"Modernism Gone Mad": Sex Education Comes to Chicago, 1913

by Jeffrey P. Moran
"Modernism Gone Mad": Sex Education Comes to Chicago, 1913
Jeffrey P. Moran
The Journal of American History
Start Page: 
End Page: 
Select license: 
Select License

"Modernism Gone Mad": Sex Education Comes to Chicago, 1913

Jeffrey P. Moran

"Certainly, it is important for the growing child to know his own body as it is to know arithmetic," said Ella Flagg Young, Chicago's superintendent of schools, in 1913. At the turn of the century, American educators were increasingly concerned about their students' health: at conferences and in educational periodicals, they discussed the hygiene of classroom design, the hygiene of seating, the hygiene of recess and fresh air-even the hygiene of mathematics. For all this solicitude for the body, however, Young and her allies were coming to realize that the Chicago schools utterly failed to convey certain essential anatomical knowledge. "So far as any information the Illinois school physiologies contain, is concerned," the superintendent explained, "people have no sex organs."'

Indeed, the Chicago public high schools, since their founding in 1856, had

generally omitted sexual topics without anyone taking notice, let alone complain-

ing. But that was about to change, not only in Chicago but throughout the nation.

As urban reformers grew increasingly concerned about sexual vice, prostitution,

and venereal disease in the first rwo decades of the twentieth century, they began

to suspect that these carnal errors were the direct result of the public's massive

sexual ignorance. If scholastic silence about sex did not safeguard innocence so

much as it invited error, argued reformers, then the schools' reticence about sex

was illogical and even dangerous. As an educational innovator and a longtime

ally of Chicago's Progressive reformers, Young was eager to enlist the public schools

in the campaign against vice. In June 1913, Young therefore rose before the

Chicago School Management Committee, a subcommittee of the Chicago Board

Jeffrey P. Moran received his Ph.D. in history from Harvard University in 1996. This essay received the Louis Pelzer Memorial Award for 1996. For their helpful comments on different versions of this article, I would like to thank Donald Fleming, Allan

M. Brandt, Bernard Bailyn, John M. Cooper, Michael Vorenberg, James Ivy, Jonathan Zimmerman, and the anonymous reviewers for the Journal of American History. Special thanks to David Thelen, Susan Armeny, and the Pelzer Committee. I am grateful, above all, to Susan Kang for her unique contributions.

Lowell [Massachusetts] Sun, quoted in "Sex Education," Vigilance, 27 (Dec. 1913), 6; "Sex Education in the Schools," ibid (Jan. 1914), 5.

The Journal of American History September 1996

of Education, and recommended that it institute for all students in the Chicago public secondary schools a series of lectures on what was coming to be known as "sex hygiene. "

Young's was the first attempt in American history to implement sex education in a citywide system of public schools, but the program's significance radiated beyond the confines of educational history. The Chicago movement for sex hygiene grew out of the Progressive reformers' peculiar analysis of urban decay, and it exemplified their novel tendency to seek to ground social order less in traditional agents of moral authority, such as the church or the family, and more in bureau- cracy, expertise, and scientific ways of kn~wing.~

That analysis and the responses to it would have far-reaching implications for social reform throughout the twenti- eth century.

Supporters of the "social hygiene'' movement (as the Progressive crusade against prostitution and venereal disease came to be known) were deeply threatened by evidence that individuals and institutions were failing to rebuff the modern city's temptations, but they were confident that they, as an enlightened elite, had the ability to stop the decay.* Eschewing the outmoded approaches of religious exhortation and external coercion, many reformers turned to sex education as a modern weapon for attacking the sexual vice and misery that seemed so characteristic of the new urban order. In contrast to the supposedly disintegrating moral agents of church, community, and home, public education in the early decades of the twentieth century was institutionally cohesive and increasingly self-assured. Sex education comported closely with the educated middle-class reformers' world view, for it promised to roll back the new culture's challenges to sexual respectability while it replaced the old enforcers of respectability with institutions more congenial to the reformers' embrace of science and bureaucratic rationality. The "Chicago

'Chicago Tribune, June 26, 1913, p. 8.

'On "Progressivism," see John D. Buenker, John C. Burnham, and Robert M. Crunden, Progressivism

(Rochester, Vt., 1977), 122; and Samuel P. Hays, The Response to Industrialism, 1881i-1914 (Chicago, 1957).

Progressivism corrects an older bias toward political interpretations of Progressivism, as in Peter G. Filene,

"An Obituary for 'The Progressive Movement,"'American Quarterly, 22 (Spring 1970), 20-34. For a general

interpretation, see Gary Gerstle, "The Protean Character of American Liberalism," American Historical Review,

99 (Oct. 1994), 1043-73.

After Chicago reformers introduced the term, newspapers seized on "social hygiene" as a comfortable and

capacious euphemism for sex reform, according to William F. Snow, "Progress, 1900-1915," Social Hygiene, 2

(Jan. 1916), 37. On sexuality in late Victorian middle-class self-definition, see Nathan G. Hale Jr., Freadand

the Americans: The Beginnings of Psychoanalysis in the United States, 1876-191 7 (New York, 1971), 24-46;

and John D'Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York,

1988), esp. 139-221. On Victorianism as the sexual oppression of women, see G. J. Barker-Benfield, "The

Horrors of the Half-Known Life: Aspects of the Exploitation of Women by Men" (Ph.D. diss., University of

California, Los Angeles, 1968); Steven Marcus, The Other Victonizns: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography

in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England (New York, 1974); Peter Cominos, "Late-Victorian Sexual Respectability

and the Social System," International Review of Social History, 8 (no. 1, 1963), 18-48; and Peter Cominos,

"Late-Victorian Sexual Respectability and the Social System," ibid (no. 2, 1963), 216-50. My interpretation of

Victorianism draws on Peter Gay, The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, vol. I: Education of the Senses

(New York, 1984); Peter Gay, "Victorian Sexuality: Old Texts and New Insights,"Amenkan Scholar, 49 (Summer

1980), 372-78; and Carl Degler, "What Ought to Be and What Was: Women's Sexuality in the Nineteenth

Century," in The American Family in Social-Histonial Perspective, ed. Michael Gordon (New York, 1978),

403-25. For a contrary view, see Steven Seidman, "The Power of Desire and the Danger of Pleasure: Victorian

Sexuality Reconsidered," Journal of Social History, 24 (Fall 1990), 47-67.

experiment," Ella Flagg Young's sex education program, was the most intimate expression of the broader tendency of public schools and other bureaucratic agencies to extend their influence over functions once reserved for the church and the home.'

But a significant number of Chicagoans resisted this intimate intrusion. This article, therefore, is about more than elite interpretations of social disorder and its solutions. As much as the Chicago experiment demonstrated the rise of the expert, it also underscored the popular opposition to this attempted ascendancy. Historians who have examined other, comparable aspects of the cultural trend away from communal sanctions and toward the rule of experts have typically confined their explorations to the elite level of experts and their ideas, leaving untouched the difficult question of popular reception. In particular, historians have avoided the story of popular antagonism toward bureaucracy, scientific natural- ism, and expertise, but events in Chicago would demonstrate that dissenters from these aspects of modernity were significant and, for a time, more powerful than the experts themsel~es.~

Opponents recognized that sex education was part of a fundamental break with the social order of the past, but, rather than cheer the arrival of the expert and of scientific ways of knowing, they decried the Progressives' modernizing pretensions. Thus, not only did Young's attempt to implement sex education expose the social aspirations of the national social hygiene movement and Progressive reform in general, but its controversial denouement also made clear that replacing the old institutions would not be easy or inevitable.

Chicago and Social Hygiene

Young's proposal for sex education was the sign of a society in rapid transition. "Five years ago such a notion would hardly have been understood," commented

'See James R. Cook, "The Evolution of Sex Education in the Public Schools of the United States, 1900- 1970" (Ed.D. diss., Southern Illinois University, 1972); Michael Imber, "Analysis of a Curriculum Reform Movement: The American Social Hygiene Association's Campaign for Sex Education, 1900-1930" (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1980); Wallace H. Maw, "Fifty Years of Sex Education in the Public Schools of the United States (1900-1950): A History of Ideas" (Ed.D. diss., University of Cincinnati, 1953); Bryan Strong, "Ideas of the Early Sex Education Movement in America, 1890-1920," History ofEducation Quarterly, 12 (Summer 1972), 129-61; and Dennis L. Carlson, "Ideological Conflict and Change in the Sexuality Curriculum," in Sexuality and the Curriculum, ed. James T. Sears (New York, 1992), 34-58.

See, for example, Thomas L. Haskell, ed., The Authority of Experts: Studies in History and Theory (Bloomington, 1984); BurtonJ. Bledstein, The Culture ofProfessionalism: The Middle Classandthe Development of Higher Education in Amenca (New York, 1976); and Dorothy Ross, The Ongins of American Social Science (New York, 1991). More relevant to sex education are Beth L. Bailey, "Scientific Truth . . . and Love: The Marriage Education Movement in the United States," Journal of Social History, 20 (Summer 1987), 711-32; and Beth L. Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century Amenca (Baltimore, 1988). See also the passing reference to professional sex educators as "a vital link between the managerial elite and mass reproduction," in Alan Dawley ,StrugglesforJustice: SocialResponsibihy and the Liberalstate (Cambridge, Mass., 1991), 308. I employ modernism to encompass bureaucracy, expertise, respect for rational apprehension as opposed to religious insight, and scientific ways of knowing, but modernism is an ambiguous term, suggesting to some such artistic impulses as cubism, stream-of-consciousness writing and to others the development of industry, technology, and urbanization. The aspects of modernism I investigate grew out of those latter developments, but they partake of intellectual elements from the former. For a caution about the term, see Daniel Joseph Singal, "Towards a Definition of American Modernism," Amencan Quarterly, 39 (Spring 1987), 7-26. The rest of that issue explores the artistic definition of "modernism"; see the special issue "Modernist Culture in America," ed. Daniel Joseph Singal, ibid

"The tragic climax of this young life was not reached in one step, but led there by easy
stages through the fascination of the dance hall," according to the original caption
to this drawing. Fear that such urban excitements would entice young
people into moral degradation prompted the movement for
sex education and social hygiene.
Reprinted from H. W. Lytle and John Dillon, From Dance
Hall to White Slavery (Chicago, 1912), 63.

a sympathetic Chicago Record-Herald editorialist, "today it is regarded as natural and commendable."' The sex education plan was indeed novel: Although a handful of individual teachers and principals throughout the country were quietly teaching some of the facts about sex and reproduction, nothing like a systematic program of sex education had ever been attempted in a large American city. But at least now it was conceivable, if not as universally commended as the editorialist hoped. Clearly, the context for education and sex had changed, and changed greatly, in the half decade or so before 1913. The Chicago experiment was the culmination of national trends in medicine, morality, and reform, trends that displayed them- selves with particular force in Chicago.

