Protecting the nation’s private homes by policing the public sphere research Note

By Kristopher A. Nelson
in June 2018

200 words / 1 min.
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From Molly McGarry: “Beginning in the 1860s, reformers attempted to protect the nation’s private homes by policing the public sphere.”


Beginning in the 1860s, reformers attempted to protect the nation’s private homes by policing the public sphere. Temperance advocates, for example, urged controls on establishments serving liquor in order to keep men from bringing vice home to wives and children. In a parallel logic, reformers, including many nineteenth-century feminists, fought the “contamination” of and by prostitutes with the knowledge that disease contracted in the public sphere could infect women whose husbands frequented prostitutes. Accordingly, middle-class women and children needed protection from male vice. Moral reform movements led to widespread changes in postwar American society, including new surveillance of urban vice districts and restrictions on taverns and liquor licensing.

— Molly McGarry, “Spectral Sexualities: Nineteenth-Century Spiritualism, Moral Panics, and the Making of U.S. Obscenity Law,” Journal of Women’s History 12, no. 2 (2000): 19.

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