Exhibtion Index  Credits   Bryn Mawr College Library    

Ballroom to Hell
Thomas A.  Faulkner. From the Ball-Room to Hell. Chicago: Henry Bros. & Co., c. 1894.
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Runaway GirlsRunaway Girls and Their Startling Adventures: True Narratives of Actual Occurrences with Real Names of Many Young Women who Imbibed Romantic Notions of Life, Through Reading Sensational Novels in a Class of Highly Injurious Weekly Story Papers, and Left their Homes. Philadelphia: Barclay, c. 1878.
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Doubtless many women who engaged in extramarital sex found it difficult or impossible to return to their previous lives, at least if pregnancy resulted or their behavior became otherwise known.   But the trajectories of these stories are so similar that we must conclude we are dealing not just with history, but with myth.  It is a myth that depends on the presumption that women are weak and sinful, and it claims that the sinner is not redeemable in this world, but will inexorably fling herself into increasingly deep pits of crime or depravity.  It is a useful myth to tell the teenage daughter whose behavior you hope to influence a little while longer.  And like all myths, it reflects the issues that are important to the people who tell it.

The end of the nineteenth century saw deep public debate over the role of women in society and the beginnings of the sexual revolutions of the twentieth.  One result was an outpouring of popular books that warned women against dangerous "modern" behavior, including social dancing and reading trashy literature.  Thomas Faulkner claimed in From the Ball-Room to Hell that one could eliminate the brothels from the cities of America by closing the dancing schools.  The pamphlet Runaway Girls reports the escapades of several young ladies who were rescued at the last moment from lives of prostitution, otherwise the inevitable result of leaving their families on a youthful whim.

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