March, 2022 Monthly Reflection

A Century Later Human Trafficking Activists Continue Her Work

By Sr. Maryann Mueller, CSSF

Women’s History Month was first observed in Sonoma, California, in 1978 as Women’s History Week. Nine years later, after petitioning from the National Women’s Project, Congress extended the observance of Women’s History to a month. Today, Women’s History Month has evolved from simply celebrating the accomplishments of women to recognizing the struggles of all women.

Almost 100 years ago, Doctor Katharine Bushnell was a prominent anti-trafficking activist in the United States and abroad. She was born one of nine children in Illinois in 1855.

Bushnell graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Chicago (today, the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University) and then worked as a physician in China for three years. Then, she became ill, returned to the United States, and worked with prostituted girls and women in Denver’s red-light district. She dedicated the rest of her life to working against human trafficking.

While creating a home for survivors in Chicago, Katharine learned of a girl burned to death for refusing a man in an Ashland, Wisconsin brothel. This incident brought to light how perpetrators colluded with elected officials, lawmakers, and police and were never convicted of their crimes. Forced prostitution was promoted in Wisconsin’s logging camps and mining communities, and many victims were trafficked from neighboring states.   Katharine presented information to the Wisconsin State officials and repeatedly lobbied for laws to punish the perpetrators and help the victims.

Once, while meeting with Wisconsin State officials, a mob of angry men attempted to block her way. However, her efforts led to the “Kate Bushnell Bill” (SB 46), titled: “An act for the prevention of crime and to prevent the abducting of unmarried women.” This legislation sent perpetrators to prison for enslaving girls throughout Wisconsin. For more than thirty years, she was a prominent anti-trafficking activist in the United States, England, China, and India. Katharine Bushnell died in California on Jan. 23, 1946.

To learn more about Katharine Bushnell and the work she did, please see her autobiography, Katharine C. Bushnell: A Brief Sketch of her Life and Work (KCB; Hertford, 1930)

She also published a comprehensive study of women in Scripture. More than 800 studies exposed a patriarchal reading of Scripture entitled God’s Word to Women: 100 Bible Studies on Woman’s Place in The Divine Economy.