On this episode of Wine, Women, and Revolution (The Socialist Podcast) Heather is joined by author Scott Stern. His book “The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison Promiscuous Women” details the unknown corner of American history known as “The American Plan”.
The American Plan
From World War 1 until as late as the 70s America locked women up by the tens of thousands in what some called concentration camps. No due process or representation was given to them. The Health Department forced them to under go inhumane “treatments” such as mercury injections and even forced sterilization. They did this under the name of public health. This may sound like some dystopian future that is buried in our history, but many of these laws are still on the books today awaiting their return to enforcement. This is scary stuff everyone should be aware of.
A Forgotten Past
Scott Stern began his study on The American Plan as an freshman in college. An offhand comment by a professor sparked his research. What he pieced together paints a shocking view of the history of women’s rights. The government feared sexually transmitted infections would compromise the war effort. They targeted prostitutes as the cause and locked up any women even suspected of being promiscuous. Women forced into these facilities used the phrase concentration camps. The US Government locked 10s to 100s of thousands of women in these camps. The primary target was poor women and women of color, but no woman was safe. Government agents walked down the streets and could indefinitely detain any woman they suspected had an STI.
False Positives and A New Witch Trial
These officials detained and tested these women for sexually transmitted infections. The false positive rate was as high as 25%. Antibiotics were not invented until the 1940s. Antibiotics are the only effective treatment for STIs. Before antibiotics, staff members injected women with mercury to “cure” their infections. The other “cure” was arsenic. These treatments obviously failed to cure the infection, and made the women very sick. Women were tortured for suspicions as simple as “walking down the street alone”. We all know absolute power corrupts absolutely. Some health officers forced women into sex with the threat of arrest. Others forced women into detention because of personal grudges. Because of these laws, women died. Officials sterilized women against their will. This sounds like a nightmare, but was 100% real.
Same Laws New Decade
The 1980s brought us the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. American Plan laws were used to justify quarantining the LGBT community. These laws exist today, like a ticking time bomb waiting for a dictator. Our history can become our future. The attack on women’s rights is real. The dangers are real. Learn from history or repeat it.
Listen to more recent attacks on women’s rights here