‘Khaki fever’ during the First World War: A historical analysis of social work’s approach towards young women, sex and moral danger

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Abstract

When we read about social work history today, it is often through stories of the organisations (for example, the Charity Organisation Society, the Settlement Movement, Poor Law institutions) and the pioneers (Mary Richmond, Jane Addams, Octavia Hill, Eileen Younghusband to name only a few) who shaped the profession, making it the evidence-based, values-led, psycho-social profession of which we are proud to be a part today. But what was ‘social work’, and how has this changed over time? This article examines one particular aspect of social work history – moral welfare – by exploring the phenomenon of ‘khaki fever’, which appeared during the First World War and was centred on young women’s sexual risk-taking behaviour. It will be argued that the middle-class women who took to the streets to ‘police’ ‘khaki fever’ were, in effect, early social workers; their behaviour foreshadowed continuing (and current) concerns about young women, sex and moral danger. The article discusses this as an illustration of moral panic, and concludes that in revisiting social work’s past, we open up to scrutiny the classist, ageist and gendered assumptions that are at its core, as well as the familiar tensions around care and control within social work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1839- 1854
Number of pages16
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Volume46
Issue number7
Early online date19 Nov 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords

  • Khaki fever
  • moral danger
  • policing
  • sexuality
  • social work history
  • women

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