Chicago Record-Herald, June 21, 1913, p. 6

Sex education grew directly out of the social hygiene movement, which was gaining in influence by adding a medical rationale and a professional approach to older evangelical Protestant movements against prostitution. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, such evangelical groups as the Woman's Christian Temper- ance Union, the American Purity Alliance, "moral education societies," and "vigi- lance" groups agitating for legal suppression of vice had attempted scattered crusades against prostitution and social immorality. These organizations had some successes in beating back attempts to legalize prostitution outright, as in St. Louis during the 1870s, but their involvement was sporadic and their effectiveness against prostitution was dissipated by the inclusion of temperance and child welfare on their agenda^.^ A more powerful national crusade against the "social evil" developed with the entry of physicians devoted to the newly professionalized field of public health and its potential for ending the scourges of syphilis and gonorrhea. For decades, physicians had been convinced that most venereal disease cases could be traced back to prostitutes and their customers, but doctors had done little to eradicate the diseases beyond individually treating their own patients. In 1904, however, a pious and charismatic New York dermatologist named Prince A. Morrow launched a fundamental challenge to the therapeutic apathy surrounding venereal disease with the publication of Soczal Diseases and Marriagee9 In this major work and in dozens of speeches delivered throughout the country, Morrow explained that syphilis and gonorrhea were far more destructive than physicians had thought, and that these diseases struck not only the prostitute and her customer but also "respectable married women who had been infected by their husbands" and such unhappy couples' children. lo To eradicate venereal contagion, Morrow urged physicians to draw upon their professional respectability and influence to commence their own crusade against prostitution. He hoped that medical imperatives, statis-

The standard work is David J. Pivar, Pun'ty Crusade: Sexual Morality and Social Control, 1868-1900 (Westport, 1973). See also William Leach, True Love and Pel-fect Union: The Feminist Reform of Sex and Society (1980; Middletown, 1989), 85-86; and Anna Garlin Spencer, "Milestones in Social Hygiene," folder 1, box 1, American Social Hygiene Association Papers (Social Welfare History Archives, Walter Library, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis). On purity reform's interlocking elements, see Frances E. Willard, "The White-Cross Movement in Education," in National Education Association, Joumal of Proceedings and Ada'resses. Session of the year 1890, heldat Saznt Paul, Minnesota (Topeka, 1890), 161; and Aaron M, Powell, ed., The National Purity Congress: Its Papers, Addresses, Portraits (1896; New York, 1976). "Steps in the Development of the

A. S. H. A. ," c. 1922, folder 1, box 1, American Social Hygiene Association Papers; John C. Burnham, Paths znto Amencan Culture: Psychology, Medicine, and Morals (Philadelphia, 1988), 138-48.

Vrince A. Morrow, Social Dbeases andMamkge (New York, 1904). On public health in the late nineteenth century, see Paul Starr, The Socd Transformation of American Medicine (New York, 1982), 180-97; George Rosen, A History of Publzc Health (New York, 1958), esp. 192-336; and Donald Fleming, William H. Welch andthe Rise of Modem Medzcine (1954; Baltimore, 1987), 143-45. On the social hygiene movement and Prince

A. Morrow's role, see Allan M. Brandt, No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Direase in the United States since 1880 (New York, 1987), esp. 1-121; and "Memorial Number," Social Diseases, 4 (July 1913). Morrow's involvement predated the major advances in the treatment of venereal diseases: the 1905 discovery of the Spz+ochaeta pallida, the agent of syphilis; the 1906 Wassermann blood test for early detection of syphilis; and the 1910 invention of salvarsan (arsphenamine), a treatment for syphilis.

"Morrow, Social Direases and Marriage, 26-27; Prince A. Morrow, The Teachtng of Sex Hygiene (New York, 1912), 7, pamphlet, box 1, folder 8, American Social Hygiene Association Papers. For social hygiene's early relation to eugenics, see Prince A. Morrow, "Venereal Diseases and Their Relation to Infant Mortality and Race Degeneration," New YorR Medical Journal, Dec. 30, 1911, clipping, ibid. For fears of degeneration and racial concerns leading to the eugenics movement, see Mark H. Haller, Eugenics: Hereditanan Attitudes in American Thought (New Brunswick, 1963), 2 1-57.

tics, and steady public pressure would carry forth what evangelical fervor alone had failed to accomplish.

Tension existed between the imperatives of morality and those of health, but Morrow's antagonism toward prostitution and immorality created sufficient agreement for moralists and medical personnel to cooperate in the social hygiene movement. "Public hygiene is to develop proper health conditions," he insisted, "and in its highest expression is inseparable from public morality." For physicians in the social hygiene movement, as for their allies in the purity and vigilance societies, "public morality" tended to embody a middle-class, Victorian conception of sexual respectability. All demanded female abstinence outside of marriage, and social hygienists also echoed the purity crusaders' indictment of certain expressions of male sexuality-particularly the idea that unmarried young men were physiologi- cally compelled to release their excess sexual energies with prostitutes or other willing partners. Feminist antiprostitution crusaders may have originated the attack on this biological justification for prostitution, but Morrow did not hesitate to echo their criticism. '

This broad basis of agreement made social hygiene something of an anomaly in the gendered world of social reform at the turn of the century, for the protection of women and children and the reformation of male sexuality were traditional preserves of female reformers.'* But Prince Morrow, too, was concerned about protecting the home, and in seeking to employ medical authority in its defense, he opened a path into this female realm for many other male social hygienists. Social hygiene remained more open to women than many other reforms; indeed, although social hygiene organizations counted fewer women members than the purity and the vigilance associations, they always retained a greater proportion of female leaders and members than typically "masculine" reform groups. Male and female reformers of all stripes agreed on the need to suppress sexual vice and venereal diseases.

The vigilance movement and Morrow's crusade soon found energetic allies among Chicago's physicians and Progressive reformers. Organized in 1906, the Chicago Society for Social Hygiene quickly became one of the most active social hygiene groups in the country, issuing numerous pamphlets and holding lectures at the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and local colleges on the dangers of vice for young people. The Chicago society's vigor was not happenstance. No other

'I Morrow, Social Diseases andManage, 361. For an interpretation by the major proponent of purity feminism in the American Social Hygiene Association, see Anna Garlin Spencer, "Pioneers," Journal of Social Hygiene, 16 (March 1930), 155-62. For attacks on the "double standard," see Frances M. Greene, "Sex Hygiene," in National Education Association, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses of the Forty-Ninth Annual Meeting, held at Sun Francisco, California, July 8-14, 1911 (Winona, Minn., 1911), 920; and Morrow, Social Diseases and Manage, 355. For background, see Nancy F. Cott, "Passionlessness: An Interpretation of Victorian Sexual Ideology, 1790-1850,'' in A Hen'tage ofHer Own, ed. Nancy F. Cott and Elizabeth H. Pleck (New York, 1979), 162-81; E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York, 1993); and Kevin White, The First SexualRevolution: The Emergence of Male Heterosexu- ality in Modern Amenca (New York, 1993).

"See, for example, Robyn Muncy, Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890-1935 (New York, 1991); and Regina Markell Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in Amencan Mea'zcine (New York, 1985), esp. 59-63, 182-83.

city seemed to possess such a powerful infrastructure for reform, for Chicago was home to Hull House, the University of Chicago, and a variety of women's clubs active in municipal and social improvement. Jane Addams herself was a charter member of the American Vigilance Association's executive board, along with other prominent Chicagoans such as John G. Shedd and Julius Rosenwald, and the University of Chicago furnished many founding members for the city's social hygiene society. l3

No other city seemed to need the social hygiene movement quite so much. "They tell me you are wicked and I believe them," wrote Carl Sandburg in the poem "Chicago," "for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys." Just how many "painted women" were out after dark became clear in 1911,when a municipal investigative unit, the Vice Commission of Chicago, reported on the prevalence -perhaps "ubiquity" is more accurate -of prostitution in the city.14

What the Vice Commission uncovered was shocking. Many Chicagoans, like Sandburg, already knew of red-light districts such as the blocks by the levee, where previous mayors had attempted to confine the hitherto scattered prostitution economy, but few observers were prepared for the magnitude of the vice there. "There are not far from 5,000 [women]," the commission reported, "who devote their time wholly to the business of prostitution." By this admittedly "ultra conserva- tive estimate," one Chicago woman in every two hundred was involved in prostitu- tion, and this army of women delivered to themselves and to the "lords of the levee" -the procurers and tavern and hotel owners who controlled the district- profits of fifteen or sixteen million dollars annually. With a great fondness for statistical precision, the commission's principal investigator, George J. Kneeland, further estimated that these earnings derived from 5,540,700 "assignations" per year. Again, this was a conservative estimate, for it excluded women whom the commission tellingly labeled "clandestine prostitutes (or more correctly the immoral girls or women, married or otherwise)," although these formed "a large class in

'I On the Chicago society's founding and vigor, see Prince A. Morrow, "Results Achieved by the Movement for Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis- Outlook for the Future," SocialDiseaser, 1 (Jan. 1910), 6; Vice Commission of Chicago, The Social Evil in Chicago (Chicago, 1911), 256. Jane Addams's membership is noted in "What the American Vigilance Association Will Accomplish," 1911 (microfilm: reel 39, series 3), "Organization Files 1889-1935," Jane Addams Papers (Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Swarthmore, Pa.). On women's political culture as a Chicago phenomenon, see Kathryn Kish Sklar, Florence Kelley and the Nation? Work: The Rire of Women's Political Culture, 1830-1900 (New Haven, 1995), 171-315. On the founding of the Society for Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis and the growth of the social hygiene movement nationally, see Prince A. Morrow, "A Plea for the Organization of a 'Society of Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis,"' Medical News, June 4, 1904, pp. 4-5, clipping, folder 7, box 1, American Social Hygiene Association Papers; and Morrow's recollections in Charles R. Henderson, Education with Reference to Sex, Eighth Yearbook of the National Society for the Sczentzfic Study of Education, Parts 1 and 2 (Chicago, 1909), 73.

l4 Carl Sandburg, "Chicago," 1916, in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, ed. Alexander W. Allison et al. (1970; New York, 1983), 925. See also William T. Stead, If Christ Came to Chicago: A Pleafor the Union of All Who Love in the Service ofAll Who Suffer (London, 1894); and George Kibbe Turner, "The City of Chicago: A Study of the Great Immoralities," McClurei Magazine, 30 (April 1907), 575-92. The Vice Commission was created partly as an attempt by mainline Protestant leaders in Chicago to head off sensationalizing of the vice issue by evangelicals. Although Mayor Fred Busse was anxious to assert that Chicago was "no better and no wore than other American or European cities," he appointed the Episcopal clergyman Dean Walter Sumner chairman of a commission. See Vice Commission, Social Evil in Chicago, 3-4.

Chicago." The necessity for reform cried out from Kneeland's cold figures. Aside from the moral decay prostitution represented, the sheer volume of vice in Chicago threatened to engulf the citizenry in an epidemic of venereal disease.'>

Kneeland's findings were sensational, but the Vice Commission's indictments indeed, Morrow's movement and the whole antiprostitution crusade- drew addi- tional power from their resonance with preexisting condemnations of urban perils. Evil in itself, prostitution also embodied for middle-class Protestant reformers the modern city's union of individual moral breakdown and large-scale social and economic exploitation. Modern urban life threatened not only sexual respectability but also the larger code of civilized morality and its emphasis upon piety, commu- nity, and absolute standards of right and wrong.16

Although historians have made much of Progressives' desires to control the "lower orders" of society, social hygienists were less concerned about immigrants and the lower classes than about the moral fiber of their own "people," the native-born middle class. In the reformers' view, the poor had perhaps always behaved badly, but when white middle-class young people began to visit dance halls and prostitutes, that was cause for alarm. Chicago's red-light districts beckoned not only Sandburg's farm boys, but also, complained a youth worker, men and boys from "some of the best homes in the suburbs." "It was a common experience to find from two to three thousand men and boys in that district in a single hour," Herbert Gates, a volunteer social worker, reported around 1909, "and they were by no means all of them from the lower class." A similar concern over the spread of venereal disease and licentiousness to the "better classes" lay behind the popular- ity of Eugtne Brieux's drama Damaged Goods, whose run on Broadway and at Chicago's Blackstone Theater in 1913 was subsidized by antiprostitution and social hygiene societies. In both cities, theatergoers crowded in to hear Brieux's high- minded "Doctor" roundly criticize the sexual morals of his well-to-do Parisian patients. Prince Morrow had recognized from the beginning of his crusade that syphilis and gonorrhea showed no respect for class lines, and dismay over the moral decline of the middle class animated his followers and allies. In Chicago, reformers feared that the siren song of urban vice called out to the native born as well as to the Pole and the Italian."

'I Vice Commission, Social Evilin Chicago, 3, 70-71, 78. For the importance of venereal disease in the Vice
Commission's mission, see ibid , 25. See also George J. Kneeland, Commercialized Prostitution in New York
City (New York, 1913).

l6 See Mark T. Connelly, The Response to Prostitution in the Progressive Era (Chapel Hill, 1980); Barbara
Meil Hobson, Uneasy Virtue: The Politics ofProstitution and the Amencan Reform Tradition (New York, 1987);
and Ruth Rosen, The Lost Sisterhood. Prostitution in America, 1900-1918 (Baltimore, 1982).

