Portland vice scandal

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The Portland vice scandal (sometimes called the vice clique scandal, the vice crusade in contemporary reports, or inaccurately the YMCA scandal) refers to the discovery in November 1912 of a gay male subculture in the U.S. city of Portland, Oregon, following the arrest and interrogation of nineteen-year-old Benjamin Trout for shoplifting. Trout told his interrogators that "he had been 'corrupted' by a number of men in town."[1] This revelation prompted police investigations and led to the arrest of "dozens of men and youths for crimes ranging from so-called indecent acts to sodomy."[2] The press used the term "vice clique" to refer to these men collectively.[1]

Some members of the vice clique were prominent public figures including Edward McAllister and Lionel Deane as well as lawyers and physicians. Some of the accused lived at the local YMCA, which had the ninth largest membership of all YMCAs in North America,[3] and which was supported by members of Portland's upper class. This prompted attacks against the YMCA, its sponsors, and the city's upper class, especially by the working-class newspaper The Portland News and its editor Dana Sleeth.

Walter Lafferty, Portland's U.S. Representative, vowed to bring the scandal to Washington's attention, though his efforts were short-lived.[4]

The Oregon state legislature responded to the scandal by clarifying and strengthening the state's sodomy law, and by making sodomy punishable by sterilization. The sterilization measure was subjected to a referendum, and Oregon voters repealed the law by a vote of 56 percent.

The Oregon Supreme Court reversed the convictions of some vice clique members on legal technicalities.


At the time the scandal broke, Oregon's sodomy law merely said, "If any person shall commit sodomy or the crime against nature, either with mankind or beast, such person, upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in the penitentiary not less than one year nor more than five years."[5] Up to this point, in some U.S. states with sodomy laws similar to Oregon's, courts had ruled that these statutes covered anal sex, but not oral sex.[6] These cases cited the 1817 English case Rex v. Jacobs, Russ & Ry 331.

Members of the vice clique[edit]

Edward McAllister[edit]

One of the most prominent members of the vice clique was Edward Stonewall Jackson McAllister, a Portland attorney, Progressive activist, leader in the state Democratic Party, and friend of William Simon U'Ren and C.E.S. Wood.[1]

During his trial, The Morning Oregonian would report that he was charged with committing an "immoral act."[7] According to the written opinion in State v. McAllister, 67 Or 480, 136 P 354, McAllister was charged with committing sodomy with Roy Kadel on October 28, 1912, in McAllister's law office in downtown Portland. The indictment merely stated that his charge was "commit[ting] the crime against nature," which was "too well understood and too disgusting to be herein more fully set forth." But Oregon Supreme Court justice Charles McNary, in his dissent in McAllister, shed more light on the matter:

The testimony of the witness Harry Work is undisputed, and, in narrative form, is that he met Roy Kadel on one of the busy thoroughfares of Portland, and accompanied him unwittingly to the office of the defendant, where both remained in the reception-room until Kadel was beckoned by defendant to enter his private office; that, growing impatient at the failure of Kadel to return, Work stepped into the hall and knocked on the door leading into defendant's private office, whereupon defendant opened the door and Work entered and saw Kadel wiping his penis with a handkerchief; that Work ejaculated [blurted out], "Hello, what is this?" and Kadel replied, "McAllister and I are having a little trade," which, in the parlance of the morally depraved, means the performance of the act defined in the indictment; that Work further stated: "Well, I'm in a hurry; I am going back to the hotel"--and defendant remarked, "All right, boys, I'll see you again"; thereat Work and Kadel stepped into the hallway and were gone.

A warrant for McAllister's arrest was issued November 19. According to a contemporary news report in The Morning Oregonian, he was in Marshfield (now called Coos Bay) on that day, "taking depositions in a legal case." Furthermore, he "was incensed when he heard the nature of the charge that had been lodged against him" and professed his innocence.[8] He promised to return to Portland to face charges, but on November 21, he was arrested on a southbound train at the Medford train station, near the California state line. He denied his identity, but several people in Medford recognized him.[9] He claimed he was headed to Ashland to meet with his law partner, but "authorities believe[d] he was trying to leave the state."[10]

In McAllister's trial, Judge John P. Kavanaugh permitted testimony of acts of sodomy allegedly committed by McAllister with people other than Kadel, "for the purpose of showing mental disposition and casting light on the probability of the committal of the act actually charged." The defense argued that this infringed upon McAllister's constitutional rights.[11] In charging the jury, Kavanaugh gave the following instruction:

The court thinks that a man with normal sexual instincts is incapable of committing the crime, and that it is only a person of abnormal sexual sense that is capable of committing it. So if you were satisfied that one was possessed of this unnatural or abnormal sexual sense, you might infer that he had a motive, a reason or a force, impelling him to do such an act.

The defense would later argue on appeal, successfully, that Kavanaugh made a prejudicial error in giving his personal opinion to the jury rather than stating only matters of law.

