The Haunting of the Sexually Autonomous Prostitute

Thursday, January 7, 2016: 2:00 PM
Crystal Ballroom B (Hilton Atlanta)
Michelle Jones, Indiana Women's Prison
The Indiana Women’s Prison, long considered to be the first women’s prison in the US was preceded by at least 30 years by the first of what became a vast network of Catholic prisons (known as Magdalene Laundries). State courts could and did sentence women to these institutions for a variety of sexual transgressions. American Magdalene Laundries—numbering at least 39 by 1900—were far more numerous and widespread in the 19th century than state prisons for women and, we argue, had a profound effect on women and sexuality in the 19th century, especially among the lower classes. Yet we have lost all memory of these institutions. This historical amnesia distorts our understanding of the origins of women’s prisons in the US and obscures the extent to which female prisons and female sexuality have been entangled since separate prisons for women began.
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