Search Target

Leigh Ann Wheeler


Tedx Talk, April 2012

Ph.D., University of Minnesota

  • Specialties: Twentieth-Century United States, especially Women, Gender, Sexuality, Law, and Reform, and Social Movements
  • Distinguished Lecturer, Organization of American Historians
  • Senior Editor, Oxford Research Encyclopedia in American     History- Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History
  • Editorial Board, Journal of American History
  • 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

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

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" 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.


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

"Could the ERA Pass in the #Metoo Era?", November 2017

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

With my colleague, Jean Quataert,  I co-edited the Journal of Women's History for one term between 2010 and 2015. 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 modern U.S.  My students win national grants and fellowships, present at national conferences, publish in peer-reviewed journals and first-rate university presses, and obtain tenure-track positions. Their projects include the following topics:


  • "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 

    New book out: Women's Anti-War Diplomacy During the Vietnam War (University of North Carolina Press, 2017)

  • "Embryonic Policies: Reproductive Technology and Federal Policy," (2012), Erin McKenna Mignin, St. Louis Community College
  • "Second-Wave Feminism and Pornography: Playgirl and Porn for Heterosexual Women, 1973-2006," (2011), Chadwick Roberts, University of North Carolina, Wilmington
  • "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

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
  • Sex Education, Public Schools, and Eugenics

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.
  • Sex and Law in the Modern 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.
  • Readings in the Twentieth-Century U.S.
  • Social Movements in the Twentieth-Century U.S.

Selected Scholarly Articles and Book Chapters:

  • “Inventing Sexuality: Ideologies, Identities, and Practices in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era,” in Christopher McKnight Nichols and Nancy C. Unger, eds., A Companion to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017).

  • "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).
  • "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.
  • "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.
How Sex Became A Civil Liberty

Last Updated: 12/4/17