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Bull Hist Med. 2009 Fall;83(3):431-59. doi: 10.1353/bhm.0.0267.

Quarantining women: venereal disease rapid treatment centers in World War II America.

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University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.


Concern about the infection of servicemen and essential war workers with venereal disease led the U.S. Public Health Service, with the cooperation of state and local health officials, to set up a national program of venereal disease quarantine hospitals during World War II. Although some of the hospitals eventually accepted men, the initial purpose of these facilities was to detain and treat venereally affected prostitutes and "promiscuous women" who were considered a threat to the war effort. Using quarantine powers, officials forcibly detained venereally infected women and treated them for their disease. The hospitals were generally known as "rapid treatment centers" because of the methods employed to treat venereal disease. Health officials were especially concerned that prostitutes (and other women of "loose morals") would not comply with the traditional lengthy and arduous treatment for syphilis, which involved weekly injections of arsenical drugs for a year or more and unpleasant side effects. Therefore, the newly established quarantine hospitals used recently developed rapid treatment methods based on the administration of multiple injections or intravenous drips of arsenicals over a period of days. Although some objections were raised against these policies, which obviously discriminated against women, on the whole the rapid treatment centers were accepted as a necessary measure in the defense of national security. Some of the issues raised by these centers are still relevant to public health policy today.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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