"The Social Evil": Female Prostitution During the Progressive Era

Nell Damon, University of New Mexico
Lisa Broidy, University of New Mexico
Elizabeth Cauffman, University of Pittsburgh

This paper examines the labeling and etiology of prostitution during the Progessive Era. Analyses examine the dynamics of prostitution in a sample of five hundred female offenders, drawing upon quantitative and qualitative data collected by Sheldon and Eleanor Blueck (Glueck and Glueck 1934). The Gluecks conducted a longitudinal study of female offending, examining the life histories of five hundred female offenders confined to Massachusetts' Reformatory for Women at Framingham between 1910 and 1925. While the Glueck study is not a study of "prostitution," it is, by and large, a study of the social control of female sexuality. The study paints a detailed picture of the social forces impinging on women's lives in Progressive America--especially the lives of poor, immigrant, or ethnic minority women. We ground our studh in two literatures: literature on the social control of female sexuality in the Progressive Era, and literature on the etiology of prostitution. We examine the social and contextual character of women labeled and processed as prostitutes and the factors shaping theiry entry into prostitution.

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Updated 05/20/2006