The Prostitute, the Soldier, and the Individual Girl: The Fight for Morality in World War I, Lancaster and Beyond
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Over the course of the war, the type of women who were considered threats to society changed, as did the methods reformers instituted to address such problems. Local organizations competed to govern female sexuality in the city of Lancaster during World War I. This campaign had its roots in the national crusade against prostitution in the early twentieth century. These local trends were connected to and expanded in the national realm. Working with the information concerning women in wartime Lancaster, I will show how these local attitudes shaped national programs and were influenced by prevailing national campaigns to identify and remedy the sources of venereal diseases. Women of all kinds became the focal point – and often direct targets – of the fight to protect soldiers after America’s entrance into World War I in 1917. In the war years, social criticism grew to encompass many working-class girls or any girl seen as “wayward,” a historical term often implying the potential for inappropriate sexual or moral behavior as defined by the local authorities. Charity girls were major players in this national crusade against sexual deviancy. Both within Lancaster and around the whole country, these girls pushed the boundaries of acceptable sexual behavior. Charity girls exchanged sexual favors of varying degrees for access to entertainment and commercial culture; this was known as treating. Analyses of events that occur later in the war allow us to understand how this shift in focus became critical. Furthermore, after relating the war’s legacy of patriarchy and punishment, I will delve into the importance of the International Conference of Women Physicians that took place after the war and look into the deeper implications for postwar society. Differing greatly in their attitudes towards women’s sexuality as well as the methods they found most effective in addressing the issue, the Law and Order Society and YWCA were at odds during the war. The YWCA hosted lecturers on sexual education and healthy behavior, while the Law and Order Society sought to protect soldiers by launching campaigns to arrest any women seen as sexually deviant.
Franklin and Marshall College Archives, Undergraduate Honors Thesis 2009
- F&M Theses Collection