Prostitution politics and feminist activism in modern America: Sophonisba breckinridge and the morals court in prohibition-era Chicago

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Abstract

In 1930, Sophonisba Breckinridge, a feminist social work professor at the University of Chicago, initiated a campaign to reform the branch of Chicago's Municipal Court system that dealt with prostitutes. A product of an international anti-prostitution movement, the Morals Court was considered a model reform at the time of its inception in 1913. Yet as scholars have observed, reformers' efforts to abolish prostitution resulted in repressive policies that sanctioned state control and police harassment of sex workers. Although most studies note feminist critiques of prostitution policies on civil libertarian grounds, few have explored this phenomenon, particularly after 1920. Breckinridge's crusade to secure civil rights for accused prostitutes in Prohibition-era Chicago offers a new perspective on the politics of prostitution, prompts a reexamination of American feminism after the achievement of suffrage, and sheds light on current debates about the international traffic in women.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-164
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Women's History
Volume25
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2013

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