3 sex scandals in the seventies

The 1970s brought in a new era of public debauchery in the United States, where women’s rights were manifesting rapidly, the beginning of the gay movement was taking off and the evolving liberalism of the 60s morphed into the disco era.

Complete with the popularity of recreational drugs like cocaine, the emerging popularity of DJs and the sensationalism of colored lights and disco balls, the country welcomed these new clubs nationally. Studio 54, The Loft, End Up and the like were a breeding ground for public sex and welcomed the escort trade.

And it was a huge decade for women. In those ten years we saw the creation of Ms. magazine, acceptance of women into military academies, the eventual passing of Roe Vs. Wade, and a law that prohibited gender discrimination in public schools.[1]

It was also the era in which gay men started coming out into the public light. In San Francisco the rise of openly gay men complimented New York City’s notoriety for being a home for those who wanted to let loose, open up and embrace the seedier side of life.

It is therefore no surprise that marriage and celibacy also came into question during this period. While the average woman got married at around 21 years old and man at 23, divorce rates started to soar. In 1970, about 3.5 out of 1000 couples ending their marriage in divorce: by 1985, that number reached 5.3 out of those thousand (the highest rate in the United States in history).[2]

Relationships and boundaries were coming into question, heatedly and with fervor, for the first time. Whereas a private sexual life was, appropriately, private, now escort services could be found by slyly looking through the phone book or consulting a trusted friend, and prostitutes walked the street of the U.S.’s most forward and dynamic cities. In New York City, a proposal was even sent to Major John Lindsay to make the now incredibly seedy Times Square area a red-light district by legalizing prostitution.

Lindsay didn’t go for it. In fact, he encouraged an increase in a police force targeting those who looked for sex outside of the home[3]. And therefore of those in the public spotlight who got busted for eliciting sex.

Before this period, it seems maybe no one knew how to publicize those who hired escorts or paid prostitutes for sex. In general news was still relatively slow compared to the coming decades, and a reporter had to be in the right place at the right time to catch a story. Politicians and celebrities had a bit more leeway when sneaking a little on the side. As women’s rights were still gaining a foothold, it was not also completely uncommon for a man to have a long-term mistress, one whom they might have even found from the pleasant company of a hired escort.

Yet several high-profile politicians did get nabbed during this period, and not in the dirty NYC or Los Angeles or even Chicago.

Democratic Representative of Louisiana Joe D. Waggonner Jr solicited sex from an undercover cop posing as a prostitute in squeaky-clean Washington DC in 1976.

Utah Congressman Allan Howe also solicited police officers for sex in 1976 on two separate occasions in Salt Lake City.

New York Representative Fred Richmond was caught in 1978 soliciting sex from a 16-year old male prostitute in Washington.

Waggonner was somewhat of a fireball as a politician before his outing. He was a staunch segregationist who opposed many of the federal programs to end segregation. Just two years before being busted in 1976, Waggonner hosted Richard Nixon in his first public appearance since the Watergate scandal, and opposed Nixon’s impeachment. After his own scandal Waggonner did win re-election, but retired soon after in 1978.

Allan Howe didn’t fare as well. Along with 30 days in prison (even after a second appeal) and a $150 fine, Howe lost re-election in 1978 and left politics for his law practice[4]. But his was a rather cut and dry case, as transcripts of his solicitation prove he was no first-timer when looking for sex:

“Hi, honey, what are you doing?”
“Not much, what are you doing?”
“Just looking for some fun.”
“Like what?”
[ describes what he’s looking for ]
“O.K. How much do you want to spend?”
“It depends on what I get.”
“Anything you want.”
“O.K. Sounds good.”
“How much is it worth to you?”
“I usually go about $20.”[5]

Not only was Howe busted outright, he was also evidently a cheapskate.

Fred Richmond seemed to fare the best out of these three – for a while, at least. After getting caught soliciting sex from a male minor, he apologized and said he “made bad judgments involving [his] private life[6].” Honesty got him so far as reelection. But four years later he admitted to tax evasion, marijuana possession and trying to get cocaine through staff members.

These are just three examples of many politicians who got caught looking for sex in the 1970s, and those who got away with it can thank the absence of the internet and the presence of dark streets and dirty cities.

While none of these three might be considered for the most moral man on the planet award, it is smart to remember that all three were elected to serve in a public office, and not just once. Not one of the three could be completely labeled a “bad guy”. Waggonner had a wife and kids. Howe spent a good portion of his post-scandal life lobbying for national parks[7]. Richmond spent his great wealth on many charitable organizations in New York.

This leads us to the question: did the 70s really push gender and sexual relations so much that even our elected officials started to explore? Or were their exploits a result merely of public exposure?


  1. http://is.gd/xFohWI [back]
  2. http://micpohling.wordpress.com/2008/03/14/us-marriage-and-divorce-rates-1970-2004/ http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18600304/ns/us_news-life/t/us-divorce-rate-falls-lowest-level/ [back]
  3. http://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/a-1970s-proposal-to-legalize-prostitution/ [back]
  4. http://www.media.utah.edu/UHE/h/HOWE,ALLEN.html [back]
  5. http://is.gd/59ZKjM [back]
  6. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/congress.htm [back]
  7. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/798966/Former-Rep-Allan-Howe-dies-at-73.html [back]