U.S. Rep. James Mann (R-Chicago) started the fight against human trafficking

U.S. Rep. James Mann (R-Chicago)
introduced the first legislation to
take on the issue of human trafficking.
He also was a leader in the fight
for granting the vote to women.
Declaring that “the time is right, the people are ready,” U.S. Rep. James Mann (R-Chicago) put before the U.S. House of Representatives the proposed 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which stated that, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.” That day in May 1919 was to be the culmination of the life’s work of the Illinoisan and former House Republican Leader, who dedicated his professional career to fighting for causes which we take for granted today.

James Robert Mann was born in Bloomington and educated at the University of Illinois and the Union College of Law, now known as Northwestern, before being admitted to the bar in Chicago in 1881. He served on the board of education and the Chicago City Council, and was chairman of the Republican state convention in 1894. Mann began his congressional career in 1896, winning election to the House, where he would serve until his death in 1922.

Mann rose quickly in Congress, and first encountered the women’s suffrage issue while chairing the Elections Committee from 1903-1909. It was also during that time that he took a special interest in the issue of food safety, introducing legislation that would be passed as the Pure Food and Drug Act. The 1906 law was Congress’ first legislation addressing the growing concerns about the purity of the food Americans ate, and it paved the way for the modern Food and Drug Administration.
Mann was troubled by tales of the horrors of human trafficking in the early 20th century, and he set out to do something about it. Stories abounded in 1909 of young women forced into prostitution, and while historians believe many of the specific stories were embellished, the underlying truth remained that there was a serious problem which needed action.
In 1910, legislation which came to be known as the Mann Act passed both houses of Congress and was signed by President Taft. The law prohibited the interstate transportation of persons for “immoral purposes.” Selective enforcement of the law led Congress to amend it and tighten its definitions in 1978 and 1986. The enactment of the Mann Act marked the first major success in the ongoing fight against human trafficking.
That same year, Mann co-authored the Mann-Elkins Act, which granted the Interstate Commerce Commission greater power to regulate the rapidly expanding railroad, telephone and telegraph industries. The Mann-Elkins Act was a continuation of the federal government’s efforts to crack down on monopolies and rate discrimination which was prevalent around the end of the 19th century. The regulatory powers of the Mann-Elkins Act were eventually split between the newly-created Federal Communications Commission in 1934 and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The following year, Mann was chosen as Republican leader in the House, an office he held for four terms before stepping aside in 1919. It was in 1919 that Mann, as chairman of the Committee on Woman Suffrage, helped lead the fight in the House for the 19th Amendment. He was ultimately successful, seeing the bill passed by a margin of 304-89. Women began appearing on state and federal ballots in the 1920 election, and in 1922, Mann helped U.S. Rep. Florence Fifer Bohrer (R-Bloomington), to take her place as Illinois’ first female Member of Congress.

Mann’s actions on behalf of Bohrer were among his last as a Congressman. He died in Washington just days later on November 30, 1922. Rep. James Mann is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Chicago.