Reflecting on her years of anti-vice activism on behalf of the World Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WWCTU), American missionary and physician Kate Bushnell (1855–1946) commented:
Time was when so-called Christian civilization seemed able to send its vices abroad and keep its virtues at home … That day has passed forever. With the invention of the steam as a locomotive power of great velocity, with the introduction of the cable, and later, the wireless telegraphy; with the mastery of these natural forces and their introduction in every part of the world, we see the old world being drawn nearer and nearer to us by ten thousand invisible cords of commercial interests, until shortly, probably within the life time of you and me, the once worn out and almost stranded wreck will be found quickened with new life and moored along side us.
Bushnell dedicated thirty years of her life laying bare those invisible cords that spanned the globe. As much as ideas, technology, people, and material goods circumnavigated the globe, so too did troubling habits such as alcohol abuse, drug addiction, and sex trafficking and with these, the anti-vice movements sought to combat the degenerative impact of excessive consumption.
Born at the apogee of the steam age and dying at the birth of the atomic age, Bushnell was well positioned to comment on the developments she observed, critiqued, and tried to change. Roaming the world as a “peripatetic puritan” Bushnell had faith that God would provide for her needs, that the British Empire could reform its sinful practices, and that men could be convinced to stop exploiting women and treat them as equals.
Raised in Illinois, Bushnell attended Northwestern University as one of the first women admitted. She studied medicine, becoming a practicing physician by 1879. After graduation, the Women's Mission Board of the Methodist Episcopal Church dispatched Bushnell to Jiujiang, China, where she served as a medical missionary until 1882. Bushnell returned to the United States, where she practiced medicine in Denver, Colorado, for four years before moving to Chicago to provide medical aid and other social services to Chicago's most dejected, despised, and detested population – the city's prostitutes.