One of the exhibits created by students in the Creating Digital History course:
by Megan Leddy-Cecere
From 1956 to 1992 parishioners flocked to Judson Memorial Church on 55 Washington Square South to join the Reverend Howard Moody in his sometimes shocking, often provocative, and always stimulating call to social activism. A dynamic speaker with a penchant for the radical, Moody nonetheless sent shock-waves through Judson’s Greenwich congregation and the broader Christian community with his 1978 sermon “Humanizing the Hooker.” In his appeal for the decriminalization of prostitution, Moody publicized a new church-sponsored social initiative – an exceptional and highly controversial program called the Judson Prostitution Project.
Through a compilation of images, documents, and personal recollections, this exhibit explores the encounters, reflections, and growth of those involved in Judson’s Prostitution Project of the 1970s -1980s. In the fragmented stories that take shape, we can hear echoes of the voices of the disenfranchised, and gain a more nuanced conception of the manifold subjectivities of those who sell sex. Taken as a whole, a broader cultural narrative emerges about the precarious relationships between communities and sex workers, prosthelytizing and reform, and the regulation of sex and sexuality in late twentieth century urban centers.
This exhibit is a response to the Reverend Moody’s 1978 challenge for us to “humanize the hooker.” But it also moves beyond Moody’s original goal of legal reform to raise broader questions of historical visibility. Assembled from the materials of the Judson Memorial Church Archive, this exhibit functions as a lens through which to explore historical and documentary constructions of “the prostitute.” While you engage with the stories in this digital display, take the time to question the exhibition items themselves. What sources are available to us? Who is speaking through them? And, perhaps most importantly, who is not?