Rockefeller Archive Center

Rockefeller Archive Center Research Reports are created by recipients of research travel stipends and by many others who have conducted research at the RAC. The reports demonstrate the breadth of the RAC's archival holdings, particularly in the study of philanthropy and its effects. Read more about the history of philanthropy at Also, see the RAC Bibliography of Scholarship, a comprehensive online database of publications citing RAC archival collections.
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Purifying the World: Americans and International Sexual Reform, 1865-1933

January 1, 2017

In the wake of the United States Civil War, a transatlantic network of former abolitionists launched a new movement that made sex -- hitherto the jurisdiction of the family and the local community -- into an international political issue, intimately linked to imperialism, militarism, immigration, labor, temperance, and women's rights. My dissertation, "Purifying the World: Americans and International Sexual Reform, 1865-1933," examines American reformers who saw sexuality as the key international humanitarian and political issue of their day. My project tracks this reform movement from its beginning -- with the work of American abolitionists and missionaries who turned their attention to stateregulated prostitution in the British Empire after the Civil War -- to its denouement in the activities of interwar Americans who traveled the globe investigating the "traffic in women" for the League of Nations. For over a halfcentury, American reformers participated in pitched international debates about how to address sexual wrongs. As they did so, they wove together religious, medical, and legal discourses in ways that made sexual matters the provenance of international politics.

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