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The Biggest Influencers of Sexuality/Morality Ideas during the Progressive Era: Annotated Bibliography

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Annotated Bibliography

Research Question:

What were the biggest influencers of Progressive sexuality/morality ideas during the era, and what institutionalized deterrents were set to counteract them,?

Secondary Sources:

Abrams, and Curran. ‘Wayward Girls and Virtuous Women: Social Workers and Female Juvenile Delinquency in the Progressive Era.’ Affiliate 15, no. 1 (2000): 49-64.

During the Progressive Era, many immigrants and working-class woman were being tried for crimes solely based on ethics and immorality, according to the article. There are various cases in which women were subject to punishments that included things such as being held under confinement in reformatories, as well as more drastic cases in which many were being sterilized. Abrams and Curran’s work discusses the criminalization of sexuality within populations of adolescent females. The significance of this work, in regards to my paper, lies within the ideals that were being maintained and enforced over these women. There was clearly a predominant opposition to the progressive morality/sexuality being exhibited by the girls, otherwise radical ways of enforcing this would not have taken place. Through understanding why this was able to take place, it will better paint the picture for the justifications of these actions.

Abrams, Laura S. ‘Guardians of Virtue: The Social Reformers and the “Girl Problem,” 1890‐1920.’ Social Service Review 74, no. 3 (2000): 436-52.

In her work ”Guardians of Virtue: The Social Reformers and the “Girl Problem,” 1890‐1920”, Laura S. Abrams examines the states of gender and sexuality during the Progressive Era. Abrams also investigates the construction of these “states of being”, as well as how these progressive ideas were viewed and or deterred due to them contrasting previous Victorian-based models of life. During the turn of the twentieth century, there were a lot of rapid social, economic, and cultural transformations taking place within urban industrial living centers. It is important to investigate these changes and social interactions in order to better understand the mindsets, as well as ideals, that people maintain during this period of change on both ends of the spectrum. This work largely pertains to women involved with being in the working-class, unmarried, and or immigrants. These social reformers challenged normative gender and sexuality expectations.

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Odem, Mary E. “Statutory Rape Prosecutions in California.” In Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920. Gender & American Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

In her chapter, “Statutory Rape Prosecutions in California”, Mary E. Odom covers the topic of the “Age-of-Consent Law” and the effect it had on young girls in and around Alameda County and Los Angeles County in 1915 California. Throughout her piece, she provides different examples of separate instances where cases were mishandled or treated unfairly because it was in regards to morality/sexuality and women. This work provides insight into the way the government handled these cases and how major reform was a necessity for this generally biased system. Odem also explains how some female victims were also scolded by judges and officials on different occasions for having ‘tempted’ defendants into immoral behavior. Somehow judges and lawyers would find a way to establish consent as well, which is a trend Odem brought up. They would establish this by using information such as what they were wearing, previous partners, and things that should not matter when it comes to statutory rape. This piece aids in my research by showing how against, even in non-direct ways, the government and people were in regards to sexuality and morality. As well as forms in which they were able to make these opposing ideas known.

Primary Sources:

National Endowment for the Humanities. ‘Sexuality/Morality Articles during the Progressive Era.’ Chronicling America | Library of Congress. Accessed March 07, 2019.

Through the use of “” for my research, I have found countless newspapers that deal with the issues of sexuality and morality during the Progressive Era. Many of the newspapers that I have read so far question the new progressive ideas of sexuality and morality through comparing them to previously established Victorian-based ways of life, as well as how the church believes people should act. There are plenty of headlines and stories within the newspapers that effectively discuss and outline issues/ideas of sexuality and morality during the Progressive Era. Newspapers serve as an excellent source in regards to my topic due to the collective ideals they show and explains. They show how people were generally thinking, thus making it easier for historians to gather ideas on what life was like during whichever period being studied.

Comstock Act/Sexuality Regulations

There were various ways in which sexuality was repressed during the Progressive Era. It is important to understand that laws and regulations, such as the Comstock Law, served as methods not merely just socially look down upon, but institutionalized ways to repress sexuality and encourage morality during this period. On 3 March 1873, Congress passed the new piece of legislation known as the Comstock Act. This statute defined contraceptives as wrong and immoral, thus making birth control a federal offense. The Comstock Act reflected the underlying American belief that contraceptives were unacceptable to society, and only sought to encourage more immoral promiscuity to go on. Through the analysis over the use of regulations and such which had been implemented/enforced during this period, information such a this contributes to my research by showing just how much grasp Victorian-based models of life had on society. As well as various methods of repression that were used during this period.

Progressive Era Films on Sexuality/Morality

During the age of reform American films were born, thus starting a new wave of information and ideas coming at people rapidly. These films took major social and economic issues during the Progressive era such as Birth control, Child labor, Immigration, Divorce, Prostitution, Corruption, Poverty, Prisons, Sexuality, and Women’s suffrage, rendering open dialogue and conversations on subjects that otherwise probably would not have been talked about as much. In regards to my research, early films offered raw and new ideas on sexuality and morality during this period which might prove useful in terms of transforming ideas.

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The Biggest Influencers of Sexuality/Morality Ideas during the Progressive Era: Annotated Bibliography. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from
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