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

By Tiffany A. Sippial

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

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-0894-5
    Published: November 2013
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-0895-2
    Published: November 2013
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4266-4
    Published: November 2013

Envisioning Cuba

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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.
For more information about Tiffany A. Sippial, visit the Author Page.


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

“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

“This new volume places gender and sexuality at the center of the history of Cuba’s transition from a colony to a republic.”--American Historical Review

“Admirably traces a . . . comprehensive history of prostitution in Cuba while simultaneously shedding new light on broader histories of colonialism, nationalism, and modernity.”--Journal of Latin American Studies

“[Sippial’s] methodological dexterity contributes to the richly textured stories she tells. And she accomplishes all of this with a light theoretical touch and readable prose.”--New West Indian Guide

Multimedia & Links

Read: In a guest blog post, Sippial lends us her expertise in order to provide enlightening context to Cuba’s new economic policies. Read "Cuba’s New Economic Policies: Event Horizon or Business as Usual?"

Read: In another post, Sippial explains exactly why the 26th of July is so significant for Cubans, and how it can shed light on the complexities of historical change. Read "The 26th of July Movement: Remembering Failure, Celebrating Victory"