Historical Contexts

This section of the website provides some crucial contextualization of Progressive-Era culture, theatre, cinema, and sexuality debates. At the same time that many of these brothel dramas were being staged, key legislation was being drafted regarding prostitution, sexuality debates were being held, censorship battles were waged, demonstrations for women’s suffrage were held, and cultural wars were being fought.  While certainly not comprehensive, the historical contexts tab offers insights into key issues at the center of early twentieth-century US society: prostitution, birth control, immigration, obscenity, censorship, race, socialism, white slavery, and fashion. From the riveting covers of The Masses, to news reports about women being abducted from urban centers, these primary documents provide a snapshot of the cultural landscape in which brothel dramas occurred.

In the “Articles of Interest by Year” section, we gather primary materials from a number of publications in order to illustrate the broader cultural contexts that shaped debates surrounding prostitution and theatrical and cinematic portrayals of commercialized vice. The materials represent a range of interests for diverse audiences. Articles from Theatre Magazine and Life Magazine, which enjoyed a broad readership, are placed alongside those from The Masses, a radical socialist publication that was broadly influential, though not widely distributed. Often these auxiliary articles directly relate to the personalities involved in our central plays. Key playwrights are represented, such as John (Jack) Reed, who was a frequent contributor to The Masses; we also include writings by cultural commentators who did not engage with the production of brothel dramas yet still engage with many of the issues and debates that sparked their emergence.

 –Tyler Groff and Katie N. Johnson

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