Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

MA in Women's History


Women’s History Graduate Program

First Advisor

Lyde Sizer


In 2016, a young woman named Chloe appeared in an advertisement created by the Institute for Faith and Family in support of Governor Pat McCory’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, commonly known as HB2. This bill mandated that people use the restroom that corresponded to their sex assigned at birth and barred them from using the one that corresponded to their gender identity. Chloe argued that the bill would protect her privacy and her safety. In doing so, Chloe became part of a legacy of upper-middle class, cis-gendered white women who have argued that sex-segregated bathrooms are necessary for women’s health, safety, and protection. This paper will trace the roots of women’s professed discomfort and fear of sexual endangerment in bathrooms. Focusing on public and semi-public bathrooms in the Northeastern United States during the Victorian and Progressive Eras (1870-1920), I examine how sexism, propriety, and white supremacy played an integral role in the construction of these gendered spaces. I unearth the writings of purity and moral reformers and sanitary engineers to analyze how narratives of sexual danger led to the development of sex-segregated bathrooms. To probe into the ideological architecture of these neatly organize spaces is to reckon with the complex sewer system that lies below.