Header Graphic
The Curfew Tolls the Knell of Parting Day


This article appeared in the City of Dayton Annual Report for 1943


The Curfew Tolls the Knell of Parting Day

by Lulu B. Sollers

Supervisor, Bureau of Policewomen

     On June 2, 1943, the City Commission of Dayton enacted Dayton’s first Curfew Ordinance. The purpose is to regulate the presence of minors under the age of fifteen years in public streets and other places between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.; defining duties of parents or others having the care of minors; providing for arrest and penalties for violation thereof; repealing ordinances in conflict therewith and declaring an emergency.

     Due to war time conditions now prevailing, juvenile criminal delinquency has so increased in the City of Dayton as to become a menace to the preservation of public peace, safety, health, morals, and welfare, making this action imperative. The ordinance stipulates it shall be unlawful for any minor under the age of fifteen years to loiter, idle, wander, stroll or play in or upon the public streets, highways, roads, alleys, parks, public places, public building, places of amusement and entertainment or vacant lots between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. of the following day, official City time.

     It shall be unlawful for the parent, guardian or other adult person having the custody of a minor under the age of fifteen years to knowingly permit such minor to violate any of the above unless the minor is upon an emergency errand or legitimate business directed by his or her parent, guardian or other adult person having the custody and care of the minor. In violation of any of the above they shall be guilty of misdemeanor and be fined not more than one hundred (100) dollars or confined in the Workhouse not more than 30 days or punished by both said fine and imprisonment for each offense.

     Although this is Dayton’s first curfew law, there was some very active consideration and publicity given to such a measure during the First World War, as there existed at that time very similar conditions as those which prevail today, but before its enactment the Armistice was signed and as camps were abandoned and soldiers withdrawn, the need was not so apparent and the movement was not further considered.

     Now we are again in the midst of war with a greater and more serious need for the enforcement of a Curfew Law than ever before. In view of the increase of crime among children and the need for parental interest and control, the Church Federation early in the year began a study of conditions and sought the advice of the courts and attorneys as to its legality and possible enactment. The enthusiasm of the Church Federation was stimulated by the ready cooperation of the schools, mothers’ clubs and other interested groups.

     Naturally some skepticism existed, but this was overcome by the whole-hearted and unanimous vote of the City Commission who passed the ordinance, which was signed by the Mayor the same day of its passage as an emergency measure by reason of war time conditions which have overtaxed the law-enforcing agencies of the City of Dayton. The City officials have been highly commended for the promptness of the enactment.

     The history of the curfew is quite interesting. The word curfew, from couvre – few – (French), means to cover the fire. The ringing of a bell at nightfall was originally designed as a signal to the inhabitants to cover their fires, extinguish lights and retire to rest. This practice is said to have been instituted in England by William the Conqueror, in all probability as a safeguard against fires, but the English in early days regarded the curfew as a badge of servitude. Originally the hour set for the ringing of the curfew was 8:00 p.m., but was also rung at 9:00 p.m. The bell in each village or community which tolled the curfew became known as the curfew bell. In certain parts of rural England the custom is still kept by ringing the bell at 9:00.

     The curfew bell was introduced into the United States early in the nineteenth century, but without regularity of practice. About 1880, Col. Alex Hogeland, who has been called “the father of the curfew law,” introduced an ordinance in Omaha, Nebraska, compelling the youths to absent themselves from steamboat landings, railroad stations and low variety shows. Omaha has recently passed a curfew ordinance which went into effect July 28, 1943. This ordinance repealed all previous ones.

     In 1894 the Omaha ordinance was somewhat changed and modified and adopted in Lincoln, Nebraska. It was in full force until the compilation and revision of their ordinances in 1936, at which time the curfew law was considered somewhat of an obsolete issue and was repealed.

     In 1894, in Indianapolis, the adoption of the curfew ordinance was urged, and since that time the law was generally enforced in three thousand cities and towns in this country. The officials of many of these towns report a decrease of 80% in the arrest of boys and young men under the provisions of the law. The former objections to the law have ceased.

     In 1898 a consensus of opinion was taken in 300 towns where the curfew law was in operation and all reports showed that there was a decided improvement in the youths morally and socially. The curfew law in general use provides that all children under fifteen years of age shall not be on the streets at night after 9:00 p.m. in summer and 8:00 p.m. in winter without the written consent of parent of guardian.

     The Curfew Ordinance has been recognized as a crime reducer, child protector and home builder.