Lynn Sacco, an assistant professor in the Department of History, published her first book, Unspeakable: Father-Daughter Incest in American History, in July. The book uses sources from medicine, law, social reform, and popular culture to document both the occurrence of incest and the noisy silence around the subject. Sacco argues that as scientific breakthroughs in the 1890s improved doctors’ ability to detect gonorrhea, their social biases diminished their ability to see the obvious evidence before them. When they discovered evidence that gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease, was “epidemic” among all classes of girls—not just girls from socially marginalized families—health care professionals and reformers revised their views about gonorrhea, not incest. Sacco shows how shifts in attitude about incest were shaped to justify the social hierarchy by associating a proclivity to engage in heinous behaviors like father-daughter incest with men of color, immigrants, and the poor.
Unspeakable: Father-Daughter Incest in American History. Johns Hopkins University Press (2009).
“Venereal Disease.” In Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society, edited by Paula S. Fass. New York: Macmillan Reference USA (2003).
“Sanitized For Your Protection: Medical Discourse and the Denial of Incest in the United States, 1890-1940.” Journal of Women’s History 14 (autumn 2002): 80
“If We’re So Smart, Why Are We Still in School?” American Studies Association Newsletter 23 (March 2000): 1