In her new book project, Santa Clara University Professor of History Nancy C. Unger asks: Can American morals be legally regulated? Should they be?
In 1910, the Congress of the United States passed the Mann Act—a law hailed by many reformers for its bold attempt to legislate morality. The law prohibited the interstate transport of females for immoral purposes.
In 1913, the sons of two prominent Sacramento families abandoned their wives and children to run off to Reno with two single women. On appeal, the Supreme Court confirmed that consensual extramarital affairs that involved crossing state lines were “immoral sex.” The law was hailed by many reformers for its bold attempt to legislate morality.
Amended in 1978 and 1986, the Mann Act remains in effect and has been used against against non-conformists including Frank Lloyd Wright and Charlie Chaplain, and “uppity” African American men from champion boxer Jack Johnson to rock and roll legend Chuck Berry.
Come join in an illustrated discussion of the landmark 1913 case, which put the federal government in the business of legislating morality.
Nancy C. Unger earned her BA at Gonzaga University, and her MA and PhD at University of Southern California. She is Professor of History at Santa Clara University and is the author of Fighting Bob La Follette: the Righteous Reformer, and Beyond Nature’s Housekeepers: American Women in Environmental History.
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