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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. 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

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

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

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:


Other Dissertations in Progress:

Undergraduate Courses:

Graduate Seminars:

Selected Publications:

Selected Grants and Fellowships:

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Last Updated: 12/19/13