"Henderson, Education with Reference to Sex, 9; Eugsne Brieux, Damaged Goods (Les avan2s), in Three Plays by Bneux, trans. John Pollock (New York, 1912), 185-254. On the play's Chicago debut, see Chicago Daib Tribune, Sept. 30, 1913, p. 9. On its popularity, see Burnham, Paths into American Culture, 164-65. Morrow, Social Diseases andMamage, 23. Morrow alluded to fears of "race suicide" among the Anglo-Saxons, but the social hygienists were remarkably free of the anti-immigrant sentiment common among supporters of eugenics. See Morrow, Teaching of Sex Hygiene, 7. For concerns about "respectable" people being enticed by "lower-class" entertainments, see Lewis Erenberg, Steppin' Out: New Yo& Nightlife and the Transfo~~~~~tion of Amencan Culture, 1890-1930 (Westport, 198 I), 60-91.

Reformers feared the inability of society to suppress not only the commercialized prostitution of red-light districts but also what the Vice Commission labeled "clandestine prostitution," that is, promiscuous female behavior. Indeed, in the less regulated atmosphere of the city, moralists despaired of controlling even open challenges to sexual conventions. The summer of 1913 witnessed not only the Chicago superintendent's proposal for sex hygiene education, but also the "slit skirt" fashion controversies, the progress of which the Chicago Record-Herald dutifully recorded over several months. Moralists sniffed sexual danger in other unlikely places. Late in 191 3 Chicago aldermen held a mass meeting at Victoria Hall on whether to ban the "tango dance" as "indecent, immoral, suggestive, repulsive." A near riot occurred when young tango enthusiasts showed up in force to jeer and taunt their equally numerous opponents, until one of the aldermen, fearing an outbreak of violence over this controversial issue, abruptly adjourned the proceedings. Well before the more publicized sexual challenges of the 1920s, the urban environment seemed to be breeding what one historian has labeled a "revolution in manners and moral^."'^

Social hygienists and their allies were not simple anti-sex zealots, concerned solely with the individual moral failings that prostitution embodied. Rather, they analyzed prostitution in its relation to the many malfunctions of modern city life. The Vice Commission of Chicago, for example, devoted one chapter of its report, The SocialEviLin Chicago, to the ubiquitous graft that flowed from the prostitution racket, for the money that rented the prostitute's body tainted everyone from the brothel owner and the local police officer to the judge handling a case and the politician protecting the business. Prostitution undermined justice and the law. More broadly, the spectacle of open prostitution buttressed attempts by such reformers as Jane Addams to condemn the urban industrial system as inhumane and unjust. In a series of articles based on the Vice Commission of Chicago's report, which she then turned into A New Conscience andan Ancient Ed, Addams proclaimed that prostitution was the consequence of a misdirected modern society, built on extremes of wealth and poverty, in which some women could survive only by adopting a life of sin. Prostitution was indeed a major moral error, but laissez-faire capitalism had inevitably fostered that error. l9

The social evil, claimed reformers, grew out of a combination of human frailty and inescapable urban conditions. "The very fact that the existence of the social evil is semi-legal in large cities," wrote Addams, "is an admission that our individual morality is so uncertain that it breaks down when social control is withdrawn and

Vice Commission, Social Evil in Chicago, 71; Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal Histoly of the 19201- (1931; New York, 1964). 73-101. On the tango conflict, see Chicago Daily Tribune, Dec. 10, 1913, p. 5. James R. McGovern, "The American Woman's Pre-World War I Freedom in Manners and Morals,"

Journal of Amencan Histoly, 55 (Sept. 1968), 315-33. See also Henry F. May, The Endof American Innocence:

The First Years of Our Own Time, 1912-1917 (1959; New York, 1979); and D'Emilio and Freedman, Intimate

Matters, 17 1-235.

'Vice Commission, Social Evilin Chicago, 143-60, 43-44, 198-207; Jane Addams, A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil (New York, 1912), 55-96, 191-204. The work originally appeared in McClure1- Magazine in 1911-1912. For a contrary view, see Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Politics (New York, 1913).

the opportunity for secrecy is offered."20 In the anonymity of the city, it seemed, many people were for the first time free from the communal restraints of religious strictures, an intimate family life, and public opinion-all presumably operating with far more force in the country than in the city, in the past than in the present. Social hygienists interpreted the exploitative businessman and the thriving prostitute as symptoms of the modern city's broader impact upon the moral order of the church, family, and community.

Laments about the decline of these ordering institutions suffused social hygiene rhetoric. "The need of our work would be far less," noted the psychologist G. Stanley Hall in an address to a New York social hygiene society, "if religion had not lapsed to a subordinate place in the life of the average youth." George A. Coe, a prominent liberal theologian at Northwestern University, echoed Hall in his conviction that social upheaval in the cities was exposing children to unprecedented temptations while the churches could no longer present clear religious lessons through the schools, and families and Sunday Schools appeared incapable of picking up the slack.21 Indeed, just when the forces of modernity seemed to be weakening religious ties, the pressures of modern city life seemed to threaten the family's ability to pass on a fund of moral knowledge. Besides the prevalence of sexual vice, the exploding divorce rate seemed clear evidence that the urban family was in disarray. As one of Coe's allies maintained nostalgically, the urban "home" was no longer a spacious, economically integrated farmhouse, but was now "too often only a four-roomed flat in which the children hardly ever see their father." Thus urban children lacked both the ennobling rural contact with nature and the enlightening influence of working alongside their parents at the plow or churn. Some Progressive reformers also suggested that the new society was simply leaving parents behind -especially sexually- because average parents did not possess scien- tific information about sexual hygiene and other critical aspects of modern living and suffered from overly traditional and ineffectual attitudes.22 "Parenthood,"

'O Addams, New Conscience andan Ancient Evil, 205. On the necessity of social control in the cities, see, for example, Paul S. Boyer, Urban Masses andMoral Order in America, 1820-1920 (Cambridge, Mass., 1978). "G. Stanley Hall, "Education and the Social Hygiene Movement," Transactions of the American Society for Sanitary andMoralProphylaxir, 5 (Oct. 1914), 213; George A. Coe, Education in Religion andMorals (Chicago, 1904). On Coe, see William R. Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantirm (Cambridge, Mass., 1976), 156-64. Central to this interpretation of religious decline was a sense among leading Protestants that the social influence of Protestantism was in decline, because of Catholic ascendancy in the cities, but also because a recently elevated wall of separation between church and state disallowed dogmatic Protestant lessons in the public schools. See Robert T. Handy, A Chrzstian America: Protestant Hopes and Historical Realities (1971; New York, 1984); and Robert T. Handy, Undermined Establishment: Church-State Relations in America, 1880-1920 (Princeton, 1991). On declining Protestant hegemony among intellectuals, see R. Laurence Moore, "Secularization and Social Science," in Between the Times: The Travail of the Protestant Establishment in America, 1900-1960, ed. William R. lIutchison (New York, 1989), 233-52; and James Turner, Without God, without Creed: The On'gins of Unbeliefin America (Baltimore, 1985). See also T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transfirmation ofAmerican Culture, 1880-1920 (New York, 1981). 7-26.

''William L. O'Neill, "Divorce in the Progressive Era," American Quarterly, 17 (Summer 1965), 203-17; William L. O'Neill, Divorce in the Progressive Era (New Haven, 1967). On divorce after the Progressive Era, see Christopher Lasch, "Divorce and the Family in America," Atlantic Monthly, 218 (Nov. 1966), 57-61. James

L. McConaughy, "Moral Education,"Journal of Education, Feb. 12, 1914, 171; Greene, "Sex Hygiene," 918- 20; Emanuel Sternheim, "The Sex Problem in Education," Educational Review, 50 (Oct. 1915), 276. See also the comments of a Chicago educator, Clara Schmitt, "The Teaching of the Facts of Sex in the Public School," Pedagogical Semznary, 17 (June 1910), 234.

asserted Dr. Helen Putnam, an early convert to the social hygiene cause, "rarely confers the ability to train twentieth-century citizens." She observed that "a very large part of recent legislative and social endeavor concerning ignorance and idle- ness, vice, intemperance, and child labor" had been summoned into existence precisely because of "parental in~apacity."'~ If parents had done their part in raising children whose hygiene and morality were sound, the "social evil" could never have taken root. Finally, the parents' ineffectiveness was related to the loss of communal social control in the city. In contrast to rural areas, Chicago was so populous that a man could patronize a prostitute without fear of retribution, secure in his anonymity, and a woman living on her own could "fall" into an immoral life or consciously choose that path with none to stop her.24 Neither the strictures of the church nor the internal moral voice of the parents nor the censure of the community seemed equal to the forces of modern city living.

Thus, urban reformers conceived of prostitution and venereal diseases not solely as medical problems or personal moral failings but also as barometers of social disorganization. Both the social hygiene crusade and the Vice Commission's report gained influence as they mobilized this broader fear. To the Chicago reformers, the medical, moral, and social concerns seemed all of a piece. The message was clear. Chicago was reaching new depths of degradation, and all the old institutions of moral order seemed helpless to lift the city back to the plane of righteousness. Was Chicago ready for new solutions? Great changes had indeed occurred in the five years before Ella Flagg Young's proposal for sex hygiene.

Social Hygiene Turns to the Public Schools

"Until the hearts of men are changed," asserted the Vice Commission, "we can hope for no absolute annihilation of the Social Evil." Faced with evidence of pervasive vice in Chicago, social hygienists did not propose to regulate its exchanges or ameliorate its effects, but rather proclaimed their ambition to exterminate it completely. Despite the Vice Commission's allusion to religious conversion- to change in the "hearts of men" -social hygienists and their allies based their solution to vice on bringing sex into the realm of rational, scientific knowledge. Religion and community sanctions had already proved incapable of enforcing morality in the city, so the Chicago reformers concentrated on more reliable modern institu- tions. The coercive mechanisms of medicine and of the law promised to have some effect on venereal disease and prostitution, but to change the hearts of men

23Helen C. Putnam, "Sex Instruction in Schools," in Henderson, Education with Reference to Sex, 77. A high school director of girls cited "Eminent authorities" who felt "the sexual instinct has increased rather than diminished with the growth of civilization"; the school had to take responsibility for an instinct that had outstripped the home's ability to regulate it. See Charles H. Keene and Mabel M. Wright, "Shall Sex Hygiene Be Taught in the Public Schools?," in National Education Association, Journal of Pr~Ceedhg~

and Addrerrer of the Fifty-Second Annual Meeting, held at St. Paul, Minnerota, Ju(y 4-1 1, 1914 (Ann Arbor, 1914), 700.

24 In contrast, when "angry villagers" in Volo, Illinois, suspected a woman of having an affair with her husband's brother, they viciously harassed her, then seized her, and literally rode her out of town on a rail. Chicago Record-Herald, July 18, 1913, pp. 1-2.

