How Did Gender and Class Shape the Age of Consent Campaign
Within the Social Purity Movement, 1886-1914?


      "Age of consent" referred in the late nineteenth century to the legal age at which a girl could consent to sexual relations. Men who engaged in sexual relations with girls before they reached the legal age of consent could be found guilty of statuatory rape. American reformers were shocked to discover that the laws of most states set the age of consent at ten or twelve. Women reformers and social purists initiated a campaign in 1885 to petition legislators to raise the legal age of consent to at least sixteen in all states in the nation, although their ultimate goal was to raise the age to eighteen. The documents brought together in this project show that the age-of-consent campaign inspired a broad base of support because it expressed deep cultural tensions over gender, class, and race.


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