September 19, 2011
3:00 P.M. – 5:00 P.M., 212 University Club Building
Mary Louise Roberts
History, UW-Madison

Amerilots and Harlots: The Power of Commodities during the U.S. Military Presence in France, 1944-1946

During the American campaign in Normandy, the Army distributed enormous quantities of cigarettes, chocolate and chewing gum, as well as soap and other toiletries to its soldiers. The French called the G.I.s “Amerilots” because they seemed to have alot of everything. As these commodities began to circulate in the black market, they became nationalized as symbols of U.S. affluence. For civilians, G.I. supply materialized American superiority and took the measure of Gallic misery. But the most important product drawing lines of privilege between the two peoples—sex—was French, not American. Prostitution became a widespread phenomenon during the years 1944-1945 because sex was one good not available at the local military PX. As a commodity, prostitution nurtured an arrogant, imperialist attitude among the G.I.s. A traditional figure of moral depravity, the prostitute who had solicited German soldiers during the war had denoted the dishonor of the Occupation. Now, even after the Liberation, the sight of a prostitute with an American soldier continued to remind civilians of their status as a conquered people.

Mary Louise Roberts is the author of two books, Civilization without Sexes: Reconstructing Gender in Postwar France, 1918-1928 (1994) and Disruptive Acts: The New Woman in Fin de Siècle France (2002). Roberts has been the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. She has also received several teaching awards, most recently in 2008, the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award. Articles from her current project, entitled Liberators and Intruders: The American Presence in France, 1944-1946, have appeared (or will appear) in Le Mouvement social, Tabur: Yearbook for European History, Society, Culture and Thought (in Hebrew), French Historical Studies, and the American Historical Review. Other articles on various subjects have also recently appeared in History and Theory, French Politics, Culture & Society, Entreprises et Histoires, Clio: Histoire, Femmes, Sociétes and Journal of Women’s History.