Leigh Ann Wheeler

Ph.D., University of Minnesota
Twentieth-Century United States, especially Women, Gender, Sexuality, Law, and Reform
Co-editor: Journal of Women's History ('10-'15)
Office: LT 717
Phone: (607) 777-2631

 Binghamton University's History department combines the best of what I most value professionally — excellent, student-oriented teaching and rigorous, high-quality scholarship. Like my colleagues here, I consider teaching and scholarship to be mutually reinforcing activities. Preparing courses, facilitating discussions, and interacting with students stimulates my thinking and my enthusiasm for history in ways that more solitary work cannot. Moreover, the dynamic interplay among students and between myself and students, the clever questions and creative responses that make me think in new ways while demonstrating that my students are doing the same, the spontaneous retorts and thoughtful reflections, the moments of illumination when a student figures something out—all remind me how and why the work we do in and out of the classroom really matters.

My scholarly work revolves around one key problem—understanding the gendered and changing nature of sexual culture in the twentieth-century United States. How Sex Became a Civil Liberty, my most recent book, shows how the American Civil Liberties Union profoundly changed the ways Americans think about, legislate, and adjudicate sexuality. The ACLU did so by developing and promoting new constitutional rights, including the consumer's right to speech and privacy. Like my first book, How Sex Became a Civil Liberty is a people-driven story. It relates private lives to public activism to explain ACLU leaders' internal debates, evolving policies, changing strategies, and relationships with individuals and institutions outside the organization. Sexual issues considered by the book include: birth control, nudism, obscenity & pornography, abortion,sterilization, gay rights, rape, and sexual harassment.

Purchase HOW SEX BECAME A CIVIL LIBERTY from Oxford University Press
Purchase HOW SEX BECAME A CIVIL LIBERTY from amazon.com

Online Reviews of How Sex Became a Civil Liberty
Review of HSBCL by New York Journal of Books
Review of HSBCL by reason.com
Review of HSBCL by Civil Liberties Review Forum

Media Coverage of How Sex Became a Civil Liberty

Podcast Interview with Lilian Calles Barger, New Books Network

The Daily Beast: "The Big Idea: How Sex Became a Civil Liberty"

Salon.com Interview

Radio Interview, Culture Shocks with Rev. Barry Lynn

Radio Interview, Pacifica Radio, Letters & Politics with Mitch Jeserich

Firedoglake Book Salon led by author, Nancy L. Cohen

Binghamton Magazine Article

Pipe Dream Interview

Also, see reviews in:
American Historical Review
First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life
Harvard Law Review, Indiana Journal of Law and Social Equality, Law and History Review
Library Journal
Journal of American History
Journal of American Studies
Journal of Women's History
Oral History Review
Social Forces
Reviews in American History
Tulsa Law Review
Western Legal History

Women and Social Movements in the United States

Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood in America, 1873-1935, my first book, shows how women reshaped the ways Americans thought about and adjudicated obscenity. They did this by refocusing debates about the harm of obscenity around children and presenting explicit sex education as an antidote. Against Obscenity also shows how the right to vote—not having it and then getting it—affected women's reform in unexpected ways. Readers will be surprised to see how movie moguls and burlesque theater owners in the early twentieth-century bowed to but also strategized around women's demands.

Purchase AGAINST OBSCENITY from amazon.com

Against Obscenity

Online Reviews of Against Obscenity
H-Net Review of AO
Choice Review of AO

See also reviews in the American Historical Review, Women and Social Movements Website, Journal of American History, Journal of Popular Culture, American Quarterly, Journal of American Studies, and Journal of Social History

Leigh Ann's Op-Eds

Firedoglake Book Salon on Crow After Roe: How "Separate But Equal" Has Become the New Standard in Women's Health and How We Can Change That, led by Leigh Ann Wheeler, April 28, 2013

"I Hope Obama Wins, But I'm Still Mad at Him," History News Network, November 2012

"One Affair, Two Standards," Albany Times-Union, November 2012

"Choices and Rights, Children and Murder," Oxford University Press Blog, January 2013

"Why Women's History Matters," TedX Talk, March 2012

Journal of Women's History

My colleague, Jean Quataert and I have co-edited the Journal of Women's History since 2010. With Elisa Camiscioli (book review editor) and Benita Roth (associate editor), we are working to raise the Journal's visibility and enhance its presence on the internet while further developing the Journal's contributions to the ongoing project of internationalizing women's history.

