The Problem of the Ages: Prostitution in the Philadelphia Imagination, 1880-1940
|Haller, Mark H., 1928-
|Adams, James Hugo
|An ever-present figure throughout much of the nineteenth century, the prostitute existed in a state divorced from "traditional" womanhood as a shadowy yet "necessary" evil, and was largely seen as a static element of the city. The archetypes of the "endangered maiden" and the "fallen woman" were discursive creations evolving from an inchoate form to a more sharply defined state that were designed to explain the prostitute's continued existence despite the moral objections voiced by religious and social reformers. These archetypes functioned in an agrarian/proto-industrial society; however, under pressures of urbanization, industrialization, and population mobility, these archetypes were gradually supplanted by sharper, more emotionally loaded archetypes such as the "White Slave" and the trope of the "Vice Syndicate" to explain the prostitute. In this manner Progressive-Era social and moral reformers could interpret prostitution in general and the prostitute in particular within the framework of their understanding of a contentious social environment. In moving away from a religious framework towards a more scientific interpretation, the concept of prostitution evolved from a moral failing to a status analogous to a disease that infected the social body of the state. However, because the White Slave and the Vice Syndicate were discursive creations based upon anecdotal interpretations of prostitution as a predatory economic system, their nebulous nature encouraged a crisis mentality that could not survive a concrete examination of their "problem." Realities of race, class, and gender, as well as the fluid nature of the urban environment as well as non-moral concerns rendered the new archetypes and tropes slippery, and applicable to any reform-oriented argument. By the later years of the Progressive Era anti-vice discourse ceased to advocate moral arguments calling for the rescue of the prostitute and instead became a vehicle to articulate non-moral concerns such as political reform, social order, and female economic suffrage. After the First World War, the archetype of the White Slave collapsed in the face of women's suffrage and sexual agency, and the prostitute once more reverted to a state analogous to pre-Progressive cultural interpretations of prostitution.
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|History, United States
|The Problem of the Ages: Prostitution in the Philadelphia Imagination, 1880-1940
|Varon, Elizabeth R., 1963-
|Cutler, William W.
|Ruth, David E.
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