Why Ice Cream Parlors Were Considered Evil

Americans cracked down on parlors in the early 20th century
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 19, 2015 3:23 PM CDT

Ice cream is a sinful indulgence, right? That's exactly what many Americans thought in the early 20th century, but they were serious about it, Mental Floss reports. In New York, a man testified in 1895 that he personally knew of ice cream parlors that were "houses of prostitution or disorderly houses." In Chicago, a municipal vice committee reported in 1911 about alleged immoral goings-on in the parlors, including groping and girls who let boys know they "could be had." The city passed a law to forbid "curtains, screens, or partitions of any kind" in the parlors, and a state vigilance association warned female newcomers to the Windy City that "the ordinary ice cream parlor is very likely to be a spider’s web for her entanglement.”

What's the deal? Well, according to historian Bill Ellis, Americans at the time considered ice cream a foreign taste and linked it to dreaded "white slavery"—a euphemism for prostitution, sex trafficking, and other sexual corruption. With working women achieving new freedoms, immigrants moving in, and male-female courtship and marriage undergoing changes, some Americans considered ice cream parlors (especially foreign-owned ones) to be recruiting stations for sin. As Mental Floss points out, ice cream was considered an elite, foreign indulgence in America until pushcarts and ice cream trucks began melting that old notion. As it happens, today is National Ice Cream Day, "the one day of the year where you have an excuse to eat ice cream for every meal," People reports. (Read more ice cream stories.)

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