(and women) social hygienists turned deliberately toward the transformative power of mass education and, eventually, the public schools. 25

As a movement dominated by physicians and concerned overtly with the physical consequences of syphilis and gonorrhea, social hygiene naturally included medical measures for protecting the public health. In supporting hospital treatment for venereal disease cases and calling for syphilis testing as a precondition for the marriage license, social hygienists' prime concern was to prevent the carriers from infecting others. Medical social hygienists also joined such groups as the Illinois Vigilance Association in supporting legal measures to repress prostitution. Out of local efforts to eliminate "white slavery" grew national legislation, such as the 1910 Mann Act outlawing the transportation of women across state lines for "immoral purposes." Reformers also demanded laws against red-light districts where prostitution had been tacitly tolerated, such as the levee in Chicago, and urged the suppression of entertainments associated with the traffic in women, such as dance halls, steamboat and beach excursions, indecent posters, "demoraliz- ing plays," and obscene literature. 26

Medical and legal measures, however, were limited and largely reactive. Reform- ers placed their greatest hopes in the power of education, broadly conceived as enlightenment of the general public through publicity, lectures, pamphlets, and the schools. Although sexual vice was a delicate subject, the Vice Commission of Chicago concurred in the general Progressive sentiment that the greatest enemy of corruption was the pitiless light of publicity, which would expose the dark places of evil and illuminate the public's path to action. "We believe that Chicago has a public conscience which, when aroused, cannot easily be stilled," wrote the commissioners, "a conscience built upon moral and ethical teachings of the purest American type-a conscience which when aroused to the truth will instantly rebel against the Social Evil in all its phases." Accordingly, the commission did not issue its report in the secrecy of a closed city council meeting, but introduced it with great fanfare and received permission to publish it like any other muckraking expose and to distribute as many copies as possible. An aroused public conscience was the necessary precondition to large-scale medical and legal enactmentse2'

To effect a true change of heart, reformers agreed that they must direct their energies toward a younger audience. "You cannot teach a drunkard abstinence after he has become a drunkard," noted a physician during a debate over social hygiene education, "you must teach him before he has become an inveterate drunkard. If you want young men to be chaste, you must teach them about sex matters before they ever had any such connections." "In all things for the reform of the world and for betterment," agreed a midwestern public health official, "we

25 Vice Commission, Social Evil in Chicago, 27. See also Henderson, Education with Reference to Sex, 53. On the movement between moral suasion and external coercion in nineteenth- and twentieth-century temperance movements, see Jack S. Blocker Jr., American Temperance Movementr: Cycler of Reform (Boston, 1989).

26 "Minutes of Meeting of the Executive Committee, American Federation for Sex Hygiene," March 4, 1912, folder 1, box L1, American Social Hygiene Association Papers. See also David J. Langum, Crorring over the Line: Legirlating Morality and the Mann Act (Chicago, 1994), esp. 15-47.

"Vice Commission, Social Evil in Chicago, 25-26, 10.

must commence with the child. There seems to be no good results attending reform work with adults." 28 Rather than coercing adherence to their moral standards or exhorting adults who had already been corrupted, social hygienists hoped to educate malleable youths toward a change of heart, for conversion was more thoroughgoing than coercion could ever be. Internal moral regulation, and not external repression, was the ultimate goal, if only reformers could reach their audience in good time.

Sex education could help people attain the ideal of carnal restraint, in Morrow's influential and perhaps overly optimistic opinion, because sexual vice was the product of ignorance rather than innate viciousness. Social hygienists and purity crusaders agreed that prostitution was based upon a fallacious belief in male "sexual necessity," the folk wisdom that young men suffered from the periodic buildup of spermatic pressure in their testes and that their continued health depended upon releasing the pressure. Such scientific nonsense, insisted reformers, induced young men to seek release with prostitutes and other women, all the while ignoring their own "safety-valve" for excess spermatic pressure- the nocturnal emission. Reformers complained that young women, too, believed in the male's "sexual necessity" and thus tolerated the double standard of morality. Equally damaging to sexual health was the widespread ignorance about connections between venereal disease and prostitution, for what but ignorance would allow young men to expose themselves to the prostitute's contagion? Young men "should be warned of the pitfalls and dangers which beset the pathways of dissipation," wrote Morrow, "they should be instructed in the knowledge that venereal diseases are the almost invariable concomitant of licentious living." Believing in the power of rational understanding and a wholesome fear of disease, social hygienists felt that an individual who comprehended the true functions of the sexual organs and the dangers of venereal disease would no longer be in thrall to lust.29

The social hygienists' focus upon male lust merits a brief explanation. Although the crusades against prostitution at the turn of the century have often been cited as attempts to police the boundaries of female sexuality, antiprostitution reformers actually sought deeper changes in male sexual behavior. "Friends, this is your problem," Harriet E. Vittum, president of the Women's City Club, told the all-male Chicago City Club, "it is a man's problem." The reason was obvious: "Wherever all over the world men have created a market for goods," Vittum explained, "that market has been supplied." Prince Morrow wrote a pamphlet entitled The Boy Problem for Parents and Teachers; and after his death, associates described the heart of Morrow's approach: "The only way to cure the sexual evils

28 Bernard S. Talmey, reply to Richard C. Cabot, "Are Sanitary Prophylaxis and Moral Prophylaxis Natural Allies?," Tramactions oftbe American Society fir Sanitaly and Moral P~opbylams, 5 (Jan. 19 14), 4 1-42 ;John

N. Hurtz, "The Moral Factors in the Reduction of Venereal Diseases," ibid., 6 (July 1915). 95. On social hygiene's educational aims, see "Minutes of Meeting of the Executive Committee, American Federation for Sex Hygiene," March 4, 1912, folder 1, box L1, American Social Hygiene Association Papers.

29 See Calvin S. White, "Some Practical Problems of Social Hygiene," [Chicago] City Club Bulletin, July 10, 1914, p. 233. On sexual ignorance, see Morrow, "Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis," 674-75. Morrow, Social Direase~ and Marriage, 35.

thoroughly, the only way to dig them up by the roots, was to prescribe the same standard of morality for man as for woman. . . . Men must be as chaste as women." Such sentiments embodied a backhanded compliment to women, who (with the exception of the legion of prostitutes down at the levee) were considered reliably virginal, but the social hygienists' hostility toward unleashed male desire also represented a medically sophisticated continuation of nineteenth-century femi- nist doctrines. 30

The path to sexual reform was easy to see but difficult to travel. All that was necessary to achieve a "single standard" of sexual behavior, Morrow suggested, was for young men and women to understand the morality and healthfulness of sexual continence, but such understanding was in short supply in the first decades of this century. Although they decried the prevalence of obscenity and "low talk," reformers complained that a "conspiracy of silence" existed to prevent the dissemination of responsible sexual information. In popular Lockean psychology, which considered children to be tabulae rasae, silence about sexual matters was a logical strategy to prevent the child's blank slate from being defaced with vulgar and obscene messages. Antiobscenity crusaders such as Anthony Comstock were typical in equating ignorance with innocence and knowledge, therefore, with corruption. "The subject of sex and sexual functions," noted Winfield S. Hall, a professor ofphysiology at the Northwestern University Medical School, in 1908,"has long been associated with prevarication, secrecy, and other mental attitudes . . . prejudicial to the proper moral development of the child. It would be impossible to find any other subject regarding which children are so uniformly lied to." As heirs to decades of medical, legal, and religious discourse about sexuality, reformers certainly exaggerated the strength of the "conspiracy of silence," but formal sex education in the schools was indeed nowhere to be found.31

The official silence, however, did not preserve young people's purity. The alarming prevalence of prostitution and venereal disease was the simplest and clearest proof that silence did not protect innocence. Some argued that such effects meant society needed more silence about sex, not less, but social hygienists asserted that innocence as popularly understood was impossible. In a fundamental shift away from the Victorian idealization of youthful purity, reformers began to awaken to a more modern, biological view of youthful sexuality. Sigmund Freud's opinions

30 Harriet E. Vittum, "Some Aspects of the Vice Problem in Chicago," [Chicago] City Club Bulletin, June

25, 1914, p. 229. See also "Economic Necessity?," Vigilance, 26 (April 1913), 1-2. Prince A. Morrow, The Boy

Problem for Parents and Teachers (New York, 191 1); Charles W. Eliot, "The Pioneer Qualities of Dr. Morrow

as a Social Reformer," Social Diseases, 4 (July 1913), 135. On feminist hostility toward male sexuality in the

nineteenth century, see Linda Gordon, Woman's Body, Woman's Right: A Social History of Birth Control in

Amen'ca (New York, 1976), 105-6; and Leach, True Love andperfect Union, 91.

Complaints about the supposed conspiracy of silence were ubiquitous in social hygiene speech: see, for

example, Charles W. Eliot, "School Instruction in Sex Hygiene," in Proceedings of the FiJth Congress of the

American School Hygiene Association (Springfield, Mass., 1911), 22-26. Winfield S. Hall, "The Teaching of

Social Hygiene, and the Bearing of Such Teaching on the Moral Training of the Child," Religious Education,

3 (Oct. 1908), 129. See also Anthony Comstock, Trapsfor the Young, ed. Robert Bremner (1883; Cambridge,

Mass., 1967); and Anthony Comstock, "The Work of the New York Society for the Prevention of Vice and Its

Bearings on the Morals of the Young," Pedagogical Seminary, 16 (Sept. 1909), 404. On "Comstockery" and

censorship, see Paul S. Boyer, Purity in Print: The Vice-Society Movement and Book Censorship in Amen'ca

(New York, 1968).

This drawing appeared with the caption, "Steeped in sin, he looks on with
indifference." Social hygiene and the movement for sex education
did not concern themselves solely with female behavior
but tried to reform male sexuality as well.
Reprinted from Clifford G. Roe, The Great War on White Slavery
(1911; New York, 1979), 257.

about the sexual nature of children were barely known outside a smallish circle of psychiatrists and intellectuals, but the argument of Clark University psychologist

G. Stanley Hall, a social hygienist-that sexual impulses were crucial in child development-was having an enormous impact on teachers and psychologists. Following Hall, a substantial number of educated persons, especially those involved with education, broke away from the sentimental ideal of purity as the "natural" state of youth.j2

'' G. Stanley Hall, Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion, andEducation (1904, 2 vols., New York, 1908);G. Stanley Hall, "Sex Hygiene in Infantile

Reformers recognized further that certain social forces were already "educating" young people's biological impulses. Although they denied that sexual impulses entered the child only from the outside, social hygienists did not absolve the urban environment of responsibility for misleading youth. The commercialized forces of sex, in particular -prostitutes, dance hall operators, distributors of obscene literature -all tried to make a profit by inciting the youth's innate sexual impulses. Confined to red-light districts, these businesses had become in effect a densely packed advertisement for vice. The high visibility of brothels, streetwalkers, and pornography was sufficiently demoralizing, but young people were also subject to the fallacious sexual advice given by their more "sophisticated" peers.33 The conspiracy of silence did not prevent sex education of a degraded sort.

To social hygienists who observed the urban environment and followed Hall's work, the choice was therefore, not between knowledge and innocence, but between corrupt knowledge and a scientific knowledge that could preserve the essence, if not the traditional form, of innocence. "I do not know of a single scientific fact that will harm the child," maintained R. E. Blount, a biology teacher in Chicago, in a characteristic defense of science's purifying powers. "The scientific way of looking at sex cannot possibly harm a Even as Morrow's followers con- tinued to support laws banning prurient literature, they fought to allow freer scientific and moral discussions of sex. To eradicate the ignorance that led to prostitution and venereal disease, they hoped to substitute the doctor and the teacher's expert knowledge for the degraded information of the street.

Recognizing the importance of educating youth to a path of virtue, the Vice Commission of Chicago, the local social hygiene society, and the Chicago Woman's Club recommended that the Chicago Board of Education experiment with teaching social hygiene to older pupils in the public schools.35 The Chicago Woman's Club had begun the teaching on its own to parents and teachers, but ultimately Chicago reformers agreed with national social hygiene sentiment that the key to their struggle was the public school, for as other institutions of communal life seemed to be declining, the public schools were exploding in attendance and influence. Attendance at the Chicago public high schools had skyrocketed from a daily average of 1,043 during 1880-1881 to 25,322 in 1914-1915, and several times that number attended grammar school under the compulsory education laws. The prospect of such a large captive audience was no doubt attractive to reformers, and the schools

and Pre-pubertal Life," in Fourth International Congress on SchoolHygiene. Buffalo, New York, L7.S.A., August 25-30, 1913, Transactzon~,ed. Thomas A. Storey (5 vols. ; Buffalo, 1914), IV, 10-15. See also the speech by the secretary of the American Social Hygiene Association: William F. Snow, "Schools and the Social Hygiene Movemenr," in proceeding^ ofthe Ezghth Congre~s ofthe American School Hygiene Asso~iatton (n.p., 1916), 133, 137.

