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Sexual Politics: Prostitution and Social Purity

This week’s seminar continues with the theme of purity and pollution, exploring medico-moral systems of knowledge and power as related to the surveillance of sexuality and mapped on to attitudes towards birth control, prostitution and venereal disease.

The focus will be mainly on primary sources and film material, try to look briefly at the Margaret Sanger papers (accessed through the NLM site: go to history of medicine collections, on-line catalogues, locater plus, then search under Margaret Sanger, Margaret Sanger Papers Project (electronic resource) – you need to register which is straightforward)


Primary sources

* Jalland and Hooper, Women from Birth to Death, Parts 3.3, 4.1 and 4.5.

* Eleanor S. Riemer and John C. Fout (eds), European Women. A Documentary History, 1789-1945 (1983), selected extracts from Part 4.

* Extracts from Lesley Hall (ed.), Outspoken Women: An Anthology of Women’s Writing on Sex, 1870-1969 (2005).

* Extracts from Postwar Venereal Disease Control. Proceedings, National Conference, St. Louis, Missouri, November 1944 ( Washington, 1945).

In the session we will view three films around the topic of venereal disease control in the US during and immediately after World War II: ‘Venereal Disease Rapid Treatment Center (1944, 10 mins), ‘Easy to Get’ (1947, 22 mins) and ‘The Miracle of Living’ (1947, 39 mins)

Key Seminar Reading

Allan Brandt, No Magic Bullet: A Social History of VD in the United States since 1880 (1985).

Frank Mort, Dangerous Sexualities: Medico-Moral Politics in England since 1830 (1987, new edn 2000).

Linda Gordon, The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America (2002).

* Linda Gordon, ‘Voluntary motherhood: the beginnings of feminist birth control ideas in the United States’ in Rima D. Apple and Janet Golden (eds), Mothers & Motherhood: Readings in American History (1997), 423-43 and Judith Walzer Leavitt, Women and Health in America, 2nd edn, pp.253-68.

* Andrea Tone, ‘Contraceptive consumers: gender and the political economy of birth control in the 1930s’, in ibid., pp.306-325.

Roy Porter and Lesley Hall, The Facts of Life: The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain, 1650-1950 (1995), esp. chs 8-11.

Mary Spongberg, Feminizing Venereal Disease: The Body of the Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century Medical Discourse (1997).

Maria Luddy, Prostitution and Irish Society 1800-1914 (2007).

Additional Reading

Sheila Jeffreys, ‘Women and sexuality’, in June Purvis (ed.), Women’s History. Britain, 1850-1945 (1995), 193-216.

Lucy Bland, English Feminism & Sexual Morality 1885-1914 (1995).

F.B. Smith, ‘The Contagious Disease Acts reconsidered’, Social History of Medicine, 3 (1990), 197-215 (and responses in subsequent issues).

Susan Kingsley Kent, Sex & Suffrage in Britain 1860-1914 (1987), esp. chs 2 and 4.

M. Sigsworth and T.J. Wyke, ‘A study of Victorian prostitution and venereal disease’, in Martha Vicinus (ed.), Suffer and be Still: Women in the Victorian Age 1972), 77-99.

Paula Bartley, Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in England, 1860-1914 (2000), esp. Part IV.

Judith Walkowitz, Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class and the State (1980).

Judith Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (1992).

Michael Mason, The Making of Victorian Sexual Attitudes (1994).

Ellen Ross, Love and Toil: Motherhood in Outcast London, 1870-1918 (1993), ch. 4.

* Patricia Knight, ‘Women and abortion in Victorian and Edwardian England’, History Workshop Journal, 4 (1977), 57-68.

Patricia Branca, Silent Sisterhood: Middle-Class Women in the Victorian Home (1975), ch. 7.

Angus McLaren, Twentieth-Century Sexuality: A History (1999), esp. chs 3 and 4.