In 2010, I published Dirty Words: The Rhetoric of Public Sex Education in the United States, 1870-1924 with the University of Illinois Press.
Drawing from primary sources I gathered from the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota, the Special Collections Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of Illinois Archives in Urbana-Champaign, I explore some of the earliest U.S. deliberations about instituting sex-education courses in public schools and organizations. More specifically, I identify what health advocates, teachers, and reformers said about teaching “social hygiene” to the country’s residents, as well as how they did so.
Ultimately, I tie these historical claims to present-day arguments surrounding sex education in U.S. public schools to demonstrate that (a) many of the problematic discursive patterns seen today can be traced back to the Progressive Era, and (b) several long overlooked female rhetors discursively negotiated the Progessive Era sex-education debates in ways that offer important lessons for health advocates and rhetorical scholars in the twenty-first century. In 2015, Dirty Words won the National Communication Association’s Health Communication Division Distinguished Book Award.