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Riotous FleshWomen, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice in Nineteenth-Century America$
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April R. Haynes

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226284590

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226284767.001.0001

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Licentiousness in All Its Forms

Licentiousness in All Its Forms

Chapter:
(p.56) Chapter Two Licentiousness in All Its Forms
Source:
Riotous Flesh
Author(s):

April R. Haynes

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226284767.003.0003

“Licentiousness in All its Forms” recovers African American women’s significant intervention into sexual discourse between 1835 and 1845, a period here designated the interracial moment in moral reform. In an era of amalgamation riots, some black abolitionists forged a delicate coalition with white evangelicals. Female moral reformers condemned “licentiousness in all its forms,” and black abolitionists applied this language to “the licentiousness of slavery.” In turn, African American women built upon the physiological contention that all bodies were equally prone to virtue or vice. By distinguishing universal sexual virtue from white female purity, they undercut stereotypes of black licentiousness. Activists such as Sarah Mapps Douglass, Nancy Prince, Lavinia Hilton and Hetty Burr inspired Sarah and Angelina Grimké’s famous analysis of women’s moral equality with men. In this activist context, it became both possible and necessary for a few white women to question assumptions of their inherent purity. In the process, they applied the language of solitary vice to their own lives. African American women strategically appropriated antimasturbation physiology even as they remained focused on structural oppression. Although they only temporarily destabilized racialized discourses on female sexuality, their moral reform efforts had significant consequences for American sexual thought.

Keywords:   African American women, Amalgamation, black abolitionists, interracial, licentiousness, purity, Sarah Mapps Douglass, Nancy Prince, Sarah Grimké, Angelina Grimké

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