The prostitute, and her sister in sin - the so-called 'fallen' woman - were veritable obsessions of American Progressive Era culture. Their cumulative presence, in scores of controversial theatrical productions, demonstrates the repeated obsession with the prostitute figure in both highbrow and lowbrow entertainments. As the first extended examination of such dramas during the Progressive Era, Sisters in Sin recovers a slice of theatre history in demonstrating that the prostitute was central to American realist theatre. Such plays about prostitutes were so popular that they constituted a forgotten genre - the brothel play. The brothel drama's stunning success reveals much about early twentieth-century American anxieties about sexuality, contagion, eugenics, women's rights and urbanization. Introducing previously unexamined archival documents and unpublished play scripts, this original study argues that the body of the prostitute was a corporeal site upon which modernist desires and cultural imperatives were mapped.
Katie N. Johnson specializes in theatre, film, and gender studies in the English Department at Miami University of Ohio where she is Associate Professor. In 2003, she was awarded the Gerald Kahan Award for best essay in the field of theatre studies by a younger scholar. Her work has appeared in Theatre Journal, Theatre Survey, the Journal of American Drama and Research, American Drama, The Eugene O'Neill Review, The American Transcendental Quarterly, and the Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History.
Introduction: The Brothel Drama; Part I. The Female Performer as Prostitute: 1. Zaza: that 'obtruding harlot' of the stage; 2. That 'sin-stained' Sapho; 3. The Easiest Way and the actress-as-whore myth; Part II. Working Girls: 4. The shop girl: working girl dramas; 5. The girl shop: Mrs Warren's Profession; Part III. Opium Dens and Urban Brothels: Staging the White Slave: 6. White slave plays in progressive American theatre; 7. Brothel anyone? Laundering the 1913-14 white slave season; Part IV. The Legitimation and Decline of the Brothel Drama: 8. Damaged Goods: sex hysteria and the Prostitute Fatale; 9. The repentant courtesan in Anna Christie and the lesbian prostitute in The God of Vengeance.