History ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-24-2007


This dissertation uses prostitution as a lens through which to study the intersection of gender, sexuality, and nation-building in late colonial and early republic Cuba. Between 1840 and 1920, Cuba underwent a series of profound transformations spurred by the abolition of slavery, national wars of independence, mass migration, and foreign occupation. My investigation of Spanish, Cuban, and U.S. sources reveal that as Cubans struggled to define a sense of national identity in the face of changing political alliances and shifting populations, prostitution became a focus for the expression of contemporary social and sexual anxieties. State policies, designed to control prostitutes' lives and labors during this period, thus occupied a heavily contested and dynamic terrain upon which state and local imperatives frequently collided. I find that state agents, local citizens, and prostitutes negotiated every aspect of Cuba's regulatory project, from the geographic boundaries of Havana's tolerance zone to the legal and medical precepts that guided treatment of venereal disease. For their part, prostitutes continuously subverted the supervisory and disciplinary intentions of the state by appropriating and rearticulating key aspects of government policy and ideology to suit their own needs. These negotiations over the form and function of Cuba's regulatory mechanism ultimately shaped, and were shaped by, broader competing discourses about citizenship, the legitimate exercise of state power, and the development of Cuba as a "modern" nation. This study thus contributes not only the study of prostitution in Latin America, but also to our understandings of the complex intersections of power, identity, sexuality, and state formation during once of the most dynamic periods of Cuban history.

Level of Degree


Degree Name


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Elizabeth Hutchison

Second Committee Member

Linda Hall

Third Committee Member

Judy Bieber

Fourth Committee Member

Kimberly Gauderman

Fifth Committee Member

K. Lynn Stoner




Prostitution, Cuba, Latin America, National Identity, Politics, Modernism, Venereal Diseases

Project Sponsors

Latin American and Iberian Institute, Fulbright-Hayes Doctoral Dissertation Research Grant, CCWH Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Award, Albert J. Beverdige Grant, Dean's Dissertation Scholarship

Document Type


Included in

History Commons