Advocate of Moral Reform (1835)

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"You can trust the landlord with your trunk, for the law holds him answerable for all you commit to his keeping.  But you must stand guard over your own virtue, for no renumeration can redress its loss when force of art have taken it."

--The Advocate (1840)


Sarah Ingraham is standing outside taking notes. She keeps track of every man who enters a House and publishes his name in the newspaper.  Sarah was the first editor of the first American newspaper put out entirely by women, for women -- the editor, the reporters, even the printers, were women.  They were members of the American Female Moral Reform Society, a group dedicated to stamping out prostitution in the United States. What makes their journal different from the typical reform organ of the time was that they did not condemn the women for being prostitutes, rather, they decided that men were the problem.  Men were seducers, and once a young woman was ruined, she had no legal recourse.  She certainly couldn't get a good man to wed her. The community shunned her.   What else could she do but turn to life on the streets? The newsletter of the organization, The Advocate of Moral Reform, regularly printed stories about good girls seduced and abandoned to fend for themselves. Its goal was to educate young women to recognize a "libertine" when they saw one, and show them how to exert moral pressure on young men so that they would not visit prostitutes.  The organization also ran "safe houses" for women  who came to the big city -- offering shelter and training for "respectable" employment.  The group was also successful at getting legislation passed. In New York state, for example, they were instrumental in passing statutory rape laws. Prior to that, there had been no minimum age of consent.
    Their diagnosis of the causes of prostitution were actually pretty close to the mark. In the late 1850's,  somebody actually surveyed prostitutes and asked them why they were in the business (fancy that, asking the women themselves!). As you may guess, the number one motive was monitary: sex workers made much more than sweat shop employees. However, coming in at number three was a reason related to seduction: these women had run off with men who later abandoned them. Given the morals of the era, that the organization actually referred to these "fallen" ones as "sisters" is remarkable.
    The Advocate remained in production until a brief interruption for the Civil War. It returned as The Advocate and Family Guardian and survived under this name until 1941. But after the war, it became more interested in saving orphans, and tried to pretend that the group had never actually referred to prostitutes as "sisters."
Obviously, the moral reformers had no respect for prostitution as a profession -- they only worked to get women out. The House of Rhetoric has respect for the working courtesan, but since we do not believe in involuntary servitude, we salute their efforts to end the exploitation of innocence by dishonest individuals. So, we let Sarah hang around and take her notes.


buttonThe Prostitute's Education Network (Sarah would faint!)


buttonRead Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephan Crane

buttonAn historical article on the relationship between the theatre and prostitution.

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