Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10267/1879
Title: Contesting the Boundaries of Womanhood: Female Reformers and Sex-Workers in Memphis, 1880-1920
Authors: Cundiff, Ashley
Keywords: History, Department of;Honors papers;Student research;Academic departments
Issue Date: 16-Jun-2008
Publisher: Memphis, Tenn. : Rhodes College
Abstract: My project explores the relationship between middle to upper class white club women in Memphis, Tennessee and their targets for reform: prostitutes. By researching both reformers and prostitutes in Memphis, I explore the convergence of race, class, and gender relations inscribed upon the female body and subsequently gain an understanding of the white reformers’ relationships with the prostitutes they attempted to help. Essentially conservative, Memphis reformers adhered to Victorian definitions of womanhood, which compromised their ability to change the lives of prostitutes. These reformers offered forgiveness and rescue to prostitutes deemed worthy according to hegemonic gender norms, condemning those who fell outside of this rubric, despite their good intentions. Moreover, by embracing Victorian ideals of womanhood, club women limited their own empowerment, by operating within a system of gender separation that subordinated women. Prostitutes also operated within the constraints of a patriarchal culture. Although they exercised autonomy through economic support and defined an alternative female sexual morality, they nonetheless were marginalized as “fallen women.” Theoretically grounded in the arguments of Patricia Hill Collins and Michel Foucault, this project thus explores the female body as a site of contested values. This research ultimately demonstrates the difficulties of fighting for gender equality, even with separate institution building, whether in a women’s club or a brothel. Both groups of women, the sex-workers and reformers, demonstrated the desire to empower women, but neither fully succeeded in this endeavor.
Description: Ashley Cundiff granted permission for the digitization of her honors paper. It was submitted by CD.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10267/1879
Appears in Collections:History, Department of. Honors Papers

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