Purifying the World: Americans and International Sexual Reform, 1865-1933
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Payne, Eva B.
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CitationPayne, Eva B. 2017. Purifying the World: Americans and International Sexual Reform, 1865-1933. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation shows how and why many American reformers came to see sexual issues as the central humanitarian, political, and ethical problems of their day. It tracks the movement for sexual reform from its origins, among American abolitionists and missionaries who became concerned with state-regulated prostitution in the British Empire, through to the movement's denouement in the activities of Americans who traveled the globe after the First World War to investigate sex trafficking for the League of Nations. As American social reformers participated in debates over prostitution, the legal age of consent, venereal disease, and sex trafficking, they wove together religious, medical, and legal discourses in ways that placed sexual matters at the heart of international politics. This work examines how American reformers worked with allies abroad, who both influenced and resisted their efforts. Reformers constructed sexual wrongs overseas as problems that demanded U.S. intervention, first through moral and religious suasion and later through state involvement. In doing so, they reconfigured American conceptions of gender, sexuality, race, and national identity.
The dissertation intervenes in debates about the history of gender and sexuality, U.S. internationalism, and U.S. imperialism in three ways. First, it shows the development of what I term American sexual exceptionalism, a belief that the U.S. had the most modern and scientific mores and laws about sex, which undergirded democratic governance. By the early nineteenth century, many American reformers believed that to spread democracy they also had to export American sexual morality. Second, while most scholars of sexuality and the state have focused their attentions on federal policies concerning marriage, homosexuality, and immigration, the dissertation instead locates the development of American sexual politics in the international reform efforts of American citizens, focusing on their attempts to change what they saw as corrupt and damaging forms of heterosexual behavior. Third, the dissertation argues that a particularly American mode of Protestantism shaped both the reformers’ focus on heterosexual sex and the international scope of their work, even as many came to insist on the scientific nature of their approaches to sexual problems. For many reformers of the era, Protestant sexual morality was integral to creating the healthy bodies and minds needed to make citizens fit for self-rule.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41142060
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