The Visual Pedagogy of Reform: Picturing White Slavery in America

Amy Katherine DeFalco Lippert*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Progressive-Era movement to end enforced prostitution—hyperbolically termed “white slavery”—achieved substantial and enduring legislative and political victories by the onset of World War I. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, images provided a potent but heretofore overlooked vehicle for the most prominent white slavery activists, a means of picturing the city with all its dangers and temptations, and an effective means of competing with the spectacles of modern society. The visual propaganda of white slavery demonstrates the extent to which prominent members of this reform movement—and several impostors masquerading as earnest reformers—engaged in controversial, explicit tactics in the vein of contemporary true-crime stories. Whether these methods were in the service of arming rural families with valuable knowledge or simply generating attention and profit, they reveal the internal contradictions that threatened to undermine or even undo the reformist message.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)854-888
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Urban History
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • censorship
  • moral reform
  • obscenity
  • panderers
  • progressive era
  • prostitution
  • seduction narrative
  • spectacle
  • urban vice industry
  • visual culture
  • visual propaganda
  • white slavery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


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