Modern Woes: Early Twentieth-Century American Reformers’ Critique of the “New Woman” and Modern Urban Life in Anti-Sex Trafficking Fiction
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In the early twentieth century, when American authors of so-called “white slavery” literature wrote about their fear of white middle-class young women being sexually enslaved and trafficked, they also revealed their fears around the wider changes sweeping through American society. During the Progressive Era, a new moral panic was engulfing the United States. The movement against what reformers described as “white slavery” was one prominent response to Americans’ fears. In the 1980s, historians debated the myth verses reality of so-called “white slavery.” Later, historian Mara L. Keire reinterpreted the movement against the purported trafficking of white women when she viewed the fiction reformers wrote in response to the problem with the same credibility as vice commissions. This project compares literature by these authors in terms of purity-based rhetoric against modernity. This project will examine four works of what scholars have described as “white slavery” literature written between 1909 and 1912. These white, male middle-class authors exhibited a deep uneasiness for modernity and, as a result, the developments they saw as connected to it: increased urbanization, changing cultural norms, and changes in women’s societal roles. They feared the erosion of the traditional American way of life as people lost sight of “appropriate” morals going into a new American era. They defined “white slavery” as a modern urban problem that was hidden behind an enticing urban glamour. In contrast, these authors portrayed rural life, and the people that lived there, as the antithesis to urban life, and thus modernity, in order to invoke connotations for their audiences of a simpler, more positive imagined past.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Imagined womanhood -- Urban nightmares -- Pastural dreams -- Conclusion
M.A. (Master of Arts)