The Mann Act: How a Law Meant to Help Women Was Misused

Emma | 11 - 12 - 2020
Mann Act

Mann Act, also known as the White-Slave Traffic Act, is a United States federal law which was passed on 25, June 1910. It is named after its author, Illinois congressman James Robert Mann. The Mann Act made it a crime to transport women across state lines “for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purposes.”


What Is the Mann Act? 

What Was the Purpose of the Mann Act?
  • A. To keep men at their best behaviour
  • B. To keep innocent girls from being lured into prostitution
  • C. To keep women under a man’s control
  • D. None of the above


The White-Slave Traffic Act, was ostensibly aimed at keeping innocent girls from being lured into prostitution and other immoral works, but really offered a way to make a crime out of many kinds of consensual sexual activity. It is also used to prosecute men who had sexual relations with minor girls (a common prosecution under the Act), those who had premarital sex, adulterers, and homosexuals, as well as cases involving the abduction of women.


When Was the Mann Act Passed

The Mann Act was born during the “white slavery” hysteria of the early 20th century. Along with other moral purity movements of the period, the white slavery craze had its roots in fears over the rapid changes that the Industrial Revolution had brought to American society: immigration, urbanization the changing role of women, and evolving social mores.

As young and single women moved to the city and entered the workforce they were no longer protected by the traditional family-centered system of courtship, and were subjected to what Jane Addams called the “grosser temptations which now beset the young people who are living in its tenement houses and working in its factories.”

Jack Johnson, who in 1908 had become boxing’s first African American heavyweight champion, was the first celebrity to get a Mann Act going-over. For the headstrong Johnson, “no law or custom, no person white or black, male or female – could keep him for long from whatever he wanted,” wrote biographer Geoffrey C. Ward.

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