"Vice Commission, Soctal Evil in Chzcago. 78. For fears of a growing "youth culture," see Ira S. Wile, Sex Education (New York, 1912), 17.

'". E. Blount, "Several Aspects of the Teaching of Sex Physiology and Hygiene," ~n The Chzld zn the Czty: A Series of paper^ Presented at the Conferences Held during the Chicago Child Weyare E.xhibit (Chicago, 1912), 138.

" Vice Commission, SocialEvi/in Chtcago. 36-37, 63, 253-58; Ellen M. Henrotin, "The Work of the Chicago Woman's Club in Spreading Knowledge of the Social Problem," in Child in the Czty, 147-48.

presented other favorable features. By the late nineteenth century, speakers to the National Education Association (NEA) were dilating comfortably upon the school's new mission to educate children for "complete living" -that is, for healthy living-and for morality. Like the campaigns for temperance education in the 1880s, sex education could fit into this broader vision of public education as a transmitter of hygienic and ethical values.36

This turn toward the public schools comported well with middle-class reformers' faith in institutional mechanisms. The institutionalization of sex education ap- pealed particularly to the more professional-minded sexual reformers, especially physicians, who hoped that a regular program in the public schools would obviate the necessity for public moral crusades and the deluge of antivice literature that itself constituted a form of pornography. Indeed, fantastic antivice parades led by Emily Hill of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and flamboyant ministers such as the English itinerant, Gipsy Smith, had given impetus to the Chicago Vice Commission and other professional reform efforts in the first place. A few short months after Smith led thousands of crusaders through the levee district in October 1909, Dean Walter T. Sumner of the Episcopal Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul rose before a meeting of over five hundred ministers to denounce as "moral grafters" those men and women who were "exploiting the social evil by visiting resorts, then announcing lectures and talks in the various halls and churches and taking up collections." The Protestant federation Sumner addressed responded by sending representatives to convince Mayor Fred Busse to appoint a professional commission to investigate the "social evil" and make responsi- ble recommendations for reform. Members of the resulting Vice Commission and respectable social hygienists hoped that sex education would help destroy prostitution without further recourse to such public spectacles as Gipsy Smith's street ~ermons.~'

Sex education was not an isolated instance. The schools' expansion into sex education represented the encroachment of state authority on the lives of individu- als-particularly youths-also embodied in juvenile courts, immunization campaigns, mental health crusades, and state institutions for "defectives," to name only a few of the Progressives' bureaucratic innovations. 38 The goals reformers

36 For the attendance figures, see Thomas W. Gutowski, "The High School as an Adolescent-Raising Institution: An Inner History of Chicago Public Secondary Education, 1856-1940" (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1978), 76. Lawrence Cremin, The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in AmeriGan Education, 1876- 1957 (New York, 1962), 66-126. On complete living see, for example, Edward 0. Sisson, "Can Virtue Be Taught?,"EducationalReview, 41 (March 191 l), 26 1-79; and, for an influential early statement, Herbert Spencer, Education: Intellectual, Moral, andPhysical(l860; New York, 1895),esp. 31. On the breakdown of the traditional curriculum, see Herbert M. Kliebard, The Struggle for the American Curriculum, 1893-1958 (Boston, 1986), 1-29; and National Education Association Committee of Ten, Report of the Committee of Ten on Secondary School Studies (1892; New York, 1894). On alcohol education laws, see Imber, "Analysis of a Curriculum Reform Movement," 31; and Cook, "Evolution of Sex Education in the Public Schools," 27.

Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 20, 1909, p. 3; ibid, Oct. 19, 1909, pp. 1-2: ibid, Jan. 28, 1910, p. 5. On the founding of the Vice Commission, see Vice Commission, Social Evil in Chicago, 2-4, 8.

38 For example, Charles R. Henderson of the University of Chicago favored the state's "usurpation" of parental functions for children with "defects of sight, hearing, breathing" and those suffering from "sexual disorders." See Henderson, Education with Reference to Sex, 34. See also Clifford W. Barnes, "Moral Training thru the Agency of the Public School," in National Education Association, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses of the

Chicago reformers hoped that municipal investigations and sex education would free the
crusade against vice from its reliance upon the sensationalizing tactics
of evangelicals such as Gypsy (or Gipsy) Smith, the mustachioed
English orator who publicized the prevalence of vice
with his parades through the levee.
Reprinted from Clifford G. Roe, The Great War on White Slavery
(1911; New York, 1979), 289.

pursued were more often conservative than transformative, but their method- reliance on bureaucratic institutions and expert evaluation rather than revivals and moral suasion -constituted a radical break with the past.

Nevertheless, given the reformers' damning critique of urban social conditions and of the enormity of sexual vice, the social hygienists' melioristic proposals seem superficial. For although the Progressives arraigned the urban industrial system and the exploitation of labor for causing so much vice and misery, they proposed to deal only with the effects of that system, not with its causes. Medical measures and the legal suppression of prostitution could not fundamentally alter the inequal- ity that reformers felt so threatened female chastity. Still less would a program of sex education be able to lift young people out of a degraded environment. To understand that program, the historian must try to recapture the sense of what a prominent sex educator, Maurice Bigelow, called the "unbounded confidence

Forty -Fifth Annual Meeting, held at Los Angeles, CaliJornia, July 8-12, 1907 (Winona, Minn., 1907), 373. Cf. Margaret E. Schallenberger, "Self-Protection through Knowledge and Habit," in National Education Association, Journal ofproceedings . . . 1914, 435-36; also Ben B. Lindsey, "The Parenthood of the State," in National Education Association, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses of the Fifty-Ninth Annual Meeting, held at Des Moines, Iowa, July 3-8, 1921 (Washington, 1921), 42-54.

in the all-sufficiency of education. . . . to solve the civic, hygienic, and industrial problems of today and tom~rrow."~Wnly

a few years had passed since a handful of pedagogues had first proposed that public schools, rather than prepare a small aristocracy for college, might train much of the population to participate in a democratic culture. No one could truly foresee whether or not this development would foster a significant social transformation. If the progressive educators did not attack social inequalities directly, they felt they were employing promising new tools to change the "hearts of men" and, ultimately, to bring society more into line with their middle-class ideals.

Ella Flagg Young's Program

Large social forces pressured reformers toward sex education, but social forces are always channeled-in the sense also of being directed or diverted-through individual actors. As a guiding spirit in the expansion of the Chicago public schools, Young was a particularly receptive audience for the agitation against venereal disease and prostit~tion.~~

At first glance, Superintendent Young seemed an unlikely sex crusader: Sixty- eight years old in 1913, she appeared in her wire spectacles and high, starched collar to be "austere and even cold"-the model of a prim nineteenth-century schoolteacher. She was born and reared in Buffalo, New York, the sheltered, precocious daughter of devout but liberal Presbyterians of Scottish descent. From the beginning, Ella Flagg impressed all as smart and forceful, but the nineteenth century held few career opportunities for women uninterested in child rearing and domestic toil. Flagg therefore turned to teaching in the public primary schools, interrupting her career only briefly for marriage in 1868 to a much older man, a merchant named William Young. He promptly left the childless bride behind in Chicago to seek his health in the West, where he died alone in 1873. An intensely private and driven woman, Ella Flagg Young never remarried, though in her later years she shared her home with an aide, Laura Brayton. Young's personal life offered few clues to her interest in sex hygienee41

In her public existence, Young was always at the forefront of reform, from education to suffrage to teacher unionization. She fit well into that firmament of Chicago female reformers that included Jane Addams, Ellen Henrotin of the Chicago Woman's Club, and numerous social investigators associated with the

jwaurice A. Bigelow, "The Educational Attack on the Problems of Social Hygiene," Social Hygiene, 2

(April 1916), 166-67. On the meliorist nature of educational reform, see Martin Carnoy, "Educational Reform

and Social Control in the United States, 1830-1970," in The Limits ofEducational Reform, ed. Martin Carnoy

(New York, 1976), 115-55; Michael B. Katz, Class, Bureaucracy, and Schools: The Illusion of Educational

Change in America (New York, 1971); and Anthony M. Platt, The ChildSavers: The Invention ofDelinquency

(1969; Chicago, 1977).

40 A paucity of personal papers has made Ella Flagg Young an underexamined public figure. But see John

T. McManis, Ella Flagg Young and a Half-Century of the Chicago Public Schools (Chicago, 1916); and Joan

K. Smith, "Ella Flagg Young: Portrait of a Leader" (Ph.D. diss., Iowa Sate University, 1976).

4' "Ella Flagg Young," Chicago Schools Journal, 1 (Oct. 1918), 4-5; McManis, Ella Flagg Young, 15-28; Smith, "Ella Flagg Young," 31, 35.

University of Chicago. Young's appointment as the first female superintendent of a major school system was only the latest chapter of a long career in progressive education for Chicago. In her years as teacher and administrator, Young pioneered field trips, teachers' councils, vocational education, and Montessori instruction for young pupils. Chief among the school's purposes, in Young's mind, was training the rising generation in ethics. Foreshadowing her affinity with the social hygiene movement, Young in 1902 had published Ethics in the School, in which she advocated that schools undertake moral training based upon knowledge and intel- lect rather than coercion. Young's Ethics bore the marks of her long association with John Dewey, for she had made her presence felt in his afternoon seminars on "logic, ethics, metaphysics, and Hegel's philosophy," at the University of Chicago from 1895 to 1899. More a peer of Dewey's than a student-he always considered her "the wisest person in school mattersu-Young helped supervise Dewey's laboratory school when she joined the university's education faculty and pursued her doctorate at the turn of the century. In 1909, when the school board made Young superintendent, its business-oriented members were hoping only to mollify the city's teachers, but they also found themselves with a leader who was far more qualified than any of her predecessor^.^^

Although Young had not previously shown much interest in sexual issues, she had built her career on the Progressive conviction that the public schools existed to pass on to each generation the knowledge and skills necessary for modern living. Indeed, far from being fixed in the past, Young herself grew more flexible and liberal over time. She did not, however, forget her sheltered upbringing in Buffalo nor lose faith in her parents' Presbyterian morality. Childless and sexually inexperi- enced, Young could nevertheless discern the threat that urban Chicago posed to young people. "In all the years of service in schools," wrote her contemporary biographer, "she recognized the dangers to children of the excitements of modern city life which she saw in the light of her own more primitive, quiet, sympathetic world of home.''43

In this spirit, Young insisted shortly after she became superintendent in 1909 that the school board appoint a Committee on Sex Hygiene as the first step toward instituting a full sex education program. The committee was no minor operation. Its leader was Dean Walter Sumner, of the Episcopal Church and the Vice Commis- sion of Chicago. Sumner approached the delicate task of sex education cautiously: at his committee's recommendation, the school board first continued the Chicago Woman's Club experiment by offering trial lectures in sex hygiene to groups of parents before it considered conveying sex information to their children. Sumner's experience with those lectures, however, reinforced the conviction he shared with social hygienists that efforts must begin with the child, for the small number of

"Young's appointment to the superintendency was a compromise among factions and an attempt by the board to regain the allegiance of Chicago's teachers: see Julie Wrigley, Class Polztzcs andPublic Schools: Chicago, 1900-1950 (New Brunswick, 1982), 119-30. Ella Flagg Young, Ethics in the School (Chicago, 1902): McManis, Ella Flagg Young, 101-2; Smith, "Ella Flagg Young," 89.

