Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





David Nasaw

Committee Members

Joshua Freeman

Naomi Murakawa

Michael Rawson

Joan Scott

Clarence Taylor

Subject Categories

History of Gender | United States History | Women's History


During World War II, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and Police Commissioner Lewis Valentine launched aggressive policing campaigns in New York City against crimes of “vice” or “immorality” that they believed threatened the order of the wartime city. The municipal leaders argued that racialized and gendered threats posed by prostitutes, juvenile delinquents, gamblers, and disorderly persons weakened the nation’s ability to mobilize healthy troops and to compete in a postwar world. While the war disrupted racial and gender hierarchies in the increasingly interracial city, Valentine and La Guardia connected America’s global security to policing at home. This dissertation follows patrolmen, policewomen, and city leaders as they constructed these criminal categories and the New Yorkers who resisted or were subject to these campaigns. The women and people of color whose lives these policies disrupted mobilized resistance to the NYPD during the war. When faced with police repression they asked, in the words of one Long Island father, “is this the freedom we are all working so hard for?” These protests did not fall on sympathetic ears. The city’s leadership prioritized maintaining urban order and protecting the health and security of enlisted men, particularly white enlisted men, over respecting civil, social, and sexual liberties of New Yorkers. This dissertation examines the impact of the mobilization for war on the largest and most influential municipal police department in the nation. I argue that the mobilization for war created opportunities and pressures to intensify policing in New York City and examine the roles of gender and race in structuring how this policing unfolded.

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