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Meagan Frenzer

Ph. D. Candidate, History
2019-2020 Rothman Doctoral Fellow

Frenzer’s dissertation, “Dancing in the Devil’s Playground: The Intersection of Labor, Morality, and Pleasure in Chicago’s Dance Halls, 1910-1930,” dives into the rich social and political ecosystem with the dance hall at its center. Throughout the early twentieth century, dance halls developed as an urban leisure and labor space that evoked both excitement and condemnation. Dance halls welcomed diverse participants, including patrons, employees, musicians, undercover investigators, social reform activists, and municipal leaders. The meeting of this diverse group of individuals exemplified the growing tension between past and present during the 1920s, where the social reformers and activist organizations held middle-class agendas that at times, clashed with the lived reality of Chicago’s increasingly evolving political, social, cultural, and religious environment. Her research argues that merging labor, leisure, and pleasure within the context of dance halls challenged social activists’ neat categories of moral and sinful.

To social activist organizations, dance halls became not just a den of sin, but the epicenter from which the perceived social disease of immoralities spread. Largely, why did some Chicagoans in the 1920s believe the city was turning into the “devil’s playground,” while others continued to dance the night away?