"MMcanis, Ella Flagg Young, 28.

parents who attended (classes averaged only sixty each) was utterly incommensurate with the reformers' ambitious goals. In response to this failure, Young and Sumner prevailed upon Jacob Loeb, a conservative real estate developer and trustee of the school management committee, to propose that the Chicago public high schools inaugurate a sex hygiene course .44

Young explained the need for sex education in the language of progressive education. "The child is told in school that if he doesn't keep his skin clean, his system will fill up with poison, that if he abuses his stomach, he'll suffer with indigestion, if he gathers the contagion of tuberculosis, he'll die of consumption, but never a word of sex organs and the terrible cost of abuses." Young expected that a course on sex hygiene would prove "highly beneficial, and not alone in its effects on the health of the pupils but in its ethical effects." Her intellectual commitments had prepared Young to add sex education in the public schools to the vigorous Chicago crusades against venereal disease, prostitution, and urban immorality. Convinced but unenthusiastic, Loeb recommended that responsibility for formulating and implementing the course should lie with the innovative superintendent.45

At the end of June 1913, Young proposed a course of three lectures to be given by outside physicians at each of Chicago's twenty-one high schools. The first talk would outline some fundamental biological and physiological facts-a necessary first step when physiology textbooks of the day displayed human torsos but trailed off discreetly somewhere below the waist. In the following lectures, the physician would explain "personal sexual hygiene" and "problems of sex instincts," before concluding with "a few of the hygienic and social facts regarding venereal disease." Young recognized that under 20 percent of eligible young people stayed in the educational system long enough to attend high school, so she also recommended that specialists in "personal purity" give one less detailed talk to students in middle school and in the upper elementary grades. In keeping with the developing common wisdom of the sex education movement, male physicians would speak to the boys, female physicians to the girls, and parents, if they desired, could pull their children out of the

Despite the program's novelty, Young and her allies acted on the most sexually conservative motives. They intended these sex hygiene lectures, not to arouse the students' interest, but to satisfy and thereby suppress their curiosity about carnal matters. Young was finally prepared to invite sexual knowledge into the public schools, but it would have to enter quietly. Far from embracing sexual liberty and openness, Ella Flagg Young and Prince Morrow sought merely to enforce an older sexual ideal by new means. Characteristically Progressive, they hoped that

'"utowski, "High School as an Adolescent-Raising Institution,'' 124; Dean Walter Surnner reply to Cabot,

"Are Sanitary Prophylaxis and Moral Prophylaxis Natural Allies?," 33-34; Chicago Daily Tribune, June 26,

1913, p. 8.

"Sex Education in the Schools," 5; Chicago Daily Tribune, June 26, 1913, p. 8.

"The content of the talks is outlined in Keene and Wright, "Shall Sex Hygiene Be Taught in the Public

Schools?," 698. Chicago Daily Tri%aune,June 26, 1913, p. 8; Gutowski, "High School as an Adolescent-Raising

Institution," 76.

medical and educational expertise could conserve what was essential and fundamen- tal in the past.


Unfortunately for Young's proposal, a substantial body of Chicagoans disagreed strenuously with her claims that expert knowledge was critical to conserve society's moral code. Rather than embrace the social hygiene program's essential traditional- ism, Chicago's Catholic weekly, the New World, denounced the sex hygiene lectures as "modern fadism-modern and mischievous, too. . . . We believe this to be a very dangerous-a very bad step, one that is almost certain to be most injurious to public morals. "*'The opposition thus underlined how far the reformers' new faith in rational knowledge and state power had carried them from traditional moral concerns. Despite the reformers' ethical intentions, when they questioned the inherited image of the innocent child, when they attempted to usurp parental authority, and when they arrogated to themselves the proper functions of religion, it seemed they had gone too far. Just how far became clear in the hail of editorial and ministerial denunciations that broke loose upon the board of education.

Opponents of sex education were fundamentally convinced that the radical means of open sexual discussion could only undermine the traditional end of sexual virtue. "Smut smutches," commented one acerbic editorialist, and he denied that "smut" was any less dangerous in the classroom than it was in "the cheap theatre, in the department store . . . or on the street." In the opponents' opinion, children were indeed tabulae rasae, and sex information would mar their minds just as surely as exposure to tuberculosis would destroy their bodies. Similar arguments against the external contagion of sexual knowledge had for decades buttressed the "conspiracy of silence" and related censorship crusades. Such a tradition did not crumble at the first signs of threat. At the same time as Young proposed her lectures, Gov. E. F. Dunne of Illinois vetoed sex instruction even for undergraduates at the University of Illinois, in fear that it "may create, and probably will create, in their young minds a prurient curiosity which will induce, rather than suppress, immorality and unchastity." A similar course for high school students seemed unlikely to meet universal approval. If instruction in sex hygiene aroused a curiosity that had not previously existed, asked opponents, then how was it protecting the innocent youth? "Safety," remonstrated a Jesuit educator, "lies in diverting the attention from sex details." Opponents thus rejected the supporters' defining belief in the efficacy of scientific knowledge.48

4' Chicago New World, June 28, 1913, p. 4. Although the New Worldwas the official organ for the Catholic diocese, its lay editors were chiefly responsible for the paper's hostility to Protestantism and the Chicago public schools: see James W. Sanders, The Education of an Urban Minority: Catholics in Chicago, 1833-1965 (New York, 1977), 267-69.

48 Chicago Citizen, July 5, 1913, p. 4; Chicago DaiLy Trigune, Dec. 11, 1913, p. 1. Gov. E. F. Dunne's stand was commended by the Chicago Citizen, Dec. 20, 1913, p. 4. Richard J. Tierney, "Character and the Sex Problem," in School Hygiene: A Report of the Fourth International Congress of School Hygiene, Heldat Bufalo, N.Y., August 25-30, 1913, ed. W. Carson Ryan (Washington, 1913), 62.

A veteran teacher and the first female superintendent of a major
urban school system, Ella Flagg Young proposed lectures in
"Sex Hygiene" to safeguard the health and morals of
Chicago's young from the temptations of the city.

Courtexy Chicago Historical Society.

Young and her allies compounded their offense of corrupting the child by attempting to interfere with parental prerogatives. Viewing the Chicago controversy from afar, one intemperate Boston mother threatened to "horsewhip" any educator who needed a lesson in "respecting the rights of parents to bring up their little ones in innocence of the terrible evils of life." The "rights of parents" to teach or not to teach their children as they saw fit was one of the opponents' most potent arguments, for it spoke to fears that were larger than the struggle over sex education. Opponents were disturbed in general by what the educator Charles The Journal of American History September 1996

Keene, addressing the NEA, called "the downward tendency of the home for throwing off its duties and the equally downward tendency of outside agencies to take from the home its privileges." By "outside agencies," the educator intended precisely those creations in which Progressive social reformers took such pride: social settlements, the courts, social work, the schools. Nothing seemed to exemplify the "downward tendency" better than the schools' taking over the intimate family function of teaching sex behavior.49

Such fears of corruption and lost authority were prevalent throughout the country, but in Chicago the opposition to sex education was intensified by the influence of the Catholic Church. For years, Catholics in Chicago -especially immigrant Catholics- had felt themselves to be disproportionately the targets of Progressive "reforms," so they were from the beginning suspicious of any purport- edly "moral" project emanating from Chicago's reforming elite. Decrying "the recent, reiterated and spasmodic attempts made in this city towards improving our public morals," the Chicago Citizen, an "Irish National Secular Paper" heavily imbued with Catholic doctrine, cast ridicule upon "the idea of a number of practical politicians, merchant adventurers, and meddlesome, childless women preaching morals." Catholic editorialists saw sex education as one of a long series of ill-considered social policies that included divorce, socialism, and other attempts to interfere with the "natural" order of human relationships. "Today it is eugenics," complained one writer. "Tomorrow it will be sex hygiene."'O

Worse, Catholics recognized that the vice crusades, of which the movement for sex education formed part, were suffused with an air of militant Protestant reform: not only was the antiprostitution movement led by Protestant ministers, but its parades and rallies were always conspicuously studded with prohibitionists and ~abbatarians.~'

Little in their experience had prepared Chicago Catholics to welcome either the antivice movement or sex education.

The Catholic press interpreted sex education as a representative of the modern tendency away from the spiritual interpretation of life and toward a mechanistic or naturalistic one. The Citizen had long complained of the pernicious influence of Darwinism and decried in particular the sociologists' reliance on Darwinian notions in their prescriptions for government and human conduct. Their "crude and extravagant notions," an editorialist maintained, would "degrade man to the level of an irresponsible piece of cosmic machinery." Eugenics and sex education

'"Boston Post in "Sex Education in the Schools," 4; Keene and Wright, "Shall Sex Hygiene Be Taught in

the Public Schools?," 697. See also New York Times, Oct. 26, 1913. sec. 2, p. 12. For a statement against the

reformers' enlistment of the schools in their crusades, see "Sex Topics in the Schools," Journal of Education,

78 (Nov. 27, 1913), 538. For an attack on "the incursion of the spirit of organized public paternalism into the

region and the sacred privacy of the family and the home," see Chicago New World, June 28, 1913, p. 4. In

the national debate over sex education, Vz'gilance editors noted, the majority of newspaper sampled opposed

sex insrruction in rhe schools but favored it in the home: "Sex Education in the Schools," 4-6.

'O Chzcago Citizen, May 17, 1913, p. 4; Chicago New Wor/d, Aug. 30, 1913, p. 4; zbid, July 26, 1913,

p. 4. See Charles Shanabruch, Chicago? Catholics: The Evolution ofan American Identity (Notre Dame, 1981), esp. 128-38. A less sophisticated interpretation of ethnicity and Catholicism on the national level is Dolores Ann Liptak, Immigrants and Their Church (New York, 1989), 76-170.

"See, for example, the prominence of the Anti-Saloon League in a Chicago Civic Welfare League parade: Chicago Dally Trtbutze, Sepr. 29, 1912, pp. 1-2.

seemed particular offenders in this degradation. Rather than reduce children to the level of their biological and mental impulses, pleaded the Citizen, "Suffer them to regard themselves as something higher than mere animals." Such a regard not only ennobled children but also laid the only solid foundation for morality. "Good morals," concluded the Citizen in its clearest statement of the Catholic position, "is the efflorescence of religion. ">*

Although the public schools claimed to teach what Felix Adler, founder of the quasi-religious Ethical Culture movement, referred to as a "common fund of moral truth" in an increasingly pluralistic society, Catholic writers warned that the separation of church and state allowed the schools to teach only a "low naturalism" with minimal ethical effect. The New World asked:

What evidence, and what assurance are we to have that the new pedagogy is not going to be the last word in breaking down every vestige of supernatural restraint? For what motive or sanction can the teacher of sex hygiene give for his teachings? What can he teach, other than hygiene is as good as the ten commandments, and that disinfectants are an excellent substitute for the moral code?

Thus Catholic opponents disaggregated the sex educators' easy equation of health knowledge and virtue. In the Catholic position (as laid out in 1583, during the Counter Reformation, by Silvio Cardinal Antoniano) only moral education, suffused with a faith in the supernatural, could teach morality. Lacking connection with such faith, "intellectualist or naturalist" sex education could not avoid disaster. Even if the sex educators' motives were entirely pure -and the New Worlddid not concede this point -their methods led ineluctably to degradation and further vice.13

Even as they condemned the innovation, Catholic commentators thought sex hygiene might make Catholic education attractive in comparison. The New World leavened its attacks on sex hygiene with an eager anticipation that the program would drive more families to the parochial schools that advertised in the Catholic weekly's pages. Here children could learn morality while preserving their innocence, for the Catholic schools taught ethics, not through scientific acquisition, but by "distracting the mind from sexual matters" and prescribing religious sanctions. Further, the Catholic schools rejected what the Citizen called "all the sciences, fads and furbellows," including Darwinism and sociology, that were so important to "progressive" educators in the public schools. Sex education had made the dangerous tendencies of these educational novelties all too clear.14

"Chzcago Cztizen, July 20, 1912, p. 4; ibzd., July 5, 1913, p. 4; zbzd, May 17, 1913, p. 4.

"Felix Adler, The Moral Instructzon of Children (New York, 1892). See also "Moral Insrrucrion in rhe Elementary Schools," in National Education Association, Journal ofProceedings and Addresses, Session of the Year 189J, held at Denver, Colorado (St. Paul, 1895). Chicago New World, July 26, 1913, p. 4; Felix M. Kirsch, Training in Chastity: A Problem in Catholic Character Education (New York, 1930), xiii.

