Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Farrell, Sean

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of History


The late nineteenth century ushered in an era of global moral panic focusing on prostitution, venereal disease, and working-class female immigrants’ sexuality. By the early 1900s, European and American social reformers cooperated with national governments and immigration bureaus to stop “white slavery,” or the forced movement of white European and American women worldwide for purposes of commercial sex. This dissertation focuses on international trafficking in women and the ways in which accompanying moral panics developed from 1885 to 1915. It demonstrates how middle-class and nationalist assumptions about lower class sexuality, prostitution, and migration resulted in bourgeois social reform that influenced legislation on female sexuality in the United States, France, and Great Britain. While the specter of an organized traffic in women resulted in efforts to stop white slavery in these three countries, different aspects of the perceived crisis took precedence in national campaigns against trafficking that ultimately failed to address the root causes of sex trafficking. This dissertation places the national fights against white slavery in an international context to explain the differing ways in which early twentieth-century moral panics over sexuality developed, proliferated, and influenced national and international politics.


230 pages




Northern Illinois University

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