During the Progressive Era (1900 – 1920) there were so many plays about prostitution that critics bemoaned the prevalence of “vice plays,” “white slave plays,” or “brothel dramas,” as they were sometimes called. Indeed, during the early twentieth century a number of plays featured prostitutes, fallen women, and other characters from the underworld. Such plays became cautionary tales for young women who were striking out for the city, lest they be nabbed by madames posing as their relatives, or by young men who promised romance but trapped them in a brothel. The stage mirrored debates and anxieties expressed in other cultural discourse, often embodying the issues to create more understanding and sympathy for sex workers and women in poverty. As popular as they dramas were, they were also controversial and several of them became embroiled in some of the most famous obscenity trials of the century.
Sex for Sale, features just six of those brothel dramas: 3 one-act plays (The Web, Moondown, Cocaine) and three full-length plays (Ourselves, My Little Sister, and A Shanghai Cinderella –later renamed East is West). This website offers snapshots of those plays as well as full scripts of other plays which were not included in that collection.
We invite you to click around and read about, or perform, these vital dramas, which provide an insight into Progressive-Era US culture.
–Katie N. Johnson