Season 2, Episode 6: Surviving Patriarchal Violence at Home: Incest Victims in the Progressive Era

In a country that had little to no understanding of incest as patriarchal violence, what happened to girls who fought for freedom from sexual abuse?

Beatrice was fifteen years old when her mother died. By day, she assumed her mother’s role as the caregiver and housekeeper for her family in Chicago. By night, her father used her as a sexual substitute for his deceased wife. The rape and incest continued in secret for two years, until Beatrice appealed to the Chicago Municipal Court for protection in 1915.

The court convicted Beatrice’s father of incest and sent him to prison. But what would they do with Beatrice? Grace Argo follows Beatrice’s story to show how incest victims’ trauma, survival strategies, and the ways they sought power or pleasure in the aftermath of abuse conflicted with reformers’ ideals and spelled their fate.

Content warning: This episode discusses child sexual abuse, rape, and incest.

View the full episode transcript and sources.

Historian Biographies

Grace Argo is a PhD candidate in the Departments of History and Women’s & Gender Studies at the University of Michigan. She studies the legal and cultural treatment of incest in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States.

Production Credits

Episode Producer: Grace Argo

Voice Actors: Kieran Westphal, Jonas McMullen, Emma Singleton, MacKenzie Mollison, and Will Pratt

Host and Season Producer: Hayley Bowman 

Executive Producer: Gregory Parker

Editorial Board: Hayley Bowman, Christopher DeCou, Arielle Gordon, Gregory Parker, Taylor Sims, and Melanie Tanielian

Image: É. Friant, “Head of a Young Girl,” 1915, pencil, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Republic of France, 1915.11.32.

Music: Music by Scott Buckley: “Solace,” “Filaments,” “Monomyth,” and “Hymn” (CC-BY 4.0).

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