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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Strange and Storied History of Silence Do-Good, part 8: The Golden Age

The 1920s were a Golden Age of heroism. Nicknamed "do-gooders" by the police because of the federal statute which authorized them, costumed crusaders became a fad of the day alongside flappers, flagpole-sitting, and hair bobbing.

The term was originally one of disdain and amusement (c.f. poseur), as many socialites found it fashionable to dabble in vigilantism, though for most their actions amounted to little more than dressing up outlandishly and performing highly-visible "patrols" (walking or driving slowly through town) or "steak-outs," where they would eat expensive dinners at outdoor tables while ostensibly keeping watch on frequently non-existent criminal enterprises across the street.

Ironically enough, there was a good chance of there actually being a speakeasy across the street. Sometimes the do-gooders were ignorant of this, but just as likely they knew about it and chose to do nothing. They were frequently used as lookouts and signposts ("Turn left at the dame in fuchsia") and in at least one instance they helped the patrons escape a police raid by having conveniently raided it themselves just moments prior.

Despite all this, however, there were crime-fighters who legitimately followed in the footsteps of Silence Do-Good. Although they were mostly men and former soldiers, more than a few women also took up her mantle. The more notable crime-fighters of the time were:
  • the Quiet Men (Chicago)  (later immortalized in a 1925 poem by T.S. Eliot)
  • the Lamplighter (New York City)
  • Goldengate (San Francisco)
  • the Chartreuse Chanteuse (Lost Angeles, specifically Hollywood)
  • Sweet Georgia Brawn* (Atlanta)
  • Gateway Archer  (St. Louis)
  • the Philly Filly (Philadelphia)
It is a point of historical interest that what we could call the first super-villain first appeared in 1925: El Capo. Italian for "The Boss," El Capo inherited the Chicago Mob after Johnny Torrio, and he turned it into the first-class criminal empire known as The Outfit. So successful was he that even the actions of local do-gooders and costumed crusaders were not sufficient to thwart him, and so in 1929 the U.S. Government fielded its first Federally-mandated crime-fighting task force. Known as The Gangbusters, they were of the highest moral fiber and incorruptible. Their leader, Prohibitor, fought El Capo for years until his capture and conviction in the 1930s.

But where was Silence Do-Good during this time? Sadly, she had become ensnared in politics, beginning with a nearly immediate arrest by Federal Marshals after her interview with Max Fairfield was published. The charges were treason and dereliction of duty.

Perhaps "arrest" is an overstatement. While it is true that Marshals from the Chicago field office -- nearly the entire staff, in fact -- converged on the public library, where Silence was quietly reading, they did not accost her. To a man, they all removed their hats in deference to her and, in hushed and reverential tones, one of them asked her "Miss Do-Good, would you be so kind as to come with us, please?" She nodded politely and rose, another agent helping her with her chair. The word "arrest" was never used; guns were never drawn and handcuffs never shown, let alone used against her. She was treated as an honored guest, not a prisoner, riding in the passenger seat of a Marshal's car all the way back to Washington, D.C. and never once seeing the inside of any holding cell.

Part of this was purely practical. It was plain for all to see that shackles and bars wouldn't contain her, and she could leave any time she wanted, so manners held her more tightly than any restraints. But practicality could not account for the sheer deference she was shown, from the lowliest agent up to J. Edgar Hoover himself. As one man put it, "It was as if the Statue of Liberty herself had stepped down from her pedestal to walk among us. No proper man could fail to tip his hat and call her ma'am. I would sooner arrest my own sainted grandmother than put shackles on a living symbol of liberty like Miss Do-Good."

She was to be tried in Federal court, but that strategy fell apart the moment charges were filed. Silence knew American law -- indeed, she had been present for most of its creation -- and ran rings around the prosecutor. She could not be charged with dereliction of duty because she had never been properly employed by the Justice Department; she could not be charged with treason because she had never waged war upon the United States nor given aid and comfort to its enemies. The case was brought before the highest court in the land, but the Supreme Court refused to touch it; there was no basis for trial.

The government, intent on exerting its will and proving that it could force Silence to obey them, found themselves stymied. Eventually, they were able to subpoena her to appear before the Senate and compel her to explain how she could justify her actions.

"The Thirteenth Amendment," she declared, and left. No one dared stop her. That she was a person, free to do as she pleased within the confines of the law and not an object to be owned and controlled, had become blindingly self-evident with only those three words.

The "Do-Good Statute" was passed with only token opposition shortly afterwards.

Next: The End

*The name "Sweet Georgia Brawn" was created by Troy Hickman and is used with permission.

The character of Silence Do-Good is copyright Erin Palette 2011. All art in these sections is either public domain, or machinima from the City of Heroes MMO. I do not claim any ownership of art.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
Creative Commons License


  1. I'm rather amazed no one has commented on this post yet. I thought Silence's 13th Amendment smackdown was a moment of awesome.

    Also, I'm surprised no one has yet caught the Easter Eggs I hid.

  2. Silence's mention of the Thirteenth Amendment makes me wonder: How were race relations affected by her presence? Was the army properly integrated after WW1? What role will she play in the Civil Rights era? Can't wait to find out.


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