Save the Girls! American's Fear of White Slavery
Save the Girls! examines the white slavery scare of the early 20th century. Analyzing the Mann Act and using New York white slavery primary sources as a detailed case study, the paper casts doubt on the existence of white slavery. Neither the Mann Act nor the sensational white slavery trials held in New York actually uncovered a criminal ring of white slave traders.
First the paper gives a brief overview on the Mann Act. Then using newspaper articles from the 1910s, it tells the detailed story of the white slavery hysteria in New York. The paper then proceeds to analyze why American society was so heavily influenced by these implausible tales of white slavery. The author argues that a unique convergence of social pressures, combined with the reform-minded Progressive movement led to a society that was willing to accept the existence of white slavery.
At the turn of the century, the practice of prostitution was pervasive in most large cities in the United States. The pimp system was gaining in popularity and prostitution was becoming a big business. In addition, society was dramatically changing. A huge influx of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, along with African-Americans from the South, were changing the composition of northern cities. The status of women was in flux because more and more women were abandoning the traditional domestic sphere and moving to the city in search of employment. The social hygiene movement had opened the door to discussions of taboo subjects such as prostitution and sex. Moreover, unlike the Victorians, the Progressive reform movement did not tolerate prostitution as a necessary evil. Thus the pervasiveness of prostitution could no longer be ignored. These social pressures created an American climate that was perfect for accepting the tales of white slavery as truth.
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