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Leigh Ann Wheeler

Leigh Ann Wheeler

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

How Sex Became A Civil Liberty

Binghamton University's History department combines the best of what I most value professionally — excellent, student-oriented teaching and rigorous, high-quality scholarship.  

I love teaching—alone and with my spouse who is also an historian and regularly teaches the large modern U.S. survey with me. My favorite classes to teach are "Women in the Modern U.S." and "Sex and Law in the Modern U.S." Because I don't really like to lecture—I don't feel like I'm teaching when I lecture—my classes are always interactive and make use of PowerPoint, not to deliver information but to provoke discussion with illustrations and primary source materials.

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 (HSBCL), my most recent book, addresses this question by showing how generations of leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) changed the ways Americans think about, legislate, and adjudicate sexuality. I show how the ACLU did this by developing and promoting new constitutional rights, including privacy and the consumer's right to speech. 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 over sexual issues, including birth control, nudism, obscenity & pornography, abortion, sterilization, gay rights, rape, and sexual harassment.

Purchase HOW SEX BECAME A CIVIL LIBERTY from Oxford University Press

Online Reviews of How Sex Became a Civil Liberty

Review of HSBCL by New York Journal of Books
Review of HSBCL by
Review of HSBCL by Civil Liberties Review Forum
Review by Center for Law and Religion Forum
Review by The Gospel Coalition
Review on Legal History Blog
Review in Tulsa Law Review

Other scholarly reviews of How Sex Became a Civil Liberty can be viewed below:

American Historical Review
First Things
Journal of American History
Journal of American Studies
Law and History Review
Reviews in American History

HSBCL has also been reviewed by Social Forces and the Women and Social Movements website.

Media Coverage of How Sex Became a Civil Liberty

The Daily Beast: "The Big Idea: How Sex Became a Civil Liberty" 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
Discussion of HSBCL on Conservative Conversation and Community

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.


Against Obscenity

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

Other scholarly reviews of AO can be viewed below:

American Historical Review
American Quarterly
Journal of American History
Journal of American Studies
Journal of Social History

AO has also been reviewed by the, Women and Social Movements Website.  

My Journal Articles:

"'Where Else But Greenwich Village?': The Emergence of the American Civil Liberties Union's Sexual Rights Agenda, 1920-1932," Journal of the History of Sexuality, 21, 1 (January, 2012), 60-92.
"Rescuing Sex from Prudery and Prurience: American Women's Use of Sex Education as an Antidote to Obscenity, 1925-1932," 12, 3 Journal of Women's History (Autumn), 173-195.
"From Reading Shakespeare to Reforming Burlesque: The Minneapolis Women's Club and the Women's Welfare League, 1907-1920," 25, 1 Michigan Historical Review (January 1999), 44-75.
"Battling Over Burlesque: Conflicts Between Maternalism, Paternalism, and Organized Labor, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1920-1932," 20, 2 Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies (1999) 148-74.

My 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:

Dissertations I Have Advised:

Dissertations I am Currently Advising:

My Undergraduate Courses:

My Graduate Seminars:

My Other Scholarly Publications:

Selected Grants and Fellowships:

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Last Updated: 10/6/14