White Girlhood and the Social Evil: Moral Tragedy in Early Twentieth Century Chicago Dance Halls




Deskin, Madeline

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White Girlhood and the Social Evil: Moral Tragedy in early-Twentieth-Century Chicago Dance Halls examines how Progressive Era municipal courts and moral reformers sought to enact policies and launch city-coordinated investigations to limit participation in public Chicago dance halls. This paper explores the transition from white, sensationalized narratives that depicted young white girls fall into vice, particularly prostitution, to active investigations of "vice-ridden" amusements—the Chicago dance hall. Concerns about the prevalence of prostitution and fears of white slavery during the Progressive Era prompted moral reform campaigns to combat prostitution and vice markets. As part of their efforts to fight white slavery by upholding white girlhood, moral reformers believed that participation in amusements led to an immoral life—contaminating the aspect of "girlhood." Federal and local investigations called for states and cities to change their policies to protect white girlhood from moral temptation. The moral panic surrounding white girlhood focused on the dangers posed by new hetero-social recreational sites, like the dance hall. Reformers' and municipal courts' investigations of urban vice and Chicago's recreational dance halls suggested that such spaces stimulated seduction and white slavery and constituted a threat to young, white girlhood. Looking closely at dance hall investigations during the Progressive Era expands understanding of moral reformers and municipal courts' role in limiting participation in amusements to uphold white girlhood and prevent moral and urban decay.



white slavery, prostitution, public dance halls, Chicago, investigations, municipal governments, working class sexualities, moral reformers, Honors College


Deskin, M. (2022). White girlhood and the social evil: Moral tragedy in early twentieth century Chicago dance halls (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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