Date of Degree

9-2022

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Biography and Memoir

Advisor

Donna Haverty-Stacke

Committee Members

Sarah Covington

Subject Categories

History | United States History | Women's History

Abstract

Katharine Bement Davis’ (1860-1935) life and career as a highly educated scientist and Progressive activist placed her at the forefront of various moral panic debates at the turn of the twentieth century. Davis was born into a staunch abolitionist and suffragist family in upstate New York in 1860. Her family’s politics were grounded in progressive Protestant principles which allowed her to gain access to higher education as a white woman from a middle-class family. Her education left her poised to use the latest scientific research to shape Progressive dogma in the 1910s and 1920s. Davis’ education and the groundbreaking research she conducted in the fields of sociology, criminology, and behavioral science empowered her to make policy recommendations in her roles in city government departments and as a member of the Rockefeller-funded Bureau of Social Hygiene, an institution which pioneered the role of philanthropic foundations in public health research. Davis defied many barriers for a woman in her time: she received a PhD, she was the first woman to be nominated by a major party for political office, and she was the first woman Crime Commissioner of New York City. Davis’ accomplishments were also significant in and of themselves. The cottage system she instituted as director of the Bedford Reformatory for Women was replicated at other reformatories and prisons in the decades following, and Davis’ last publication, Factors in the Sex Lives of Twenty-Two Hundred Women, was controversial at the time of publishing but directly influenced the modern field of sexology.

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