History of Sexuality in the United States, 1900 to the Present

Instructor: Christy Regenhardt
email: christyr@wam.umd.edu
Phone: 57709 (Office)
2101C Woods Hall (Women’s Studies Department)


This course explores the changing sexual habits and beliefs of Americans in the twentieth century. In this process, students will learn how to apply historical methods to the study of sexuality. Students will try to understand how Americans have used sexuality to construct ideas about race, class, and gender.

John D’Emilio and Estelle Freeman. Intimate Matters.
Beth Bailey Sex in the Heartland.
XEROXED COURSE PACKET, which will contain all of the academic articles and excerpts listed below, as well as primary articles. Newspaper articles and other primary source documents will be available only in the course packet or at my desk during my office hours.

SNOW POLICY: If the University of Maryland College Park campus is closed for any reason, we will make up that day’s class on the following Saturday at the regular meeting time and place. If the campus is closed more than one day during the week, I will contact students by email or phone to arrange additional meeting time. As long as the University of Maryland is open, you are expected to be in class and on time.


The largest portion of your grade will be based on your class participation. While I will give brief lectures to tie together some of the material you’ve read, and we will be viewing portions of films and listening to music in class, most of our time will be spent in discussion of the material. For this to work, students must complete their assigned readings before class meets each day. Assignments are listed on the day they are due. Due to the brief and intense nature of any winterterm course, attendance is absolutely required every single day. If you have an unavoidable absence, please contact me as soon as possible. You must show written proof that your absence was unavoidable if you want the opportunity to complete a make-up assignment. Tardiness is also unacceptable. Three tardy arrivals will be treated as an unexcused absence. An unexcused absence will result in the loss of four points from your FINAL grade for the course.
There are a few, brief, writing assignments for the class. You should focus on one topic for all of these assignments. Some suggested topics are listed at the end of this syllabus. If you want to research a topic not on this list, you must clear it with me no later than January 8th.
You will each turn in three 2-page papers analyzing a primary source document. These will be due on the 8th, 16th, and 22nd. Your primary source might be a song, film, or magazine article among other things. These papers must be typed and double-spaced. An example will be given to you on the first day of class. Your final paper will be a 6-8 page paper in which you compare one secondary source article on your topic area to the three primary sources you will have examined. We will spend one hour in McKeldin library on January 7th, where you will learn how to search for articles in different electronic databases. Late papers will be marked down one letter grade for each day they are late.
The final exam will be given on the final day of class, and will be one hour long. The exam will consist of a single essay question. The instructor will hand out three possible questions at least a week before the exam. One of these three questions will be drawn from a hat on the day of the exam, and all students will answer that question. Students are encouraged to work together to prepare for the examination, but the exam itself will be closed-book and individually written.

Class Participation = 35%
Document Analysis (3) = 6% each
Final Paper =22%
Final Examination = 25%


There are a few major questions you should keep in mind every day as you do the readings– some we can answer, some we can only contemplate. These include:
ü How have race, class, gender, and religion affected ideas of sexuality in the twentieth century?
ü How have public conceptions about sexuality affected the “private” sexual lives of individuals?
ü What role has sexuality played in public discourses (such as in the discussion of juvenile delinquency in the 1950s, or in discussions of “family values” in the 1990s?)?
ü Why have many Americans identified by categories of sexual-orientation in the 20th Century? What forms have these categories taken? When and why have they changed?

There are also questions listed with each day’s reading to further help you think about what you are reading.

(Readings are listed on the date by which you should have them read.)
Intimate Matters is abbreviated “IM” and Sex in the Heartland is abbreviated “SITH”

January 6: Introduction: Comstock Laws, Psychology, and Reformers
Agenda: Introduction. Lecture on turn-of-the-century. Watch portion of Celluloid Closet.

January 7: Delinquent Girls and New Women
Questions: How were sexual mores changing in the early part of the 20th century? What different ideals did people face based on race and class?
Reading: IM pp. 188-201. Coursepacket: Selection from Kathy Peiss Cheap Amusements, Leslie Dunlap “The Reform of Rape Law and the Problem of White Men,” and Jacqueline Dowd Hall “The Mind that Burns in Each Body”
Agenda: Lecture on the early part of the century. Listen to Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. Library visit.

January 8: Marriage and other kinds of love
Questions: What role did marriage play for different people in this time period? What role did marriage play in sexuality? How did people negotiate sexuality outside of marriage?
Reading: IM pp. 202-235. Coursepacket: Peggy Pascoe “Miscegenation Law . . .”, Epstein “Family, Sexual Morality, and Popular Movements in Turn of the Century America.”, Martha Umphrey “The Trouble with Harry Thaw”
Agenda: Discussion. Primary source analysis.

