The Power of Observation: Dallas Progressives and Prostitutes at the Turn of the Century

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



Date of Award

Summer 2016


At the turn of the twentieth century, American progressive reformers feared the moral weakness of the lower classes, especially women. Reformers challenged the changing social behaviors by adopting techniques of sensationalism and visual intrusion in an effort to force the societal elites to acknowledge and protect the “virtuous” in urban areas from the potential of loose sexual attitudes they perceived led to prostitution. In Dallas, Texas, the leaders of progressive reform were active in their participation to push the agenda toward reclaiming prostitutes from red light districts. Whether the woman who worked as a prostitute labored in a brothel or on the streets, by using photography, sensational exposés, and theater productions to depict the dangers of sexual vice to middle and upper class audiences, reformers reframed their agenda as voyeurism through entertainment to entice the audience to adhere to the “sexual code.” The depiction of prostitutes and red light districts through the media and theater created a genre that fulfilled a thirst for access to the unusual.


Jessica Brannon-Wranosky

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | History