Daughter of William G. McCormick; married John Slade
At the age of seven Caroline Slade moved with her family to Saratoga Springs, New York, where she resided for the rest of her life. She attended Skidmore College and married a lawyer and lecturer at the college. A county social worker for many years, Slade organized and became first director of the Saratoga County Board of Child Welfare. She was also an adviser to the Children's Court. In 1933, she retired and began to write articles, short stories, and novels based on her social work experience.
All Slade's writings portray in realistic detail the lives of the urban poor, and all are strong indictments of the inequities of American society. In The Triumph of Willie Pond (1940), Job's House (1941), and Lilly Crackell (1943), the social welfare system comes under particular attack as Slade reveals the absurdities of the welfare bureaucracy, the insensitive attitudes of many social workers, and the loss of independence and self-esteem suffered by welfare recipients.
The most striking of Slade's works are her three novels about prostitution. These are unusual not only because there are few novels of prostitution by American women but also in the realism and honesty of the treatment. Slade cuts through a variety of stereotypes; her prostitutes are neither "nymphomaniacs" nor innocents who "fall" through one misstep.
Sterile Sun (1936) consists of the life stories of three prostitutes, related in their own words. In Margaret (1946), an adolescent girl procures her school friends for a group of men. Mrs. Party's House (1948), Slade's best and most complex novel, is told from the point of view of a poverty-stricken widow who becomes a madam and in the process undergoes a complete education on the nature of prostitution. Mrs. Party is surprised to learn it is not "vice rings" which create and maintain the institution of prostitution, but "good men"—the grocer down the street, the judge who tells her she "helps society," the sheriff who compliments her on her clean, disease-free house ("This way, men are safer"). Mrs. Party gradually loses her initial feelings of guilt and begins to see herself as a "pure" woman, a savior of society; she dreams of "hundreds of clean Houses, a chain of them, little islands free of disease, oases in the midst of killing sand, stepping stones leading the way to a great clean up."
The irony of society's definition of purity runs through all Slade's novels of prostitution. At the same time that Slade portrays the economic basis of prostitution, she exposes the hypocrisy of the ideal of female purity, which she sees as working hand in hand with the economic system. Slade's characters—prostitutes, pimps, and "good men" alike—believe that virginity and ignorance of sex are the center of virtue for women. However, it is this ignorance which leads the young girls in Sterile Sun to prostitution and makes Margaret's schoolmates so easily victimized. Margaret, who is more aware, derives comfort from society's glorification of virginity. She does not feel the slightest guilt at procuring her friends, for she knows she is not a "bad girl"—she herself is still a virgin.
Slade's novels were popular and well received, although some reviewers complained about their flat characterization and case history flavor. In general, Slade's work is notable less for its literary merit than for its sensitive and realistic treatment of unusual subject matter. However, the quality of Slade's writing is high enough to lift her novels above the level of sociological tracts, and her effective use of irony saves the novels from sentimentality.
Farrell, J., "Issues and Writers," in SRL (12 April 1941).
American Novelists of Today (1951). TCAS.
—BARBARA A. WHITE