Added: December 3, 2016 – Last updated: December 3, 2016


Speaker: Jessica R. Pliley

Title: Suppression of the Traffic

Subtitle: White Slavery and the League of Nations, 1919-1936

Conference: Con-IH 8. The Eighth Annual Harvard Graduate Student Conference on International History: Gender in International History (March 14-15, 2008)

Session: 2: Actors and Institutions

Place: Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Date: March 15, 2008

Language: English

Keywords: Modern History: 20th Century | Types: Sex Trafficking


Link: -


Speaker: Jessica Pliley, Department of History, Texas State University at San Marcos – Speaker's Personal Website,


»Under increasing international and domestic pressure, the United States Congress passed the “White Slave Traffic Act,” popularly known as the Mann Act, to combat the perceived threat of white slavery. The 1910 law made it illegal to transport women or children over state-lines for “immoral purposes.” Conceived as a response to the international and domestic trafficking of prostitutes, the act confirmed the United States’ obligations under the 1904 International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Trade. This paper specifically examines how the multilateral 1904 agreement became institutionalized in the League of Nations. It seeks to explore how anti-white slavery reformers on both sides of the Atlantic used the opportunity presented by the establishment of the League to further their ongoing campaigns against the trafficking of women and children. Furthermore, this paper will interrogate how gendered conceptions of morality and sexuality existed at the center of international anti-white slavery reform efforts. Scholars examining white slavery in the United States have rarely noted the international context within which the Mann Act was passed. This lacuna is surprising considering the wealth of scholarship on the intellectual and reform networks that spanned the Atlantic, and indeed the globe during this era. This paper aims to place the U.S. anti-white slavery campaign and the Mann Act into the broader story of international reform movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Although the larger project explores the international context the led to the passage of the Mann Act, the role of the Act in shoring up federal power in the U.S., and the way enforcement of the Act policed moral, racial, and gendered boundaries, this paper will focus on the relationship between U.S. reformers and international activists who met within the League of Nations. Based on League of Nations publications and sources housed at the National Archives, I seek to illuminate the relationships between female state actors located in the U.S. Children’s Bureau, their non-state allies represented most visibly by the men in the leadership of the American Social Hygiene Association, and the role of these two groups in the League of Nation’s Committee on the Traffic of Women and Children. Finally, this paper demonstrates that present-day concern for sexual slavery as embodied in the United Nations’ Global Programme against Trafficking in Human Beings (established in 1999) is not a new phenomenon, but rather has roots in the very foundation of League of Nation’s social program established at the launch of the League in 1919.« (Source: Con-IH)

Wikipedia: Intergovernmental organization: League of Nations | Sex and the law: Sex trafficking