Social purity movement

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The social purity movement was a late 19th-century social movement that sought to abolish prostitution and other sexual activities that were considered immoral according to Christian morality. Composed primarily of women, the movement was active in English-speaking nations from the late 1860s to about 1910, exerting an important influence on the contemporaneous feminist, eugenics, and birth control movements.[1] The movement helped to shape feminist views on prostitution.

The roots of the social purity movement lay in early 19th-century moral reform movements, such as radical utopianism, abolitionism, and the temperance movement. In the late 19th century, "social" was a euphemism for "sexual"; the movement first formed in opposition to the legalization and regulation of prostitution, and quickly spread to other sex-related issues such as raising the age of consent, sexually segregating prisons, eliminating abortion, opposing contraception, and censoring pornography.[2]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Olasky (1992), p. 127.
  2. ^ Gordon (2002), pp. 72–73.


  • Gordon, L. (2002). The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America. University of Illinois Press.
  • Olasky, Marvin N. (1992). Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America. Good News Publishers. ISBN 0-89107-687-5.

Further reading[edit]

  • Egan, R. D.; Hawkes, G. (2007). "Producing the Prurient through the Pedagogy of Purity: Childhood Sexuality and the Social Purity Movement". Journal of Historical Sociology. 20 (4): 443–461. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6443.2007.00319.x.
  • Hall, L. (2004). "Hauling Down the Double Standard: Feminism, Social Purity and Sexual Science in Late Nineteenth-Century Britain". Gender & History. 16 (1): 36–56. doi:10.1111/j.0953-5233.2004.325_1.x.
  • Kevles, D. J. (1985). In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. Knopf.
  • Morgan, S. (2007). ""Wild oats or acorns?" Social purity, sexual politics and the response of the Late-Victorian Church". Journal of religious history. 31 (2): 151–168. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9809.2007.00551.x.