"Chicago New World, Aug. 30, 1913, p. 4; ibid, Sept. 20, 1913, p. 4; Chicago Citizen, Aug. 9, 1913,

p. 4; ibid,July 20, 1912, p. 4. For figures on Catholic school attendance, see Sanders, Education of an Urban ~Minority,45. On the split between "Liberal Progressive'' public educators and Chicago immigranrs, see Rivka Shpak Lissak, Phralirm and Progressives: Hzlll Hozlse and the New Immigrants, 1890-1919 (Chicago, 1989), 48-61.

The Journal of American History September 1996

Invoking such arguments, priests and ministers in many of the city's pulpits decried Ella Flagg Young's immoral innovation, while their parishioners flooded the president of the board of education, Peter Reinberg, a Catholic florist, with hundreds of protest letters, many of them bearing a suspicious resemblance to one another. The Chicago Citizen and the New World both kept up a drumbeat of protest and ridicule. Under the weight of such protests, the board of education as a whole met on June 25, 1913, and overrode its school management committee's decision to support sex hygiene. The board rescinded as well ten thousand dollars the finance committee had earmarked for the program. The opponents ap- peared triumphant. '5

Regrouping and Defeat

With the forces of Chicago's Progressive elite arrayed behind her, Young fought back. Once again the school board suffered under an avalanche of mail, but these letters bore the signatures of Jane Addams and other prominent Chicagoans, such as A. W. Harris, the president of Northwestern University, Clara F. Seippel, the assistant city physician, and friendly ministers such as Sumner and the Reverend

J. P. Brushingham, an organizer of the Municipal Voters' League of Chicago and pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church. All demanded that the board heed Young's demands. Further, Chicago's teachers had always been staunch supporters of "their" superintendent. Such entreaties were hard to ignore. On July 9, the chastened school management committee again met to discuss Young's proposal. After Jacob Loeb changed the name of the course from "sex hygiene education" to the less vivid "personal purity" talks-a change the New World decried as a dishonest "sterilization"-the board of education passed the new curriculum by a vote of eleven to two. Two Catholic board members, Mrs. John MacMahon and Thomas Kelly, voted nay (opponent Harry A. Lipsky, a Prussian Jew, was absent), but the other Catholics on the board -President Reinberg, Michael Collins, and Julius Smletanka-joined the majority in the affirmative. "They must be prepared to share the blame," warned the New World, but such threats did not immediately drown out the victory for Young and the social hy- gienists.56

As students filed back to high school that fall, the "personal purity" talks went forward successfully. By Thanksgiving, at least twenty thousand pupils had attended the lectures on physiology, moral hygiene, and venereal disease. As planned, a male physician addressed the boys on the fundamentals of male anatomy before pushing ahead to explode the common sexual fallacies that supposedly underlay the popularity of prostitution, such as the doctrine of sexual necessity. Lecturers stressed the fundamental healthfulness of continence, cleanliness, and clean

"Chzcago Daily Tnbune, June 26. 1913, p. 8.

Chzcago RecordHerald, July 28, 1913, p. 3; Chicago Daily Tnbune, July 10, 1913, p. 1; "Proceedings of the Chlcago Board of Education," July 9. 1913, pp. 2-3 (Chlcago Board of Education, Chicago, Ill.); Chicago Kew World, Sept. 20. 1913. p. 4; ibid, July 26. 1913, p, 4.

thoughts. Finally, the visiting physicians forcefully outlined the social and physical devastation that "inevitably" accompanied prostitution or virtually any promiscuity. A female physician lectured in rather less detail to groups of high school girls. Lecturers broke the conspiracy of silence deli~ately.~'

Young Chicagoans received the talks with only minor complaints. A pair of physicians who went into several schools circulated a questionnaire among students after the talks. In one school, they found that over 90 percent of the girls favored introducing the topic regularly into the curriculum, though the girls preferred it be taught by a familiar teacher, for they were too shy to ask their questions of a stranger. Students also expressed "an almost universal demand for more plain facts," but they were not satisfied with merely biological teaching. "There was also a strong demand," noted one physician, "for advice regarding the attitude of one sex toward another." And though parents were perhaps less enthusiastic for further innovations, they withdrew fewer than 8 percent of the high school students from the lecture^.'^

Despite these encouraging signs, the Chicago experiment in sex education did not last past the 1913-1914 school year. Although urban fears and the social hygiene movement had certainly prepared the ground for sex education, the controversial program had passed almost solely on Young's personal prestige, and that was a finite resource. From the first, a board of education member had advised Young that if she continued to advocate sex hygiene, she would arouse still-dormant board opposition to all of her proposals. After the proposal for "personal purity" talks passed, conservative board members stepped into the open to end Young's autonomy in disciplining teachers and choosing school materials. Their attacks led Young to resign in protest late in July 19 13, and though Mayor Carter Harrison wisely decided not to accept his celebrated superintendent's resignation, Young's ability to support sex hygiene, Montessori training, domestic science, and vocational education was undercut. >"

Much emboldened by the sex hygiene dispute, Young's opponents on the board of education attempted to remove her in December 1913 when she adopted a spelling textbook printed with non-union labor. Chicago Typographical Union no. 16 did not confine its criticism of the superintendent to her choice of textbooks but also submitted resolutions against the teaching of "sex hygiene" as an "unwar- ranted interference with the rights and prerogatives of the parents." Young again rebuffed the "hecklers," as she called her enemies on the board, but these battles took their toll on the educator. In November the United States attorney had ruled that circulars containing excerpts from the physicians' talks were obscene and

"Keene and Wright. "Shall Sex Hygiene Ee Taught in the Public Schools?," 697-701.

"Ibzd , 699-700, 698; see also Milwaukee Journal, Oct. 29, 1913, In Vigilance, 27 (Dec. 1913), 25-26. These estimates of the number of students withdrawn may have been inflated; Young claimed that only 1.06% of the students brought requests from their parents to be excused, in "Proceedings of the Chicago Board of Education," Dec. 31, 1913, p. 601.

""'Sex Hygiene." Journal ofEducatzon, March 5, 1914, p. 268; Chicago Darh~ Tribune, Dec. 11, 1913.

p. 2; Chicago Record-Herald, July 28, 1913, p. 3; ibid.. July 25, 1713, p. 1; zbia!, July 26. 1913, p. 2. See also Robert L. Reid. ed.. Battleground: The Autobiography of Margaret A. Haley (Chicago. 1982), 164-65.

The Journal of American History September 1996

therefore, by the "Comstock Act," excluded from the mails. Given the continued opposition to the teaching of sex hygiene, as well as a general reaction against her "progressive" methods, Young was unable to prevent the curriculum from sliding into disuse after its first year. Young held on to her superintendency, but a new mayor soon strengthened the conservative side of the school board, and in 1915 the board conclusively forced the superintendent's resignation over her refusal to enforce the "Loeb Rule" prohibiting teachers from participating in union activi- ties. The Chicago experiment, which had aroused such high feelings on both sides, was by then only a fading memory.60

The Chicago Experiment and Sex Education

The broader population may have soon forgotten the controversy, but the signifi- cance of Ella Flagg Young's proposal did not end with the program's demise. Most immediately, the failure of this experiment changed the course of sex educa- tion, though the meaning social hygienists derived from their defeat in Chicago was, ultimately, superficial. Rather than questioning the propriety of replacing religious teaching with a stew of hygienic and moral ideas, as opponents would have hoped, supporters interpreted the "Chicago example" mostly as a case study demonstrating how not to implement sex education. A friendly critic listed Young's mistakes: "To appoint physicians to give such instruction and ask the board of education for a special appropriation to pay them, and then announce in the public press what it is proposed to do," maintained Thomas Balliet, a dean at New York University, "is the most effective way I conceive of making such instruction impossible."" As Balliet suggested, sex educators should learn to avoid Ella Flagg Young's method of conspicuous, "emergency" sex instruction, but not her message.

The superintendent's program in Chicago was too blunt and too visible for such a delicate subject. Ironically, at the time when Young was inviting physicians to the schools for crash courses in sex hygiene, more progressive educators in the social hygiene movement were beginning to react against such emergency educa- tion. It was perhaps a sign of Young's lingering discomfort with sex education that, although she had built her career by breaking from stodgy pedagogical methods, Chicago's program consisted simply of a lecturer stuffing information into a passive audience. The progressive educator's encouragement of youthful experimentation and investigation was nowhere to be found. More advanced social hygiene educators were equally unwilling to allow students free interpretation of

"Chzcago Daily Tn&une, Dec. 11, 1913, pp. 1-2; ibzd, Dec. 13, 1913, p. 1; did, Dec. 14, 1913, p. 2; "Proceedings of the Chicago Board of Education," Dec. 31, 1913, pp. 596-97: Chicago New World, Nov. 22, 1913, p. 4; "Sex Educarion in the Schools," 5. See also Grace C. Strachan, "Wanted-a Twentieth-Century Ideal," in National Education Association, Journal of Proceedings . . . 1914, 317; and Chicago New World, Nov. 22, 1913, p. 4. "Sex Hygiene," 268; Gutowski, "High School as an Adolescent-Raising Institution," 125; Reid. Battleground, 167-80.

"Thomas M. Balliet. "Sex Hygiene and Sex Morality as the Aim of Sex Education," in National Education Assoclarion,Journal of Proceedings and Addresses of the Fzpy- Third Annual Meeting and International Congress on Education Held at Oakland, Califbrnia, August 16-27, 191j (Ann Arbor, 1915), 152.

the sex education message, but they also suspected that bringing in outside lecturers undermined sex hygiene's goal of suppressing the sexual impulse. Social hygienists complained that emergency instruction did not satisfy and thereby dampen youth- ful interest in sex. On the contrary, they feared that "purity talks" piqued students' interest, for the pageantry of special lectures and visiting physicians signified to pupils that this was an exceptional subject-perhaps one deserving further independent exploration. Sex educators would wrestle for many decades with the contradiction between wanting to impress their sexual message upon students and wanting to stifle youthful interest in the matter; for now, at least, they were certain that emergency instruction was not the proper way to extinguish curiosity. It was certainly not the proper way to extinguish parental objection^.^^

The Chicago failure accelerated the sex educators' movement away from emer- gency instruction. To avoid both a repetition of Young's very public struggle and the danger of arousing precocious sexual interest, educators after 1913 increasingly tried to "sneak" the subject in first and ask permission later, if at all. Rather than inviting physicians to the schools with great fanfare, supporters of sex education sought to integrate sex information throughout the curriculum, with certain ele- ments to be taught in biology, others in home economics, and a variety of messages to be conveyed only through the social studies and English classes. Teachers would insert these lessons into their courses "naturally," unobtrusively. Students would learn the necessary information as part of their regular course work, and no identifiable program would exist to call down condemnation. In reality, this new approach often meant that reluctant teachers simply avoided sex education altogether, but the turn against emergency instruction was at least partially success- ful in meeting its goals: after Ella Flagg Young's pitched battle in 1913, fifty years would pass before another city's sex education program aroused national controversy. Still in its infancy in 1913, sex education had changed decisivel~.~~

The Chicago Experiment as Cultural Battle

The lessons of Chicago radiated beyond the confines of the social hygiene move-

ment. Although the social hygienists, like many other Progressive reformers, were

"The critical shift on methods of sex education occurred at the Fifteenth International Congress on Hygiene

and Demography, in 1912, at which the American Federation for Sex Hygiene created a special committee on

sex education. See Report ofthe Special Commziide on the Matter andMethods ofSex Education (New York.

1913); "Minutes of the Executive Committee, American Federation for Sex Hygiene." April 12, 1912, folder

1, box L1, American Social Hygiene Association Papers; Fletcher B. Dresslar, The Fifteenth International Congress

on Hygiene and Demography (Washington, 1913). A committee member and future leader of the sex education

movement recalled that the 1912 report quickly led to the "obsolescence of the old sex hygiene": Maurice A.

