In The Lost Sisterhood, Ruth Rosen asserts that the anti-prostitution crusade during the Progressive Era reflects the movement’s broad approach of reforming cultural values and society at the economic, social, and political levels.
First, Progressives applied the arguments against broader economic exploitation to condemn the exploitative practices in prostitution. As Rosen notes, women who advocated for minimum wage laws also were likely to support strict penalties on men who used prostitution services (Rosen 16). In order to gather public outrage, prostitution was characterized as “white slavery” (16). Thus, the Progressives attempted to convey prostitution as another economic abuse they must eliminate.
Second, the crusade against prostitution reflected the moralistic concerns of the progressive movement. During the period, anti-vice campaigns developed in order to condemn alcohol, crime, and sexual morality (15). Thus, the fight against prostitution paralleled the Progressive movement’s commitment to transforming the morals of society.
Finally, Progressives utilized the same political strategies they used for other issues in order to take action against prostitution. Progressives held the viewpoint that they could use the government in order to regulate the morals of the population (18). Further, other Progressives believed the government should be used to ban prostitution altogether (16). The opposition to prostitution demonstrates the Progressive reliance on using the government to enact reforms. Today, Progressives have succeeded in banning prostitution in the majority of states; however, with the emergence of the internet, they're currently advocating for stricter pornography laws in the U.S.
Rosen, Ruth. The lost sisterhood: prostitution in America, 1900-1918. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1982. Print.