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A 1940 'social hygiene' poster. (Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.)

‘American Plan’

New book shines light on US health initiative that sent women into ‘concentration camps’

August 2, 2018

A new book has brought renewed attention to a long-term, horrific, and now largely forgotten government initiative called the “American Plan,” which forced thousands of women between the early years of the 20th century and the 1960s into “concentration camps” if they were suspected of suffering from gonorrhea or other venereal disease.

Scott Stern, now a law student at Yale, documents this oft-overlooked piece of history in his new book, The Trials of Nina McCall. In a book review for The New York Times, journalist Cynthia Gorney wrote that Stern was inspired to create his book after discovering that information on the shocking government program — which largely targeted women of color — was unavailable to the public through internet sources such as Google or Wikipedia. His research on the topic, which would go on to earn him an undergraduate thesis award, chronicled how the government targeted prostitutes and women deemed “too flirtatious” by local police or health officials for mandatory gynecological exams — with dire consequences to follow should the doctor rule they suffered from a sexually transmitted disease.

At the center of the book’s narratives lies the case of Michigan woman Nina McCall, who was just 18 when she was targeted under the “American Plan” and later unsuccessfully sued the government after suffering severe health consequences from forced treatments of mercury and possibly arsenic during three months of imprisonment inside a so-called “detention hospital.” The then-teenager had pled with authorities to release her from the facility, claiming that she was targeted for inspection by a deputy sheriff who falsely accused her of spending too much time with “soldier boys.” According to Stern’s research, there is significant evidence to imply that McCall, who said she was a virgin, had never even had a STD in the first place.

Read the full book review at The New York Times.


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