“All ‘customers’ to enter through that entrance and be examined.
“Give them a prophylactic before leaving [the exam room.]”
In the unnamed town—population 4,000—the mayor favored segregation of the 3,000 women who came there as soon as an army camp was set up. Nothing was done about it. Later it was learned that a private doctor was examining the prostitutes at a rate of $3 to $4 each. The doctor was the son of the mayor.
In case you were wondering, San Luis Obispo’s population in 1940 was 8,881.
In Salinas Dr. Vonderlehr said they had found about 75 cribs — small frame houses containing a bathroom and small bedroom on one lot. Two persons rented the houses at $25 a week to the prostitutes. They also found that health test results sent out to prostitutes were posted on the walls as clear bills of health, even when they weren’t. The story said that the form was so technical that it was “not understandable to a layman.”
Not sure if the United Press writer was trying to make a pun.
The understandable results were hand written on the back, unreadable when it was pasted to the wall.
In other world news General Gregory K. Zhukov was named chief of the Soviet General Staff by Premier Joseph Stalin. Russian weather and Soviet resistance were beginning to slow the Nazi advance on Moscow.
It seemed inevitable that there would be conflict with Japan but with events heating up on the European front it seemed like Asia could wait. The German submarine fleet was now regularly torpedoing American vessels.
The American merchant ship Lehigh was sunk by a German submarine off the west coast of Africa on October 20. The twenty-two member American crew on board survived as well as four stowaways. The engineers doused fires under the boilers and closed bulkheads as water rushed in to prevent a secondary explosion. The life-rafts had rowed and sailed 40 miles toward British West Africa when they were rescued by a British destroyer.
On October 31 the American destroyer Reuben James would not be so lucky. One hundred and fifteen men were killed off the west coast of Iceland when the navy ship was sunk by a German U-Boat. This would be the first combat vessel lost in World War II (once again if you don’t count the sinking of the U.S.S. Panay in China in 1937.)
When folk singer Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the sinking he wanted to include each name on the casualty list but later wrote the chorus, “Tell me, what were their names?”