A Forgotten War on Women
May 22, 2018 10:10 AM   Subscribe

"In 1918, 1,121 people in Michigan were “hospitalized at the expense of the state” because the authorities believed they had STIs. 49 were men; 1,072 were women, and one of them was a 19-year-old, impoverished white woman named Nina McCall. She was arrested, forcibly examined by a local health officer named Dr. Carney, deemed infected with gonorrhea and then syphilis, pumped full of arsenic, and imprisoned at the dilapidated Bay City Detention Hospital for three months. Like so many others, she found the courage to fight back. But instead of staging a prison riot or burning down the “reformatories,” as some of her incarcerated sisters did, Nina did something perhaps even more audacious for a working-class woman of her time. She took her tormentors to court."
posted by palindromic (6 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow!
posted by kemrocken at 10:32 AM on May 22, 2018


...their efforts, in concert with those of ACLU lawyer Deborah Hinkley, resulted in a California Court of Appeals ruling that Oakland police would have to enforce the quarantine equally, regardless of the arrestee’s gender—which led to a sharp downtick in prostitution arrests.

This is worth remembering: if those who want to systematically oppress women are forced to include men in their roundup, they are likely to drop the project. Fighting for equal treatment can include "target the men too," not just "this is horrific inhumane treatment"--once men are part of the target group, the pressure will back off.

I'm now trying to figure out how to attach this principle to reproductive rights.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:10 AM on May 22, 2018 [26 favorites]


I took a class on mixed-race identity in college and learned that imprisoning women on grounds of "promiscuity" was often a way to punish white women who had relationships outside their race in the early 1900s. White supremacy and an obsession with women's "purity" are so so so intertwined.
posted by sunset in snow country at 11:12 AM on May 22, 2018 [22 favorites]


Really interesting article. I (and apparently just about everyone else) had no idea this went on. Thanks for the post.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:44 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is worth remembering: if those who want to systematically oppress women are forced to include men in their roundup, they are likely to drop the project. Fighting for equal treatment can include "target the men too," not just "this is horrific inhumane treatment"--once men are part of the target group, the pressure will back off.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg used this strategy to score a number of anti-gender discrimination victories in the 70s as director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project and ACLU General Counsel.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:50 AM on May 22, 2018 [8 favorites]


This is a fantastic article. Thanks for posting it.

In 1972, ASHA ceased its undercover surveillance and harassment of sex workers, instead pivoting towards more public-facing awareness campaigns and focusing on herpes, instead of syphilis or gonorrhea.

There's a bit more history to the ASHA and the social purity movement of the late 19th century than the article goes into. The word "Social" in this case was used as a euphemism for "sexual." The movement was an attempt by Christians (mostly white women,) to impose their religious values and morality on what they saw as an immoral society. They attempted to abolish prostitution and other sexual acts they disapproved of. They used the threat of syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases (venereal diseases) to bring about social change. Deliberately and inadvertently, their efforts helped create a more equal society and gave rise to some aspects of modern feminism.

The American Social Hygiene Association (ASHA) still exists. They were formed in 1914 by the consolidation of several similar organizations with names like the "American Federation for Sex Hygiene," the "American Vigilance Association" and the "American Purity Alliance." ASHA changed their name in 2012 to the American Sexual Health Association and they now function as an NGO. Their current mission is education about sexually transmitted diseases and other related conditions, such as cervical cancer.

Virginia Commonwealth University's Social Welfare Project has an extensive archive of posters and other marketing materials from the early years of the ASHA, including:
* Keeping Fit Posters I and Keeping Fit Posters II a poster series produced in collaboration with the U.S. Public Health Service and the YMCA in 1919, designed to "educate teenage boys and young men about the dangers of sexual promiscuity and urging them to embrace moral and physical fitness."
* A parallel series was created in 1922, aimed at young women: Youth and Life Posters.
* The March Against Commercialized Prostitution: 1886-1949
* Milestones in Social Hygiene by Minister Anna Garlin Spencer.
posted by zarq at 11:52 AM on May 22, 2018 [10 favorites]


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