Journal of Women's History

Journal of Women's History Website

Graduate Students

Graduate students who work with me pursue a wide range of research interests in the history of women, gender, Progressivism, social movements, sexuality, media, and civil liberties. Their projects include the following dissertations and topics:


  • "Expertise at War: The National Committee on Education by Radio, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Federal Radio Commission and the Battle for American Radio," (2006), David Haus, Husson University
  • "Second-Wave Feminism and Pornography: Playgirl and Porn for Heterosexual Women, 1973-2006," (2011), Chadwick Roberts, University of North Carolina, Wilmington
  • "Embryonic Policies: Reproductive Technology and Federal Policy," (2012), Erin McKenna Mignin, St. Louis Community College
  • "Making Connections in Viet Nam: Transnational U.S. Women Activists and the Meanings of Race, Gender, and Revolution, 1965-1975," (2013), Jessie Frazier, University of Rhode Island

Other Dissertations in Progress:

  • Women and Work in Detroit, Michigan During World War II
  • American and Russian Women's International Activism During the Progressive Era
  • Movie Censorship
  • Celebrity Activism and Anti-Vietnam War Protest
  • Gender as Political Strategy in the American Woman Suffrage Movement

Undergraduate Courses:

  • Modern America
  • Women in the Modern U.S.
  • Research Seminar: Social Movements in the Twentieth-Century U. S.
  • Research Seminar: History of Sexuality in the Twentieth-Century U.S.

Graduate Seminars:

  • Women in the Modern U.S.
  • Civil Liberties in the Twentieth-Century U.S.
  • History of Sexuality in the Modern U.S.
  • History of Media Censorship in the U.S.
  • Problems in the Twentieth-Century U.S.
  • Social Movements in the Twentieth-Century U.S.

Selected Publications:

  • "Publicizing Sex: How the American Civil Liberties Union Liberated Media, 1965-1973," in Eric Schaefer, ed., Sex Scene: Media and the Sexual Revolution (forthcoming, Duke University Press).
  • How Sex Became a Civil Liberty (Oxford University Press, 2013).
  • "Where Else But Greenwich Village?: Love, Lust, and the Emergence of the American Civil Liberties Union's Sexual Rights Agenda, 1920-1931" Journal of the History of Sexuality 21, 1 (January 2012), 60-92.
  • Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood in America, 1873-1935 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004; paperback edition, 2007).
  • "Rescuing Sex from Prudery and Prurience: American Women's Use of Sex Education as an Antidote to Obscenity, 1925-1932," Journal of Women's History, 12 (Fall 2000), 173-195.
  • "Battling Over Burlesque: Conflicts Between Maternalism, Paternalism, and Organized Labor, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1920-1932," Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 20 (Special Issue: Motherhood and Maternalism, Fall 1999), 148-174.
  • "From Reading Shakespeare to Reforming Burlesque: The Minneapolis Woman's Club and the Women's Welfare League, 1907-1920," Michigan Historical Review, 25 (Spring 1999), 44-75.

Selected Grants and Fellowships:

  • University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center Woodward/Bernste Fellowship, 2007-2008
  • Princeton University Library Research Grant, 2007-2008
  • Smith College, Margaret Storrs Grierson Travel-to-Collection funds, 2006-2007
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, 2006-2007
  • National Security Education Program Fellowship, U.S. Departments of Defense and Education, 1996-1997
  • Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships, 1994-1995
How Sex Became A Civil Liberty

Last Updated: 1/30/17