Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




From 1871 to 1919, Chicago emerged as an epicenter of a struggle over social order as municipal officials and self-proclaimed reformers fought for the power to decide which people and what behavior should be designated as criminal. Studying the criminalization of women in Chicago reveals how contested categories of crime and gender changed over time and provides insight into broader battles over moral, political, and economic power in the United States. In the late nineteenth century, an intimate economy of public women fighting, drinking, and having sex for money profoundly shaped daily life in the streets, saloons, and brothels of Chicago. Municipal and moral reformers subsequently worked to control and convict public women in order to dismantle the power of the intimate economy. Into the twentieth century, police increasingly arrested women for killing their children, spouses, and lovers. Progressive Era reformers fought to control the cultural narratives that assigned criminal culpability to some women but not others. Ultimately, the Progressive Era alliance between white middle-class reformers and an emerging bureaucratic state advanced its own political and economic interests by undermining women’s already limited claims to culturally acceptable feminine violence.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.