In the early 20th century, the development of a practice called "treating" transformed American sexual behavior, values and culture. Young women 'treated' when they exchanged sexual favors for dinner and an evening's entertainments, or more tangibly for stockings, shoes and other consumer goods. Constructing treating as an intermediate category between prostitution and chastity, young working-class women opened up a moral space that preserved both sexual barter and sexual virtue. Treating changed the sexual behavior of young working-class people, which in turn decreased the moral value of chastity in working-class culture. Demand for prostitution declined as young men anticipated, and increasingly found, sexual satisfaction in their relationships with their dates, girlfriends and fiancees. The acceptance of treating by the 1920's had a profound impact on both popular culture and prostitution. Entrepreneurs and young women alike used men's understanding of the practice to pioneer new patterns of entertainment and sociability in Prohibition era speakeasies. When combined with the persecution of prostitutes during W.W.I, competition from treating girls made prostitution a less palatable sexual and economic choice for many women. Some turned to treating to meet their material needs. The women who continued to prostitute increasingly defined themselves against treating girls, demanding fair compensation and respect for the diverse sexual services they provided. As a result, the emergence of treating had a profound impact on the nature of courtship, the patterns of popular culture and the forms and prevalence of prostitution. Relying on investigative reports, prison records, social work case files, trial transcripts, newspapers and life histories, I argue that the incorporation of treating into working-class sexual ideology spurred the shift from Victorian to recognizably modern sexual ideology. As such, this dissertation illuminates the ways in which young working-class women explored and helped to construct modern popular culture, public space and gender identities.
Adviser: Drew Faust. Thesis (Ph.D. in History) -- University of Pennsylvania, 1998. Includes bibliographical references.