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116 Chapter 8 FIGURINGVICE SEX,WOMEN,ANDWORKINKATEWALLERBARRETT’S EXHIBITIONISTRHETORIC Heather Brook Adams and Jason Barrett-Fox Knowing that public opinion is against us, and that the passing of the Kenyon “Red Light” Bill is certain, we, the inmates of the underworld, want to know how the public expects to provide for us in the future. We do not want “homes.” All we ask is that positions be provided for us. The majority will accept them. We must live somehow. We are human. —Letter to Congress from a “group of prostitutes,” New York Evening Journal, January 27, 1914. At the turn of the twentieth century, Progressive reformers fighting public vice focused much of their attention on urban centers and the “immoral” practice of prostitution. Sex for sale, an activity reliant on women prostitutes, had been largely tolerated by municipalities during the nineteenth century; this reluctant acceptance spurred appeals for reform as early as the 1890s that coalesced into a national anti-vice campaign by 1909 (Keire 9; Mumford 21). In 1913 reformers began the work of closing red-light districts across the country, seeking to eradicate prostitution through shuttering brothels and forcing prostitutes out of entertainment districts where “vice” was most common . The first such abatement law was enacted in Iowa, and US senator William Kenyon subsequently brought his state’s law to the District of Columbia (Hennigan 167). The resulting Kenyon Act is the exigence mentioned in the epigraph above. Although reformers’ battles against prostitution necessarily implicated the women who made this underground industry possible, the material conditions and needs of prostitutes as workers did not figure into rhetorics of reform. Instead, reformers generally advanced dramatic narratives of white slavery in which innocent “maidens” were captured and forced into prostitu- 117 Figuring Vice tion or accounts that warned of unified vice machines, or underground business syndicates, that represented coordinated municipal corruption (Adams 75–77; Keire 21). As the historian James H. Adams concludes from his study of Progressive Era efforts in Philadelphia, “Reformers constructed a paradigm of prostitution that corresponded poorly to the realities of the trade” (4). While sensational headlines fomented wide concern, a realistic assessment of vice as an industry employing female laborers eluded the public. The prostitutes’ letter to Congress, sobering rather than lurid, explicates the legitimate concerns of working women grappling with public policy born of moralistic public sentiment. This chapter identifies a set of rhetorical strategies used by Kate Waller Barrett, a Progressive Era leader who advocated on behalf of prostitutes through public writing that yoked the lure of sensationalism with a more realistic view of the vocation as an economic reality for a misunderstood portion of US women living in cities. Barrett retains but a spotty place in women’s history despite her leadership in both regional and national agencies addressing the well-being and rights of women and children. She rose to the rank of president of the National Council of Women, served as the organization’s international delegate, was selected by President Woodrow Wilson to attend the Versailles Conference at the close of World War I, and was appointed a special agent of the US Department of Labor to investigate international deportations of women and girls related to immoral activity. Barrett was also a founding member and vice-president of the League of Women Voters, represented her home state of Virginia in the national Congress of Mothers to which she was eventually elected chairwoman, and served as a delegate to the White House’s Conference on the Care of Delinquent Children, sponsored by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 (Holt, “White House”; Woolf 7–8). In addition to fulfilling these roles, earning a medical degree, and raising six children, Barrett ’s primary focus was oversight of the National Florence Crittenton Mission from 1909 until her death in 1925. The organization, founded by businessman -turned-evangelical-philanthropist Charles Nelson Crittenton, was an agency initially devoted to rescuing and ministering to prostitutes and later (largely under Barrett’s charge) providing residential care and rehabilitation to unwed mothers, including those who had been “vice” workers. To examine Barrett’s unique and unexpected contribution to discussions of vice, we analyze a series of nineteen articles that Barrett wrote for the Washington Times (hereafter Times) running from February through early April 1914, in which she responded—somewhat directly, but often indirectly—to the recently passed Kenyon Act. We contend that Barrett faced a rhetorical challenge in breaking through the din of sensationalism and using the deseg- 118 Heather...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780822987185
Related ISBN
9780822945888
MARC Record
OCLC
1113898346
Pages
303
Launched on MUSE
2019-08-28
Language
English
Open Access
No
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