Bigelow, "Sex Education in America Today," Journal of Soczal Hygiene, 24 (Dec. 1938), 527-28.

"For an influential example of "integrated" sex education, see Maurice A. Bigelow. Sex-Educatzon: A Series

of Lectures concerning Knowledge of Sex in Its Relation to Human Life (1916; New York, 1918). On the

difficulty of securing teacher support, see Imber. "Analysis of a Curriculum Reform Movement," 111-18. For

figures on the spread of sex education, see Newell W. Edson, Status ofSexEducatzon in High Schools (Washington.

1922); and Newell W. Edson and Lida J. Usilton, Status of Sex Education zn the Senior High Schools of the

United States zn 1927 (Washington. 1928). Only in 1968-1969 did sex education controversies that began in

Oakland. California, and Anaheim, California, publicly revive the cultural divisions first evinced by the "Chicago

attempting to replace traditional institutions with "modern" methods of social ordering, the resistance they met in Chicago suggests that this transition was neither easy nor complete. Historians specializing in the managerial synthesis and other interpretations of the modernizing impulse need to take into account actual historical confrontations before they proclaim the managerial elite's victory over a manipulable polity. Rather than signaling the birth of expert hegemony, the Chicago experiment illuminates the origins of a cultural divide over questions of state action and scientific authority that would persist throughout the century.64 Supporters and opponents of sex education agreed that the code of civilized morality was under siege in the city. But while social hygienists turned toward professional medicine and public education for reform, they faced numbers of people who did not agree that the old religious and communal sanctions needed replacing. In the long run, victory went to the educated elite, at least according to historians who have concentrated on the scientists and other experts with whom they have so much in common, but the Chicago experiment suggests that the outcome was marked less by resolution than by mutual retreat.

The prevalence of Protestant reformers on one side and Catholic opponents on the other underlines the importance of faith and morality in this cultural split, though it would be wrong to interpret these antagonists as more than representative types for conflicting views on modernity. Their dispute did not reproduce either the religious antagonism of the mid-nineteenth century or later divisions over sex education. Indeed, the middle-class, Protestant Progressives who supported sex education did so, not because they were preoccupied with controlling Catholics and immigrants, but because they worried about moral decline among their own "people." Sex educators and other prominent Progressives, including Morrow, Young, and Addams, tended to come from mainstream Protestant or from Jewish backgrounds, at a time when these religious establishments seemed to be holding less sway over their constituents in an increasingly secular and pluralistic American society. Thus Progressives were acutely aware of the erosion of religious sanctions for behavior, either in their own lives, as they left religious fervor behind for professional careers in medicine, science, or education, or in the lives of the people surrounding them, as they ignored religion altogether or imbibed a diluted and increasingly irrelevant pastoral message." The native-born, middle-class youths

experiment." See Jeffrey P. Moran, "'A Wholesome Fear': The Evolution of Sex Education in the United States, 1905 to 1995" (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1996). chap. 6.

"On American conservatism as an expression of dissent from the growth of bureaucratic expertise and state power, see Alan Brinkley, "The Problem of American Conservatism," American Historical Revtew, 99 (April 1994), 409-29, esp. 423-27; Susan M. Yohn, "Will the Real Conservative Please Stand Up? or, The Pitfalls Involved in Examining Ideological Sympathies: A Comment on Alan Brinkley's 'Problem of American Conservatism.' " ibid. , 430-37; and Leo P. Ribuffo, "Why Is There So Much Conservatism in the United States and Why Do So Few Historians Know Anything about It?." tbid., 438-52. For the most invigorating chronicling and promulgation of such dissent, see Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress andlts Cnttzs (New York, 1991), esp. 412-522: and Christopher Lasch, Haven zn a Heartless World: The Family Besieged (New York, 1977).

"Robert N. Crunden, Mtnzsters of Refirm: The Progressives' Achievement in Amencan Czvzlizatton, 18891920 (New York, 1982): Buenker, Burnham, and Crunden, Progressivism, 75. On other elite reactions to the loss of religious meaning, see Lears, 1Vb Place of Grace, esp. 3-26.

who patronized the levee district every night certainly seemed to have left behind the Protestant moral code that was once the signature of their class.

Rather than shore up a religious establishment whose efficacy they doubted and to which they no longer felt a deep commitment, middle-class Progressives sought a new foundation for morality. But they did not discard the moralistic inclinations that had formerly seemed inextricable from Protestant reform. "As transcendental sanctions are losing their power," wrote G. Stanley Hall in 1918, while war in Europe further battered the inner ramparts of civilized morality, "we must build up on a natural basis a new prophylaxis and be able to show that anything is right or wrong according as it is physiologically andsocially right or wrong." Right and wrong still existed for Hall-in fact, the new right and wrong differed from the old religious virtues and sins not at all-but he and many Protestant Progressives were convinced that morality must now be grounded in the natural, not the supernatural. Young accordingly proposed ethical and hygienic education in the public schools as a necessary step toward virtuous self-control. Over the next several decades, the educated elite's continuing embrace of secular science met with extensive approval among those middle-class Americans who shared the elite's disenchantment with religion and community and who came to accept public institutions and academic research as sufficient replacement^.^^

The character of secularizing urban Protestantism and, in some cases, Judaism became clearer in contrast to early twentieth-century Catholicism. Catholic com- mentators insisted that modern fads such as sex education indicated that mainstream culture was diverging dangerously from traditional concerns. "Never since paganism died out in its fastnesses," lamented the Chicago Citizen, "were men of the old principles so far separated from the world about them." As members of an ex- panding faith that rested squarely on those "old principles," Catholics who opposed sex education could rely upon "transcendental sanctions" to safeguard chastity with a sense of security that many mainstream Protestants no longer shared. "In the public schools," explained the Catholic New World, "the pupils have been educated as pagans, in the parochial as Christians. Now the proposal is to remedy the situation in the public schools by teaching sex hygiene." "The parochial schools," confident in their own path according to the editorialist, "will keep on teaching morality. 'I6?

The Catholic opposition to sex education in Chicago in 1913 thus exemplified what was to become a tenacious resistance against the Progressive contention that

"G. Stanley Hall, "Morale in the War and After," Psychological Bulletin, 15 (Nov. 1918), in "Morale and

Sex," Social Hygiene, 6 (Jan. 1920), 72. For a similar conflating of biological and religious laws, see John M.

Coulter, "The Religious and Character Value of the Curriculum: Biology," Religious Education, 6 (Dec. 1911),

366-68. For the later period see, for example, Bailey, "Scientific Truth . . . and Love," 711.

"Chicago Citizen, July 13, 1913, p. 4; Chicago New World, Oct. 4, 1913, p. 4. Catholics too were occasionally enthusiastic about using coercion to enforce absolute morality; by the 1920s, Catholics were the mainstays of censorship societies. See Boyer, Purity in Print, 167-206; Gregory D. Black, Hollywood Censored. Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies (New York, 1994); and James M. Skinner, The Cross and the Cinema: The Legion of Decency and the National Catholic Ofice for Motion Pictures, 1933-1970 (Westport, 1993). The Catholic denunciation of social hygiene's breaking the conspiracy of silence was correct, in the sense that the new social tolerance for "scientific" discussions of sex also cleared the way for a flood of less elevated publications. See Burnham, Paths into American Culture, 150-69.

The Journal of American History September 1996

"modern" methods were necessary to conserve or replace traditional morals. In this case, the resistance was led by Catholics, but the configuration of their dissent would appear later in the rhetoric of Fundamentalist Protestantism and militant anticommunism. If responsibility for moral decline in the cities lay anywhere, suggested opponents, then it lay with social reformers, with the meddling authori- ties and irreligious scientists who interfered with the integrity of the family and undermined public faith in the supernatural. Nor did opponents acquiesce in physicians' arrogation of moral authority in,society. Many Americans in later years might defer to the physician in most of his pronouncements about venereal disease, but they remained adamant that the morality of sexual behavior logically lay outside the doctor's purview. Opponents of sex education and other reforms agreed with supporters that the social order was threatened by bureaucratization, secularization, and rationalization, but opponents did not agree that the solution to disorder was therefore more bureaucracy, less religion, and more scientific knowledge. Particularly where "scientific" sex education conflicted with the inher- ited sentimental image of the innocent child, social hygienists ran up against the limits of tolerance for their advanced methodsG8

They did not, however, surrender their larger project. As evidenced by the move toward "integrated" sex education, sex educators, in response to failure in Chicago, simply decided that the public was no longer to be trusted with important reform decisions, especially where the reform involved questions of scientific or medical expertise. Indeed, the desire to regularize the reform impulse and lessen social hygiene's reliance upon public fervor had from the beginning motivated Prince Morrow's attempts to implement sex education in the public schools. The public's "irrationality" in the face of enlightened reform was a central factor in the increasing emphasis upon expert authority at the expense of democratic involvement, not just in the social hygiene movement, but throughout the ranks of educated reformers. Walter Lippmann's post-Great War embrace of scientific rule was only a highly intellectualized version of the turn sex educators and many Progressive reformers had already made in the face of public disapp~intment.~~

At the same time, the substantial body of conservative opponents seemed to fade out of sight, for reformers did not attempt to engage them in any meaningful way. Nor did opponents attempt to engage the elite modernizers in a sustained

"How social issues and religion helped create a Cold War alliance between conservative Catholics, Fundamen- talist Protestants and, eventually, evangelicals, is hinted at in Gordon V. Drake, Is the Schoolhouse the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex? (Tulsa, 1968). See also Daniel Bell, ed., The Radical Right (Garden City, 1963); Jerome

L. Himmelstein, To the Right: The Transformation ofAmeriGan Conservatirm (Los Angeles, 1990); and William

B. Hixson Jr., Search for the American Right Wing: An Anabsir ofthe Social Science Record, 19SS-1987 (Princeton, 1992). Although his work is replete with evidence to the contrary, see, for example, Allan M.Brandt's assertion, "doctors had become the arbiters of sexuality in both its scientific and moral realms"; Brandt, No Magic Bullet, 51. On the "therapeutic culture," see Philip Rieff, The Trizlmph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith afer Freud (New York, 1966).

69 Morrow, SocialDiseases and Mamage, 338-39; Gerstle, "Protean Character of American Liberalism," 1055; Walter Lippmann, The Phantom Public (New York, 1925). On Lippmann's intellectual development, see Lasch, True and Only Heaven, 361-68. On the role of a belief in the political irrationality of the masses in this rejection of democracy, see Edward A. Purcell Jr., The Crisis of Democratic Theory: Scientific Naturalism and the Problem of Value (Lexington, Ky., 1973), 103-9.

intellectual exchange. The conservatives, however, never really disappeared, as demonstrated by recurrent paroxysms of conflict such as the 1925 trial of John Scopes for teaching about Darwinian evolution or the Right's discovery of "social issues" after the defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential ele~tion.'~ They simply opted out of many aspects of twentieth-century institutional life except when they grew overconfident of their own strength or when forced into open opposition.

The historical course of the social hygiene movement exemplifies this mutual retreat. Deflated by defeat in its first major initiative, the movement for sex education after Chicago became less a sustained public dialogue about the role of youth, sexuality, and education in society than a quiet conversation among experts punctuated by spasms of public controversy. In tracing varieties of response to what I refer to as the loss of society's ordering institutions and what Philip Rieff has called "deconversion" from the West's "unitary system of common belief," historians would do well not only to portray the "deconverted" but also to recognize the ideology and the stubborn persistence of the "still-con~erted.~

'O This is to argue not only for the persistence of actual conservative people, but also for the persistence of a generalized impul~eof dissent from modern structures of social reproduction. On educators' lack of engagement with the public, see Jonathan Zimmerman, "'The Queen of the Lobby': Mary Hunt, Scientific Temperance, and the Dilemma of Democratic Education America, 1879-1906," Hirtory ofEducation Quarterly, 32 (Spring l992), 30.

"Rieff, Triumph of the Therapeutic, 1-2.

  • Recommend Us