January 9: The Depression and World War 2.
Questions: How was sexuality taking shape in New York? In Kansas? How did war affect these places? What role did race, class, and ethnicity play in these different locales?
Reading: IM pp. 242-274. SITH chapter 1. Coursepacket: Selection from George Chauncey’s Gay New York.
Agenda: Lecture. Discussion. Watch Coming Out Under Fire. Watch part of The Best Years of Our Lives.

January 10: Kinsey and the postwar world
Questions: What was the relationship between sexuality and ideas about American identity? How did different people view sexuality in this period? Why did sexuality become such an important issue?
Reading: SITH chapter 2. Coursepacket: selection from From Front Porch to Back Seat, Excerpt from John D’Emilio’s Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, Serlin “Christine Jorgenson and the Cold War Closet”.
Agenda: watch The Children’s Hour, listen to Elvis Presley and Little Richard.

January 13: From the Fifties to the Pill
Questions: What effect did the advent of the birth control pill have on American society? How did race and class affect availability of and expectations about abortion, adoption, and birth control?
Reading: SITH Chapter 3 and 4. Coursepacket: “Excerpt from Rickie Solinger’s Wake Up Little Suzie.
Agenda: Lecture on the Fifties and Sixties. Discussion.

January 14: “Sexual Revolution”
Questions: What was the “sexual revolution”? What did it mean for different people?
Reading: SITH Chapters 5&6. IM Chapter 12.
Agenda: watch Pillow Talk

January 15: Sex on the Left.
Questions: How did sexuality and politics influence each other in the 1960s?
Readings: IM Chapter 13. Coursepacket: Jonathan Zimmerman “Crossing Oceans, Crossing Colors: Black Peace Corps Volunteers and Interracial Love in Africa, 1961-1971,” Robin Morgan “Goodbye to All That”
Agenda: Lecture. Discussion. Listen to Bob Dylan.

January 16: Feminism and Gay Liberation
Questions: What role did sexuality play in the feminist movement of the late 1960s-1970s? How did gay liberation groups and feminist groups redefine sexuality in this period?
Readings: SITH chapter 5? (“Sex and Liberation”). Coursepacket: “Politicizing Pleasure” from Desiring Revolution, “Lesbian Feminist Revolution” from Lillian Faderman’s Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, Lawrence Kissack “Freaking Fag Revolutionaries”
Agenda: Discussion, Lecture. Watch part of Celluloid Closet.

January 17: The Seventies, a new openness?, and the Rise of Porn.
Questions: What role did sexuality play in mass culture in the late 1960s- 1970s?
Readings: IM chapter 14. Coursepacket: Ann Snitow “Mass Market Romance,” Willis “Feminism, Moralism, and Pornography,” more reading TBA.
Agenda: watch a film, TBA.

January 20th _Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday, Observed. No Class

January 21: The Moral Majority and Reagan’s America
Questions: Was there a “backlash” against more open sexual expression? What forms did it take? How did this backlash envision appropriate sexuality (was it united on one view)? What affects did it have on different groups of Americans?
Readings: IM Chapter 15.
Agenda: watch a film, TBA.

January 22: AIDS
Questions: What role did AIDS play in changing views of sexuality and changing expressions of sexual desire in the 1980s and 1990s?
Readings: Coursepacket: Larry Kramer “The Unwanted Messenger,” Padgug “More than the Story of a Virus.”
Agenda: Lecture on cultural history of AIDS. Discussion. Primary source analysis.

January 23: Sex in the 1990s.
Questions: What are some of the major cultural and political issues involving sexuality in the 1990s? How do they affect different Americans’ lives?
Readings: Coursepacket: Donna Penn “Queer: theorizing Politics and History,” Rebecca Chalker “Updating the Model of Female Sexuality,” Michael Kimmel “Clarence, William, Iron Mike . . .”
Agenda: watch episode of Will and Grace. Watch part of Dreamworlds 3.

January 24: Last day of class. Exam

You are by no means limited to these topics– I can imagine hundreds more. This list is simply to get you thinking about the possibilities, and to help you if you are unsure about you historical interests. You may also want to look at a more specific area within one of these topics. You must, however, clear your topic with me by January 8.

Sexologists The Gay Liberation Movement
Early lesbian and/or gay communities Feminism and sexuality
Marital advice (In any period) Race and Sexuality (In any period)
World War II and sexualities The early history of AIDs
The homosexual scare in the 1950s Queer identities
Film representations of sexuality Moral Majority
Birth Control AIDS
Literary works and sexuality (pick one work and discuss it’s reception)
Religion and sexuality (in any period) Debates on pornography

If you have appropriate syllabi, please contact CLGH chair Karen Krahulik at Karen_Krahulik@brown.edu.