This is a Digital Archive and companion website for the book Sex for Sale: Six Progressive-Era Brothel Dramas (University of Iowa Press, 2015) by Katie N. Johnson. In early twentieth-century U.S. culture, prostitution was a matter of fascination for the stage. While known mainly for its social reforms, the Progressive Era was also obsessed with prostitution, sexuality, and women’s changing roles in the modern era. By the 1910s, plays about prostitution (or “brothel dramas”) had inundated Broadway, where they sometimes became long-running hits and other times sparked fiery obscenity debates. This website offers excerpts of some of these plays, along with cultural analysis, photographs, and production histories. The result is a history of U.S. theatre that reveals the brothel drama’s crucial role in shaping attitudes toward sexuality, birth control, immigration, urbanization, and women’s work.

We invite you to click around the site and examine more about these plays and primary documents that shaped their reception. Read about historical contexts, the connection to the big screen, the Red Light Writers, or the brothel afterlife in current conversations.


Red Light Writers

“Salomania was raging and US audiences in both high- and lowbrow venues hungrily consumed the bodies of dancers representing the passionate, sexually desiring girl, much as they consumed images of prostitution on stage.” –Marlis Schweitzer

“Salomania! The Salome Dance Craze” by Marlis Schweitzer


Listen to Interview with Katie Johnson

Interview with Katie Johnson by Brian Valkulsas about Sex for Sale: Six Progressive-Era Brothel Dramas on KSCJ Radio in Sioux City, Iowa. Aired May 2015.

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