Category: History

Sex on the Border: Policing Women in Red Light Districts

In 2001, a Dallas Observer reporter stepped into a shadowy, smoke-filled room and narrowed his eyes to see through the blinking neon lights and deconstruct the American traveler’s fascination with the modern sex industry along the border. The image he projected, of women lined up against a crumbling wall in a run down bar, tells… Read more →

Let’s Question All Versions of the Myth of Perfect Motherhood

I would call it a “pet peeve,” but the stakes are higher: I can’t stand policy arguments based on inaccurate or misrepresented historical facts. My latest peeve-trigger? Claire Howorth’s cover essay in Time magazine, critiquing “The Goddess Myth: How a Vision of Perfect Motherhood Hurts Moms.” Now, I agree with much of Howorth’s criticism of… Read more →

Fleas, Fleas, Fleas

In September, I turned on Democracy Now! and came into a story about the mass extinction of a third of the world’s parasites. Although I made sure that my response to the story included the morally and ethically correct alarm and horror, I must admit my initial response was relief. After all, parasites are, um,… Read more →

VD in the Archives

For something that played such a prevalent role in life at the front, sex and venereal disease (or VD) have been largely underrepresented thus far in the public remembrance of the centenary of the First World War. In 1916, one in five of all admissions of British and Allied troops to hospitals in France and… Read more →

The Cultural Logic of Calories and Body Types

We were promised calorie labels. New York City has required them in chain restaurants since 2008 and California since 2009, but the Affordable Care Act mandated them nationwide. In April 2016, the FDA issued a “final rule” on the calorie-labeling requirement, resolving questions like whether movie theaters and alcoholic beverages were included (they were), and… Read more →

Civil War Soldiers’ Wet Dreams

The American Civil War is arguably the most written about topic in American history. Yet for all that has been researched and published, sexuality during the Civil War has been difficult to uncover. This is not due to lack of interest; instead, it is the product of the silences surrounding sexuality during the era. As… Read more →

Race, Sex Education, and the Age of Consent in South Africa

One of the best and most unexpected perks of researching the history of sex education in South Africa is receiving the occasional invitation to talk or write about my work. At the end of last year, I presented a lecture to a group of clever, articulate young women at the University of Johannesburg who were… Read more →

“I Would Rather Have My Own Mind”: The Medicalization of Women’s Behavior in Ireland, 1914-1920

When he brought her to the asylum, twenty-four-year old Katie’s father was asked to describe what behaviors or actions had marked her “attack.” He noted, first, that she suffered from “some uterine trouble,” and secondly, that she was “addicted to reading Novels, esp. Modn. cheap ones. Fond of amusement and gay society.”1 It sounds like… Read more →

To “Serve this Long Term at Home”: Robert Buffum, Mental Illness, and the Prison Trap

Just over a year after having the third-ever Medal of Honor pinned on his uniform for surviving months of retributive torture, Lieutenant Robert Buffum languished as a convicted criminal in the state penitentiary in Frankfort, Kentucky. Once a daring soldier trusted by his commanders to carry out behind-the-lines missions, Buffum had fallen prey to a… Read more →

Sisterhood Subpoenaed: Abortion on Trial at an 1892 Women’s Medical College

Courtroom dramas are a television staple. If the Good Wife isn’t your cup of tea, there is Law and Order, How to Get Away with Murder, Suits, or Judge Judy. These programs invite the viewer into the courtroom, to envisage themselves as the advocate, the judge, the jury, or the defendant. However, such role-play is… Read more →