Respectability on Trial

Sex Crimes in New York City, 1900-1918

By Brian Donovan

Subjects: American History, History, Social And Cultural History, Sociology, Human Sexuality
Paperback : 9781438461946, 244 pages, January 2017
Hardcover : 9781438461953, 244 pages, October 2016

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Table of contents


1. Trials of the First Sexual Revolution

2. Date Rape and the Crime of Seduction

3. Rape and the Double Bind of Progressive-Era Femininity

4. White Slaves and Ordinary Prostitutes

5. Sodomy, Manhood, and Consent

6. Conclusion: Rethinking Sexual Revolution


Recovers and chronicles the plights of ordinary New Yorkers that resonate with contemporary debates on rape and domestic violence.


Providing a front row seat at critical courtroom battles over seduction, pimping, rape, and sodomy in early twentieth-century New York City, Brian Donovan uses verbatim trial transcripts to understand the city's history during the so-called "first sexual revolution. " By tracing the revolutionary and repressive dimensions of this time period, Donovan reveals how conflicting ideas about sex and gender shaped the city's criminal justice system. He unearths stories of sexual violence and legal injustice that contradict the image of early twentieth-century America as a time of sexual revolution and progress. Police and courts often served the interests of the upper classes, men, and racial and ethnic majorities, but the trial transcripts included here reveal the considerable extent to which members of working-class and immigrant communities used the machinery of law enforcement for their own ends. Many previous books have fully documented and analyzed the sensational trials of turn-of-the-century New York City, but none have paid such close attention to the courtroom experiences of common city dwellers.

Brian Donovan is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Kansas and the author of White Slave Crusades: Race, Gender, and Anti-vice Activism, 1887–1917.


"Brian Donovan's newest study, Respectability on Trial … is an invaluable addition to the ever-growing library of scholarly works on the history of Gotham. His well-researched and carefully argued work reminds New Yorkers that there's always something more to learn about their remarkable city. " — New York Journal of Books