Arrestable Behavior: Women, Police Power, and the Making of Law-and-Order America, 1930-1980


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project examines the sexual policing of women as the racial and sexual politics of US cities underwent dramatic transformations across the twentieth century. Between 1930 and 1980, two contradictory developments emerged: the gradual liberalization of sexual prohibitions, and the mounting force of a racially charged program of law-and-order morals policing. This project focuses on the discretionary police enforcement of a suite of broadly defined morals misdemeanors, including disorderly conduct, lewdness, and prostitution—which were primarily deployed against women—to explore how changing racial and gendered meanings of sexual criminality shaped police practices. By illuminating both the raced dimension of sexual liberalism and the gendered dimension of policing in black communities, this project reshapes understandings of the relationship of race, gender, and sexuality to the development of modern legal regimes in the United States.