Educated Eastern Europe was gripped by an extended moral panic in the waning years of the nineteenth century. Unbridled and aggressive sex workers lined city streets and filled the venereal wards at local hospitals as government officials, physicians and moral reformers across the region proposed competing remedies for the wave of public immorality and its attendant diseases. In the divided Polish lands, discussion of paid sex became a foil for debating issues of gender, sexuality, and deviant behavior in a future sovereign state. This presentation examines the shifting approaches to prostitutes and prostitution in partitioned Poland. What role should these immoral "dregs" play in the formation of the "us" that would form the basis for a new Polish society? Should they remain outsiders, or would "modern" Polish actors devise a language of inclusion to address the problems these new citizens presented? The lecture assesses the dramatic shifts that attended debates about prostitution in Eastern Europe as the focus moved from one of traditional morality to a medical model of social reform.
Keely Stauter-Halsted is Professor of History and Hejna Family Chair in Polish Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago. She specializes on the history of modern Eastern Europe, Poland, Jewish history, gender history, and the Holocaust. Her talk will be based on her current book project.