McAllister made a closing argument for the defense on his own behalf wherein "he charged that he [was] the victim of a conspiracy."[7] On February 22, 1913, the jury convicted him, but recommended "leniency in punishment."[12] On February 25, he was sentenced to one to five years in the state penitentiary, the standard sentence called for by statute. Notice of appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court was immediately filed.[13]

Legislative response[edit]

The Oregon state legislature responded to the scandal by amending the state's sodomy law via House Bill 145 (1913). The law was clarified and broadened to include "any act or practice of sexual perversity," including fellatio.[6] At the time, courts had previously ruled that sodomy laws similar to Oregon's did not cover oral sex, and it was believed that convictions based on oral rather than anal sex acts might be reversed. Also under H.B. 145, the maximum sentence for sodomy in the state penitentiary was tripled, from five years to fifteen.[14]

As urged by Governor Oswald West, the legislature also passed H.B. 69 (1913), a law to authorize sterilization of "sexual perverts" and "moral degenerates,"[15] which were defined as "those addicted to the practice of sodomy or the crime against nature, or to other gross, bestial and perverted sexual habits and practices prohibited by statute."[16]

People opposed to sterilization, including Catholic clergymen and reformers such as William Simon U'Ren, formed the Anti-Sterilization League and successfully forced a referendum on this legislation. Oregon voters repealed it by a vote of 56 percent to 44 in November 1913. However, the legislature passed a similar law in 1917.

Action by the Oregon Supreme Court[edit]

Three men who were sentenced to the state penitentiary appealed their convictions — physician Harry Start, clerk and bookkeeper Edward Wedemeyer, and attorney Edward McAllister.[17] The Oregon Supreme Court reversed Start's conviction in State v. Start, 65 Or 178, 132 P 512 (1913), finding that the trial judge had allowed extraneous testimony that possibly prejudiced the jury. Wedemeyer's and McAllister's convictions were reversed on the same grounds.

Notably, these convictions were not reversed on the basis that oral sex was not covered under Oregon's sodomy law, as the legislature feared the court might rule. In fact, despite legislation previous to Start ensuring that fellatio counted as a "crime against nature," the court ruled that this was necessarily true because, among other reasons, the mouth and anus are both openings of the alimentary canal and therefore equally unsuited to sexual intercourse.[18]

Justice Charles McNary, a future U.S. Senator, was a new court justice by the time McAllister's appeal was heard. McNary wrote the dissent for McAllister's case, which was emotionally charged and "revealed a deeply seated personal discomfort with same-sex eroticism."[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Painter, George (April 2001). "Justice Finally Realized: The case of Edward McAllister". Oregon State Bar Bulletin. Retrieved December 25, 2010. 
  2. ^ Boag, Peter. "Portland Vice Scandal (1912-1913)". The Oregon Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 25, 2010. 
  3. ^ Neumann, Caryn E. (2004). "YMCA". glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. glbtq, Inc. Retrieved December 26, 2010. 
  4. ^ Boag, pp. 185–86.
  5. ^ Lord's Oregon Laws, § 2099.
  6. ^ a b Boag, p. 204.
  7. ^ a b "M'Allister Jury Retires: Deliberations Begin at 4:30 and at Midnight No Verdict In". The Morning Oregonian. Portland. February 22, 1913. p. 4. Retrieved December 27, 2010. 
  8. ^ "M'Allister Denies All Guilt: Portland Attorney Will Arrive in City Thursday". The Morning Oregonian. Portland. November 20, 1912. p. 18. Retrieved December 27, 2010. 
  9. ^ Boag, p. 177.
  10. ^ "M'Allister Put in Jail: Portland Lawyer Arrested on Train Going South". The Morning Oregonian. Portland. November 22, 1912. p. 7. Retrieved December 27, 2010. 
  11. ^ "M'Allister Loses Point: Testimony of Acts Similar to One Charged Allowed in Court". The Morning Oregonian. Portland. February 19, 1913. p. 14. Retrieved December 27, 2010. 
  12. ^ "M'Allister Is Convicted: Recommendation of Mercy Wins over Three Jurors". The Morning Oregonian. Portland. February 23, 1913. p. 11. Retrieved December 27, 2010. 
  13. ^ "McAllister Is Sentenced". The Morning Oregonian. Portland. February 26, 1913. p. 11. Retrieved December 27, 2010. 
  14. ^ Boag, Peter. "Gay and lesbian rights movement". The Oregon Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 25, 2010. 
  15. ^ Painter, George. "The Vice Clique Scandal of 1912-1913". Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest. Retrieved December 25, 2010. 
  16. ^ Boag, p. 210.
  17. ^ Terry, John (April 24, 2010). "1912 Vice Clique Scandal sways Portland's view of homosexual community". The Oregonian. Portland. Retrieved December 26, 2010. 
  18. ^ Boag, pp. 204–5.