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Beyond the Book

256 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 17 halftones, 3 tables, notes, bibl., index

Envisioning Cuba

ISBN  978-1-4696-0894-5
Published: November 2013

Prostitution, Modernity, and the Making of the Cuban Republic, 1840-1920

By Tiffany A. Sippial

Awards & Distinctions

Alfred B. Thomas Book Award, Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies

Between 1840 and 1920, Cuba abolished slavery, fought two wars of independence, and was occupied by the United States before finally becoming an independent republic. Tiffany A. Sippial argues that during this tumultuous era, Cuba's struggle to define itself as a modern nation found focus in the social and sexual anxieties surrounding prostitution and its regulation.

Sippial shows how prostitution became a prism through which Cuba's hopes and fears were refracted. Widespread debate about prostitution created a forum in which issues of public morality, urbanity, modernity, and national identity were discussed with consequences not only for the capital city of Havana but also for the entire Cuban nation.

Republican social reformers ultimately recast Cuban prostitutes--and the island as a whole--as victims of colonial exploitation who could be saved only by a government committed to progressive reforms in line with other modernizing nations of the world. By 1913, Cuba had abolished the official regulation of prostitution, embracing a public health program that targeted the entire population, not just prostitutes. Sippial thus demonstrates the central role the debate about prostitution played in defining republican ideals in independent Cuba.

About the Author

Tiffany A. Sippial is associate professor of history at Auburn University.


“Among the best historical studies of prostitution and nation building in Latin America. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.”

“Rarely does a single volume explore the history and culture of nationalism as concise, precise, and eloquent as Lloyd Kramer’s [book].”
--Journal of World History

“Well researched, insightful, and adds a new historiographical layer and perspective about Cuba’s struggle to define itself as a nation.”
--Colonial Latin American Historical Review

"Sippial's courageous and even audacious book is a major addition to the fields of Cuban and gender studies, as well as Latin American state formation and postcolonial studies. In it, she traces the history of prostitution and its regulation from the mid nineteenth century to 1920, addressing issues including slavery, labor, race, colonialism, and gender."
--Aline Helg, author of Our Rightful Share: The Afro-Cuban Struggle for Equality, 1886-1912

"An extremely well-researched, insightful, and enormously interesting book. Drawing on a rich array of archival and secondary sources, Sippial considers changing attitudes toward prostitution, issues of public order and policing, morality, notions of proper conduct and decency, revenue enhancing measures, disease, public health, race, modernity, citizenship, and progress. In so doing, she provides an excellent examination of the various competing voices articulating the evolving concept of the Cuban nation."
--Franklin W. Knight, The Johns Hopkins University

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