The Visual Pedagogy of Reform: Picturing White Slavery in America
By the early twentieth century, reformers had developed increasingly sophisticated methodology for the deployment of their visual materials. They benefitted from technological advances, such as the halftone that enabled the printing of photographic images alongside pamphlet or book text, but their advancements went to the nature and presentation of the messages these activists sought to convey in visual form. Male and female vice reformers produced a particularly complex, somewhat contradictory primer for readers. Reformist tracts taught their audiences-cum-readers how to see in the modern world: they served as self-conscious primers for the duplicities of the city and its thriving vice industry. In their many cultural productions, activists warned the public that sin and degradation transcended class boundaries, and even thrived under the cloak of urban luxury and respectability—a direct result of the wealth its “syndicate” allegedly extracted after buying-and-selling young (white) women for profit. Yet the legislators, criminal prosecutors, and other outspoken critics who waged their war against “the traffic in women” simultaneously relied on storied visual codes of propriety when putting forward their own public images and personae, relying on readers to trust them, if not their own eyes.