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Dr. Barbara Antoniazzi


Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

Wayward Femininity: Progressivism, Prostitution and Performance in America (1888-1917)

Dissertation in Culture

Mentoring team:
First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Winfried Fluck
Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ursula Lehmkuhl
Third supervisor: Prof. Dr. Laura Bieger

This dissertation takes a fresh look at the Progressive Era, recasting the turn-of-the-century debate on gender roles and prostitution. Recapitulating and transcending extant studies on female delinquency, prostitution literature, and progressive womanhood, this work understands “female waywardness” as the critical intersection between the rise of female emancipation and the panic inspired by the period’s obsession with sexual enslavement. Concurrently, it explores the progressive ambivalence about compassion and control which unfolded alongside a war on prostitution that traversed the realms of law, medicine, literature, and politics. Drawing on theories of perfor-mativity, I develop “the wayward woman” as a capacious analytical category that encompasses all women who, countering the residual injunction of domesticity, brought new forms of femininity into the light of the public sphere: not only the activist, the professional, and the divorcee, but also the female breadwinner, the charity girl, and the urban woman of color, among many others. This book investigates the continuum of waywardness that stretches from the high-minded New Woman to the ever-victimized “white slave” as a cultural battlefield where numerous women stepped across the boundaries of class, race, and respectability to claim new public personas. At the same time it reads the preoccupation with sexual slavery both as a symptom of and an antidote to this wave of change. Through an innovating collection of sources which bring together sociological writings, novels, plays, movies, and legal documents, this work rearticulates the tensions of the Progressive Era between gender roles, blackness and whiteness, reformers and reformed, the citizens and the state. It will be of much interest to students and scholars in the fields of American studies, women’s studies, and performance studies.

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft