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The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison "Promiscuous" Women

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The nearly forgotten story of the American Plan, one of the largest and longest-lasting mass quarantines in American history, told through the lens of one young woman's story. In 1918, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, Nina McCall was told to report to the local health officer to be examined for sexually transmitted infections. Confused and humiliated, Nina did as The nearly forgotten story of the American Plan, one of the largest and longest-lasting mass quarantines in American history, told through the lens of one young woman's story. In 1918, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, Nina McCall was told to report to the local health officer to be examined for sexually transmitted infections. Confused and humiliated, Nina did as she was told, and the health officer performed a hasty (and invasive) examination and quickly diagnosed her with gonorrhea. Though Nina insisted she could not possibly have an STI, she was coerced into committing herself to the Bay City Detention Hospital, a facility where she would spend almost three miserable months subjected to hard labor, exploitation, and painful injections of mercury. Nina McCall was one of many women unfairly imprisoned by the United States government throughout the twentieth century. The government locked up tens, probably hundreds, of thousands of women and girls--usually without due process--simply because officials suspected these women were prostitutes, carrying STIs, or just "promiscuous." This discriminatory program, dubbed the "American Plan," lasted from the 1910s into the 1950s, implicating a number of luminaries, including Eleanor Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller Jr., Earl Warren, and even Eliot Ness, while laying the foundation for the modern system of women's prisons. In some places, vestiges of the Plan lingered into the 1960s and 1970s, and the laws that undergirded it remain on the books to this day. Scott Stern tells the story of this almost forgotten program through the life of Nina McCall. Her story provides crucial insight into the lives of countless other women incarcerated under the American Plan. Stern demonstrates the pain and shame felt by these women and details the multitude of mortifications they endured, both during and after their internment. Yet thousands of incarcerated women rioted, fought back against their oppressors, or burned their detention facilities to the ground; they jumped out of windows or leapt from moving trains or scaled barbed-wire fences in order to escape. And, as Nina McCall did, they sued their captors. In an age of renewed activism surrounding harassment, health care, prisons, women's rights, and the power of the state, this virtually lost chapter of our history is vital reading.


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The nearly forgotten story of the American Plan, one of the largest and longest-lasting mass quarantines in American history, told through the lens of one young woman's story. In 1918, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, Nina McCall was told to report to the local health officer to be examined for sexually transmitted infections. Confused and humiliated, Nina did as The nearly forgotten story of the American Plan, one of the largest and longest-lasting mass quarantines in American history, told through the lens of one young woman's story. In 1918, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, Nina McCall was told to report to the local health officer to be examined for sexually transmitted infections. Confused and humiliated, Nina did as she was told, and the health officer performed a hasty (and invasive) examination and quickly diagnosed her with gonorrhea. Though Nina insisted she could not possibly have an STI, she was coerced into committing herself to the Bay City Detention Hospital, a facility where she would spend almost three miserable months subjected to hard labor, exploitation, and painful injections of mercury. Nina McCall was one of many women unfairly imprisoned by the United States government throughout the twentieth century. The government locked up tens, probably hundreds, of thousands of women and girls--usually without due process--simply because officials suspected these women were prostitutes, carrying STIs, or just "promiscuous." This discriminatory program, dubbed the "American Plan," lasted from the 1910s into the 1950s, implicating a number of luminaries, including Eleanor Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller Jr., Earl Warren, and even Eliot Ness, while laying the foundation for the modern system of women's prisons. In some places, vestiges of the Plan lingered into the 1960s and 1970s, and the laws that undergirded it remain on the books to this day. Scott Stern tells the story of this almost forgotten program through the life of Nina McCall. Her story provides crucial insight into the lives of countless other women incarcerated under the American Plan. Stern demonstrates the pain and shame felt by these women and details the multitude of mortifications they endured, both during and after their internment. Yet thousands of incarcerated women rioted, fought back against their oppressors, or burned their detention facilities to the ground; they jumped out of windows or leapt from moving trains or scaled barbed-wire fences in order to escape. And, as Nina McCall did, they sued their captors. In an age of renewed activism surrounding harassment, health care, prisons, women's rights, and the power of the state, this virtually lost chapter of our history is vital reading.

30 review for The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison "Promiscuous" Women

  1. 5 out of 5

    ☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣

    The most terrible thing is when a person has no access to knowledge they need to protect themselves from the vultures of our society. Anger-inducing account of some nasty goverment overstepping all reasonable bounds really far. Mercury injections. Forced examinations. That's a nice 'Plan' not. Q: Carney said he wasn’t accusing her of having been with a man, just of being “slightly diseased.” (c) Q: Either Nina would go to Bay City, or he would be forced to put up a placard outside the McCall residence The most terrible thing is when a person has no access to knowledge they need to protect themselves from the vultures of our society. Anger-inducing account of some nasty goverment overstepping all reasonable bounds really far. Mercury injections. Forced examinations. That's a nice 'Plan' not. Q: Carney said he wasn’t accusing her of having been with a man, just of being “slightly diseased.” (c) Q: Either Nina would go to Bay City, or he would be forced to put up a placard outside the McCall residence. “VENEREAL DISEASE,” the placard would read in all capital letters. “No Person shall ENTER or LEAVE this House Until this Card is officially REMOVED. The Removing or Defacing of this Notice without written authority from the Board of Health IS PUNISHABLE BY FINE OR IMPRISONMENT. By Order of the Board of Health.” The placard would be large. And red. (c) Scarlet letter treatment. Q: Nina McCall’s apprehension, examination, and incarceration were hardly out of the ordinary. Indeed, for much of the twentieth century, tens, probably hundreds, of thousands of American women were detained and subjected to invasive examinations for sexually transmitted infections (the exams usually conducted by male physicians). These women were imprisoned in jails, “detention houses,” or “reformatories”—often without due process—and there treated with painful and ineffective remedies, such as injections of mercury. They were locked in buildings that often had barbed wire, armed guards, or both. At least one woman called the facility in which she was to be held a “concentration camp.” Some of these imprisoned women were beaten or otherwise abused; some were sterilized. These women—and, in spite of many ostensibly gender-neutral laws, they were nearly all women—were incarcerated as part of a government campaign known as the “American Plan.” Initially conceived at the start of World War I to protect soldiers from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and prostitutes (because prostitutes were believed to nearly always carry STIs), and later expanded to reach into American communities at large, the American Plan became one of the largest and longest-lasting mass quarantines in American history. (c)How very fucking nice. Note that mostly women got this 'treatment'. Q: These officials detained countless women, examined them without their consent, and locked up those who tested positive—as well as a number who didn’t, but who were deemed sufficiently “immoral” or “promiscuous” to pose a threat to soldiers anyway. (c) Q:

  2. 5 out of 5

    El

    Disclaimer: I read this book at the request of a professor I work with, as this book was written by his son. I did not meet the author prior to reading this book, so the connection to his father has no bearing on my opinion of the book. * Have you heard of the American Plan? No? You probably won't find too much if you Google it. The author himself heard about this as an undergraduate, but in almost a throwaway sort of manner. He became interested in the topic, spent the rest of his undergraduate c Disclaimer: I read this book at the request of a professor I work with, as this book was written by his son. I did not meet the author prior to reading this book, so the connection to his father has no bearing on my opinion of the book. * Have you heard of the American Plan? No? You probably won't find too much if you Google it. The author himself heard about this as an undergraduate, but in almost a throwaway sort of manner. He became interested in the topic, spent the rest of his undergraduate career researching and writing about it, then graduated and decided to wait before going on to Yale Law School so he could spend two more years researching and writing about what has sort of slipped from the consciousness of the American people. Which is especially interesting since it continued well into the middle of the 20th century - a little too recent for us to have forgotten about something so awful, but then we have a really short memory here when it's convenient. The short definition of the American Plan is that women were able to imprisoned if it was suspected that they might have a sexually transmitted illness (STI). Of course known prostitutes and women of color were most affected by this, but it could be a young woman eating dinner by herself which, obviously, is totally suspect and therefore she must be a prostitute. Nina McCall was an 18-year-old woman when it happened to her that she was told to report to the local health officer and be examined. After being told she had an STI, she argued that it couldn't be possible as she had not had sex, and yet that seemed beside the point. She was sent to the Bay City Detention Hospital where for three months she was injected (painfully, I might add) with mercury. Mercury was the common treatment for STIs in the early 20th century - this painful procedure caused a host of other health issues and, not surprisingly, didn't help anyone who didn't have an STI to begin with as happened to many women who were imprisoned for being "promiscuous". (In other words, any women that some dirty ol' man wanted to get into trouble, or a doctor wanted to feel up.)As a result of her toxic treatments, Nina "suffered physical pain," as she bluntly put it. "My arm" - where she received the injections - "swelled so that it was so full I couldn't hardly move it nor anything." Over time, the arm became "sore and lame. It affected my sleep." Furthermore, "I suffered with my mouth, my teeth get sore and loose, they were so loose that they could bend them any place. They had never been that way before." Her hair started to fall out. She endured all this even as she was expected to continue scrubbing dishes and floors. In this respect, Nina's experience was similar to that of thousands of women across the nation. (p95) THOUSANDS OF WOMEN. This program was supported by some surprising people such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Eliot Ness. It lasted from the 1910s to the 1950s but in some states, the Plan continued well through the 1970s. Not surprisingly, some of today's laws are not that dissimilar to what began as the Plan. This is fascinating stuff and a part of our history that seems to be almost entirely forgotten. Scott Stern traveled to various states to access historical records to find out the truth. Nina McCall's story is just one of many, but to have a name gives life to the history, bringing it alive for us to read, learn, and hopefully never repeat. The War on Women has always existed in one capacity or another - here is just one more battle that we should be aware of so we remember how easily shit goes off the rails whenever anyone tries to regulate the body of women. The book is also a wake-up call to readers from a judicial standpoint as well. The "hospitals" were merely prisons, and they laid the foundations for the women's prisons we know today. The penal system is all sorts of fucked up - another issue that has been going on entirely too long and no one seems terribly concerned with improving. My only concern is that this book reads as quite academic, which makes sense considering Stern is an academic - unfortunately it took longer to read as a result than I would have liked. Stern did an incredible amount of research, and it is not a book meant to breeze through. I have heard this has been optioned for a movie already (we hate this kid, right?), and I look forward to seeing how it translate to the screen. If done well, a movie could bring even more necessary attention to a topic that needs to be discussed more frequently.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Darcia Helle

    I'm sitting here trying to come up with the right words to express my thoughts. They won't come. I think I'm still in shock. What I can immediately tell you is don't hesitate; read this book. Scott Stern is a talented writer. His style is narrative nonfiction, similar to Erik Larson's writing. He puts us in the moment, with all the emotions of the people involved and the turmoil surrounding the events. I felt it all happening and saw it playing out. The research is impeccable. Stern clearly put I'm sitting here trying to come up with the right words to express my thoughts. They won't come. I think I'm still in shock. What I can immediately tell you is don't hesitate; read this book. Scott Stern is a talented writer. His style is narrative nonfiction, similar to Erik Larson's writing. He puts us in the moment, with all the emotions of the people involved and the turmoil surrounding the events. I felt it all happening and saw it playing out. The research is impeccable. Stern clearly put his heart and soul, along with an immense amount of time and energy, into writing this book. And now the content, which is where words fail me. How had I never heard of the American Plan? How could my own country, the supposed "land of the free", randomly pluck women off the streets, force them to submit to gynecological exams, and lock them away without even a basic court hearing? I am appalled that, not only did this happen, but it went on for decades. I am shocked at the absolute media silence surrounding inhumane treatment. Within the pages of this book, we see misogyny at its core, at a time when government and police forces were very much male-dominated. We see how fear drives racism and bigotry. We see how war provides cover for all sorts of atrocious behavior, right here within our own borders, perpetrated by those in power upon those who are powerless. I cannot properly express the impact this book had on me. Scott Stern gave us the gift of unearthing all the dirty secrets and laying them out for us to see. I hope everyone will pick up a copy of this book and give Nina McCall, and all the women like her, the courtesy of acknowledging what was done to them under the guise of the so-called American Plan. *I received an advance copy from the publisher, via Amazon Vine, in exchange for my honest review.*

  4. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    This is an astonishingly good book that didn't get nearly as much attention as it deserves. I only found it because one of my novels touches on this same subject. Nina McCall was a real person--a young woman who, in the early part of the twentieth century, got locked up for what we would today call "going on a date." The author uses her true story (which he thoroughly researched, digging up astonishing details) as a lens through which to view the widespread practice of locking women up for moral This is an astonishingly good book that didn't get nearly as much attention as it deserves. I only found it because one of my novels touches on this same subject. Nina McCall was a real person--a young woman who, in the early part of the twentieth century, got locked up for what we would today call "going on a date." The author uses her true story (which he thoroughly researched, digging up astonishing details) as a lens through which to view the widespread practice of locking women up for moral crimes in general, and for the treatment of (and punishment for) sexually transmitted diseases. Basically, women who were found to be infected were locked up and forced to take treatments that were dangerous, untested, and ineffective. Men didn't suffer the same fate. You might think of this as something that only happened a century ago, back in the dark ages--but you'll be astonished to learn that it continued well into the middle of the twentieth century. A truly fascinating, well-written, and perfectly researched work of women's history that is also entertaining (and shocking) to read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    R.E. Conary

    The Trials of Nina McCall (Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison “Promiscuous” Women) is author Scott W. Stern’s meticulously researched exposé of America’s unconscionable misuse of power. The writing can be dry at times but that only accentuates the mind-numbing, gut-wrenching atrocities inflicted. Nina McCall was but one victim of the draconian and misogynistic laws passed and enforced by “right-minded”, primarily white, male-dominated, government and police force The Trials of Nina McCall (Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison “Promiscuous” Women) is author Scott W. Stern’s meticulously researched exposé of America’s unconscionable misuse of power. The writing can be dry at times but that only accentuates the mind-numbing, gut-wrenching atrocities inflicted. Nina McCall was but one victim of the draconian and misogynistic laws passed and enforced by “right-minded”, primarily white, male-dominated, government and police forces. She — and others like her — tried to fight back but most lost their legal battles. All would be forgotten if not for Scott Stern. A harrowing and haunting story. An American shame brought to light, it should be required reading in every high school, college and university and read by every office holder and every law enforcement officer. *I read an advance copy of "The Trials of Nina McCall."

  6. 4 out of 5

    Moonkiszt

    The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison “Promiscuous” Women Had. No. Idea. STUNNING. How the laws and corrective actions women were subjected to are still with us today, and are why we are still subjected to the same mind-set. That’s why we have children in jail, gather up any group that “threatens” and it is all based on a general “feeling” of threat. This is an eye-opener, and serious set me back in my thinking about our advances in this cen The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison “Promiscuous” Women Had. No. Idea. STUNNING. How the laws and corrective actions women were subjected to are still with us today, and are why we are still subjected to the same mind-set. That’s why we have children in jail, gather up any group that “threatens” and it is all based on a general “feeling” of threat. This is an eye-opener, and serious set me back in my thinking about our advances in this century. We are still using that law . . . . Nina’s life is the vehicle that takes us through the decades to discuss the law, and situations (in these recent years) that used its precedence as foundation. Took my breath away. Toward the end Nina and her world fades away, but we are left with the railroad tracks laid back then. And there are trains barreling by all the time. When is that going to change? Hell, two days ago I didn’t even know about this. I bet you didn’t either. May not now. READ THIS BOOK. What if it was your daughter someone decided was hanging with the wrong people? 4 stars.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    DNF. A very long scholarly book that traces the American Plan, which started as a plan to sweep the streets regularly to pick up, give gynecological examinations to, and possibly imprison any woman seen walking along the streets alone. It was an egregious patriarchal plan to find women with STDs and put them away. This book centers around one instance of an innocent woman, Nina McCall, and how she pled her case from prison and was eventually found innocent. The American Plan was based on suspicio DNF. A very long scholarly book that traces the American Plan, which started as a plan to sweep the streets regularly to pick up, give gynecological examinations to, and possibly imprison any woman seen walking along the streets alone. It was an egregious patriarchal plan to find women with STDs and put them away. This book centers around one instance of an innocent woman, Nina McCall, and how she pled her case from prison and was eventually found innocent. The American Plan was based on suspicions; it only arrested and imprisoned girls and young women, even those who had been caught in flagrante with a man. The man was always released. The women were given crude gynecological exams at intervals and were cruelly treated with mercury, which enfeebled some and killed others. A slice of the cruelties of hundreds of women across the country who were falsely imprisoned on highly suspicious charges, and how long it took the country to shake it--in some cases not until the 1970s. A troubling and overly long book. I would recommend it to historical scholars.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alan Mills

    Atwood's Hand Maiden's Tale is not a dark vision of the future--it is an all too accurate description of our past. Arresting, involuntarily testing, imprisoning and torturing women because men don't approve of their sexuality was the explicit policy of the US for most of the 20th Century. Under the now largely forgotten "American Plan", women were detained on mere suspicion of being infected--and the official position was that prmiscuity was by definition reasonable suspicion of infection--is som Atwood's Hand Maiden's Tale is not a dark vision of the future--it is an all too accurate description of our past. Arresting, involuntarily testing, imprisoning and torturing women because men don't approve of their sexuality was the explicit policy of the US for most of the 20th Century. Under the now largely forgotten "American Plan", women were detained on mere suspicion of being infected--and the official position was that prmiscuity was by definition reasonable suspicion of infection--is something one would hope was rare. But as Stern metiulously demonstrates, this was, in fact, the policy of the US government for the ENTIRE period of 1918 through at least 1945...and in some states and cities, continuing as late as the 1970's. All under the guise of fighting Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI's). While the stated purpose was to combat the spread of disease, it is beyond dispute that the actual purpose of this policy was to police the sexuality of women. While the law was written without reference to either gender, in enforcing the law, women were imprisoned at rates about 1,000 times more frequently than men. And to be clear, I am using the word "women" loosely--females as young as 13 were caught up in the maw of this horror. From the early 1900's on, public officials were struggling to figure out how to respond to prostitution, but there was little agreement, and little government funding (although the Rockefeller Fund "generously" supported these early efforts). Then came WWI, and the massive mobilization of troops in the US. An astoundingly high number of those reporting for duty tested positive for STI's. Rather than focus on the men's behavior, public officials focused on rising rates of prostitution near newly built army bases as the source of the problem initially ignoring the fact that men who arrived in camp already infected could not possibly have caught the disease from area prostitutes. Quikly, the army corrected this mistake, and the so called American Plan was born--sending out "investigators" nationwide to locate and observe women who appeared to be promiscuous (including 13 year olds who were raped by adult men), forcing them to undergo testing (using procedures which yielded as many false positives as accurate results), imprisoning those who tested "positive" and forcing them to undergo painful, ineffective treatments (injections of arsenic and other poisons was the accepted treatment protocol of the day--treatment which might kill the patient, but had no impact on the disease). To the surprise of absolutely no one, the American Plan targeted women almost exclusively, specifically working class women in non-traditional jobs (retail sales was the largest category of employment for victims), and disproportionately targeted Black women. Stern centers his story around Nina McCall, a white woman from a small town in Michigan who was observed in the company of a soldier. On this non-existent "evidence" she was forced on threat of arrest to report to the local Board of Health doctor, who in a five minute "test" found that she was a "little infected." when Nina protested that she had never been sexually active, the doctor lied, and told her that was not necessary to become infected. Off she was sent to an institution misleadingly labelled a "Treatment Center" where she was kept under lock and key for weeks, while being forced to undergo painful, useless treatments. Stern chose Nina as the center of his history of the American Plan because she sued, and the transcript of her trial survives. This allows him to center the voice of someone directly impacted (albeit, a white woman, and thus not typical of the victims of the Plan), rather than center the bureaucrats that carried out the plan. Admirable as that intent is, the historical record regarding Nina's life is extremely thin--as one would expect from a working class person at this period. This forces Stern to fill in gaps with a huge number of "she must have" or "she may have" or "it is possible that she." It also means that while Stern comes back to Nina's story off and on throughout the book, most of the time her voice is absent, as Stern falls back on the more traditional tools of the historian--official documents. This clearly detracts from the narrative. But inthe end, this book should make you livid. The way women were routinely abused, deprived of their liberty, and literally tortured, under the guise of protecting public health, is both appalling, and all too familiar. I continually thought about Kate Mann's brilliant book, Down Girl, as I read this history. Misogyny is not new; it is hard wired into this country's history.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    I am really pleased to have been introduced to a subject matter previously unknown to me and I applaud the author for his thorough research. However (and especially since it was stated that the author will publish a more in-depth version to be consumed by academia), there was FAR too much detail in this book for me to enjoy it. I don't really care if a Michigan political group met in the east wing or west wing of a building. I think it would have been great (for me) if everything could have been I am really pleased to have been introduced to a subject matter previously unknown to me and I applaud the author for his thorough research. However (and especially since it was stated that the author will publish a more in-depth version to be consumed by academia), there was FAR too much detail in this book for me to enjoy it. I don't really care if a Michigan political group met in the east wing or west wing of a building. I think it would have been great (for me) if everything could have been edited down to something that, say, Vanity Fair could have presented in a 10 to 12 page essay (Vanity Fair is not just for fashion; over the years VF has published many fascinating, in-depth stories).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Deestarr

    How often we women turn on our own.Stern discusses one part of the movement in the early 20th century to criminalize female sexuality. Between 1918 and 1950 thousands of women were incarcerated and forcibly subjected to dangerous and experimental medical treatments, forcibly sterilized and publicly shamed for the merest suspicion they were sexually active or infected with an STI. As part and parcel of the American eugenics movement , the American Plan was instigated by women, and often enforced How often we women turn on our own.Stern discusses one part of the movement in the early 20th century to criminalize female sexuality. Between 1918 and 1950 thousands of women were incarcerated and forcibly subjected to dangerous and experimental medical treatments, forcibly sterilized and publicly shamed for the merest suspicion they were sexually active or infected with an STI. As part and parcel of the American eugenics movement , the American Plan was instigated by women, and often enforced by women. Stern's illustration of this shameful period in U.S history is becoming increasingly relevant in a sociopolitical climate where women's rights are quickly eroding. This book is well written and detailed. Overall recommended for history buffs and those interested in women' issues.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tessa Clare

    I can't believe this book only has 12 reviews. This looks like such a fascinating read! I can't believe this book only has 12 reviews. This looks like such a fascinating read!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nostalgia Reader

    4.5 stars.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Deb

    A very detailed account of an intentionally buried piece of history that has present day implications.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tom Johnson

    well written - exhaustively researched - hidden history that needs to be read in as much as the law enforcement problems the book exposed are still with us. Exams that were more torturous than necessary for what should have been a standard medical procedure. For a woman, circa 1918, given the all-male world of medicine of those times; maybe the standard was torture. Backward and painful procedures, filthy instruments and hands, useless and poisonous medicines – early twentieth century doctoring h well written - exhaustively researched - hidden history that needs to be read in as much as the law enforcement problems the book exposed are still with us. Exams that were more torturous than necessary for what should have been a standard medical procedure. For a woman, circa 1918, given the all-male world of medicine of those times; maybe the standard was torture. Backward and painful procedures, filthy instruments and hands, useless and poisonous medicines – early twentieth century doctoring had it all. And then there was the law; capricious and cruel, misogynistic and racist; overwhelmingly ignorant. Not sure we’ve moved on from there. At least medical care has progressed. Trust in the police still remains in the deep freeze. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/... were this a one-off; but it’s not; just a daily event. Our public servants protecting the weak, the marginalized? This attitude goes way back. Read all about it here folks, ‘The Trials of Nina McCall’. Under the cover of law, the “exams” were more a sexual assault, a rape as it were, than an exercise in scientific analysis. If ten-percent of the findings were accurate, I would be amazed. Greed no doubt drove most of the positive “tests”. Prisons need prisoners, doctors need patients, diseases need prescriptions; all money-making scams and all done under the aegis of the most sanctimonious of civic organizations. Circa 1918, all terms such as test, exam, cure; needed to be put in quotes, as they most assuredly could not be taken at face value. Substitute ‘war on drugs’ for ‘war on young women’ and … we’ve gone nowhere. Of course, ‘all fines are doubled in black zones’. America enters the Great War: to protect our boys from the scourge of syphilis and gonorrhea; thousands upon thousands of girls are rounded up and without any semblance of due process; are incarcerated, subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, plied with poisons that cure nothing, are ultimately released with their lives and reputations ruined only to be spied on by self-appointed police and shipped back if they regress to their evil-woman ways. 8/17/2018 Tests were just a means used to confirm preconceived notions. They found what they were looking for. Who was there to object or to challenge? Records, if kept, were conveniently lost. Little remains even of first hand accounts. Daily newspapers are the chief repository of historical “records”. Given the fact that infectious diseases were common and that the public was basically helpless; it’s not difficult to understand the sense of panic over STIs. That does not make the cruelty of medical detention any easier to excuse. The police and doctors came off more as predators than saviors. 1/3 Of humanity, 500-million, would come down with the influenza pandemic of 1918. 50-Million would die. ¼ Of all Americans would become infected. The question of medical quarantine for infectious diseases was a daily fact of life. Given how sanctimonious the powers-that-be were in those days, circa 1918, (as if they aren’t just as sanctimonious today; even with their standard bearer, Drumpf, being such a degenerate) an interesting voice of opposition to the American Plan came from the Christian Scientists. It was their strongly held belief that the government had no right to coerce any citizen to take a medicine. The X-tian Scientists got steamrolled. Evidently thoughts and prayers only matter when convenient for the autocrats. The American Plan was dependent on the arbitrary suspension of constitutional rights – no due process. Suspicion, rock solid suspicion, was all that was required. The American Plan gave a good preview of government actions regulating female bodies. The past isn’t past; the threat remains active. The army’s own internal statistics made clear that the American Plan had not substantially reduced the rate of STIs among the troops. How could it? The medicines were completely useless. None of that stopped those who led the charge from congratulating themselves on a job well done. If their statistics showed success it was probably because all those women incarcerated over the years never had an STI in the first place. 1920, The war was over; the federally administered American Plan was also brought to a halt. Opposition from a medical establishment that was terrified by federal government involvement in health care spurred Congress to neuter the board. The gods were angry. But no fear, the local governments were eager to pick up the cudgel. Sex education and public health clinics were given short shrift. The focus was on the abuse and imprisonment of women. The old white men got off on that. The dirty secret of the Plan was forced sterilization. Only of women of course. Eugenics was as popular in the U.S. as the “science” later became in Hitler’s Germany. Again, as with all the worst aspects of the Plan, black women suffered disproportionately. Page 206; another world war; another war on women. Page 223; “Beyond the denials of due process, the sexual and racial discrimination, the poisonous treatments, the unpleasant, unsanitary, overcrowded detention facilities surrounded with armed guards, there was also an undeniable element of assault inherent in the Plan.” Amerika at its finest. The event the world awaited. The discovery of penicillin in 1929; followed by many years of effort before the industrial chemical engineering of penicillin produced the necessary quantities. Not until April of 1945 was the new weapon ready for use across the country. Fascinating story I should look into. One of the many key people involved was Margaret Hutchinson Rousseau, the first woman to receive a doctorate in chemical engineering from MIT.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Simona

    IMPECCABLY researched narrative nonfiction detailing the American Plan and its abuses of power. Although long and scholarly can sometimes skew dry and boring, Stern infuses his research with both human emotion and fervent critique. I appreciated in particular the author's intersectional lens of gender, race, and class. As a public health worker in the field of STD prevention, I am aghast at this history while at the same time know just how governments and those in power demonize sexuality and den IMPECCABLY researched narrative nonfiction detailing the American Plan and its abuses of power. Although long and scholarly can sometimes skew dry and boring, Stern infuses his research with both human emotion and fervent critique. I appreciated in particular the author's intersectional lens of gender, race, and class. As a public health worker in the field of STD prevention, I am aghast at this history while at the same time know just how governments and those in power demonize sexuality and deny civil liberties to advance their own agendas. I will continue to reflect on this history, particularly as it informs my current work and the sociocultural landscape around sexual health.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Melanie Rose

    The Trials of Nina McCall is a meticulously researched, immensely fascinating deep dive into a hitherto almost unremembered aspect of American history: the American Plan, a decades-long attempt to unfairly imprison and forcibly treat thousands of women who were “suspected” (reasonably or, more often, not) of being infected with STIs. It is a harrowing, sometimes downright chilling tale of consistent, coordinated oppression and the denial of civil liberties and constitutional rights on an almost The Trials of Nina McCall is a meticulously researched, immensely fascinating deep dive into a hitherto almost unremembered aspect of American history: the American Plan, a decades-long attempt to unfairly imprison and forcibly treat thousands of women who were “suspected” (reasonably or, more often, not) of being infected with STIs. It is a harrowing, sometimes downright chilling tale of consistent, coordinated oppression and the denial of civil liberties and constitutional rights on an almost unspeakably immense scale. At the heart of the book (and standing in for thousands like her who were victimized by the Plan in cities across the country) stands Nina McCall, an eighteen-year-old Michigan resident who was detained, examined, and ultimately quarantined in a detention facility where she was subjected to painful and medically unnecessary treatment. Ultimately, Nina sued to call attention to the horrors that she, and so many others, were forced to endure. Her voice is one of few that remains in the historical record, and The Trials of Nina McCall brings that voice to life, weaving a compassionate, engaging, and deeply personal narrative into the fabric of a history much larger, lengthier, and more complex than historians have previously understood. A magnificent debut work written in compelling prose, The Trials of Nina McCall is, at times, almost overwhelming. The sheer level of detail Stern presents, the revelation of the incredible depths of a coordinated government plan to imprison and harass women and girls, and the story of an obfuscation of the historical record so successful that most readers will have never heard of the Plan before picking up this book combine to paint a riveting, oftentimes gut-wrenching picture. Yet, while the details of the American Plan might be unfamiliar to most, Stern deftly connects the narrative to stories that are all too familiar: Japanese internment during World War II, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, the HIV/AIDs epidemic, and, of course, the rabid (and ongoing) criminalization and demonization of persons based on their gender, race, and level of poverty. These intricate, important connections lend the story of the American Plan a weight that moves it from an intriguing historical chapter to a captivating narrative that is vital to our full understanding of the history of gender and public health in America. The Trials of Nina McCall is, at the end of the day, the start of a conversation, the introduction onto the world’s stage of a story that needs to be heard, studied, and understood. Without question, this book is only a beginning. Fortunately, it is an exceptional one. I look forward to wherever the conversation leads next. Rating: 5 Stars Disclaimer: I am a classmate of the author at Yale Law, and count him as a friend. This had no influence on my review or rating.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sophia

    The Trials of Nina McCall is an example of how going to class can change your life. Scott Stern's attention was piqued by his professor mentioned a social hygiene program that had him searching "concentration camp for prostitutes" during a freshman-year lecture at Yale. He went on to do years' worth of research on the "American Plan" to protect society from venereal disease in the 20th century. It's scary how this national plan, instituted at the federal, state, and local levels for decades, is The Trials of Nina McCall is an example of how going to class can change your life. Scott Stern's attention was piqued by his professor mentioned a social hygiene program that had him searching "concentration camp for prostitutes" during a freshman-year lecture at Yale. He went on to do years' worth of research on the "American Plan" to protect society from venereal disease in the 20th century. It's scary how this national plan, instituted at the federal, state, and local levels for decades, is virtually unheard of these days and not well documented. Under the guise of national security interests, women were followed, surveilled, harassed, submitted for gynecological examinations, and detained for ineffective and harmful treatments for syphilis and gonorrhea in the name of protecting troops from incapacitating disease and "social hygiene." Of course, poor and minority women were disproportionally affected. Stern tries to humanize this story by focusing on Nina McCall, but the record is so sparse that I don't think her story can support the task. There is much speculation of how she might have felt, especially after her trial. The numerous footnotes tempt me to find out more, but they invariably are just citations. This book also documents the tension in public health between protecting the public and the rights of the individual. It's good to learn more about the history of reportable diseases and the U.S. Public Health Service. For me, The Trials of Nina McCall was a sobering read in the wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brandi

    This is not an easy or fun book to read. It is deeply researched and academic in nature, but it is also riveting and SO important. Stern sheds a light on a facet of US history that has been largely erased from the record books. The America Plan was formed during WWI with the supposed goal of protecting our troops from STIs. The result was THOUSANDS of America women (primarily women of color) being forcibly examined and incarcerated for “treatment” without due process. It’s important to note that This is not an easy or fun book to read. It is deeply researched and academic in nature, but it is also riveting and SO important. Stern sheds a light on a facet of US history that has been largely erased from the record books. The America Plan was formed during WWI with the supposed goal of protecting our troops from STIs. The result was THOUSANDS of America women (primarily women of color) being forcibly examined and incarcerated for “treatment” without due process. It’s important to note that men with STIs were not subject to such treatment since, of course, women were to blame. These practices continued in some places well into the 1970s and all of the laws put in place are still on the books today. So why have we never heard of this before? Stern claims that’s by design too. These women, the injustices they endured, and their voices have been scrubbed from our nation’s history. Stern suggests that an apology from the government is in order, but the idea of such a statement coming from our current administration is laughable. While we may no longer detain and forcibly subject women to painful “treatments” based solely on suspicion of prostitution or *gasp* promiscuity, we still have a long way to go, since you know, it’s totally cool to “grab her by the p*ssy” and when a woman wears a thong she is obviously asking to be raped. Timely and irrefutably essential reading.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Fraser Sherman

    During WW I (although the roots of the idea go back earlier) the U.S. government adopted the "American Plan" to prevent soldiers from being crippled by STDs. In theory, the Plan authorized locking up infected prostitutes (the Plan's gender neutral language was a sham — only a few men were busted), treating them and training them in legal occupations. In practice, any woman who was promiscuous, or seemed promiscuous, or might possibly could be a hooker got locked up without trial. In some cases t During WW I (although the roots of the idea go back earlier) the U.S. government adopted the "American Plan" to prevent soldiers from being crippled by STDs. In theory, the Plan authorized locking up infected prostitutes (the Plan's gender neutral language was a sham — only a few men were busted), treating them and training them in legal occupations. In practice, any woman who was promiscuous, or seemed promiscuous, or might possibly could be a hooker got locked up without trial. In some cases that included rape and abuse victims as young as seven. As male authorities (though plenty of women gave the plan their support) loved having the legal power to lock up prostitutes and sexually active women (or women who looked like they might be) this went on in some areas as late as the 1970s (the pro-sex worker group C.O.Y.O.T.E. formed partly in response). Nina McCall was a Michigan girl who sued over her detention and eventually won. The book only gets 4.5 stars because after that she has nothing to do with the book's topic but Stern keeps following Nina through her life until she passes.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cara Group

    This book made me angry. I have no other way to express this, other than feeling angry. As a student of history (and law), my mind is simply amazed (and yet not) that I had never heard of the American Plan. Granted, my studies focused primarily on the European side of things during WW1 & WW2, but to never hear of it at all is just a stark reminder another type of privilege is to have your story told after you die. Since it is only relatively recently that women’s history is considered important This book made me angry. I have no other way to express this, other than feeling angry. As a student of history (and law), my mind is simply amazed (and yet not) that I had never heard of the American Plan. Granted, my studies focused primarily on the European side of things during WW1 & WW2, but to never hear of it at all is just a stark reminder another type of privilege is to have your story told after you die. Since it is only relatively recently that women’s history is considered important enough to write down, so it shouldn’t surprise me this much. Additionally, this book is a stark reminder of how hysteria can cause our government to strip people of their rights and halt us on our journey to creating a more perfect union. Weak, scared men in power (& women, although women are less frequently granted said power) can destroy lives and communities when given unrestricted power. Our constitution, with the bill of rights providing further protections, only works when the courts are balanced enough to do their job.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Adam Bricker

    A majority of the book is about the false imprisonment, questionable services for and eventual trial of Nina McCall all in the name of the betterment of America. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of government overreaching, racism, sexism and religious bias in the plan used to help keep the soldiers and general men safe from Sexually Transmitted Infections. Also, as the author states in the epilogue, prostitution has had a much larger role in American history than one would imagine. I never really A majority of the book is about the false imprisonment, questionable services for and eventual trial of Nina McCall all in the name of the betterment of America. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of government overreaching, racism, sexism and religious bias in the plan used to help keep the soldiers and general men safe from Sexually Transmitted Infections. Also, as the author states in the epilogue, prostitution has had a much larger role in American history than one would imagine. I never really gave much thought to the world's oldest profession between wild West brothels and the spattering of legal or blind-eyed places that support that occupation in recent years. It was an interesting and frustrating, from the standpoint of seeing what the "land of the free" will do to keep it such, read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

    Informative and intense. The book was overwhelming at times with loaded historical background. Quite often, I felt as though I was rereading the facts... overly stated and perhaps could have been summarized better. I also did not like the fact that the author never touched on male birth control and the part it could have, should have, but didn’t have on the issue. It seemed relevant and needed but was completely absent. I also wish the book had a better title as the book was more of a textbook a Informative and intense. The book was overwhelming at times with loaded historical background. Quite often, I felt as though I was rereading the facts... overly stated and perhaps could have been summarized better. I also did not like the fact that the author never touched on male birth control and the part it could have, should have, but didn’t have on the issue. It seemed relevant and needed but was completely absent. I also wish the book had a better title as the book was more of a textbook about the American Plan than about the trial of Nina McCall. While the author dives deep into the trial and live of Nina, it is most certainly not a 300+ page novel about her and her trial.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Just. Couldn't. Finish. "Exhaustively" documented turns out to be TOO documented, -- I know it is vital to cite all your sources, and that they be original sources, but it is not vital to know what the weather was on the day that some event took place -- and the author has a tin ear for awkward phrasing which manifests itself on nearly every page. It's a shame, because this is an important topic which has not been studied in this depth before. Just. Couldn't. Finish. "Exhaustively" documented turns out to be TOO documented, -- I know it is vital to cite all your sources, and that they be original sources, but it is not vital to know what the weather was on the day that some event took place -- and the author has a tin ear for awkward phrasing which manifests itself on nearly every page. It's a shame, because this is an important topic which has not been studied in this depth before.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bryn Lerud

    I'm so thankful for groups like my Feminist Book Group. I would never read books like this if not for them and it was a really important read. Women in this country were imprisoned with no trial and no recourse for 30 years on the suspicion of having STI's. Of course no men were treated the same way. It's the women who are punished. So enfuriating. I'm so thankful for groups like my Feminist Book Group. I would never read books like this if not for them and it was a really important read. Women in this country were imprisoned with no trial and no recourse for 30 years on the suspicion of having STI's. Of course no men were treated the same way. It's the women who are punished. So enfuriating.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Farabaugh

    This book is an amazing indictment of how women have been brutalized by powerful government men in American history. This books does a great job of detailing the double standards and hypocrisy at the heart of the abuse of these women that went on for decades.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sammy

    Fascinating history, but the conceit doesn’t work. There’s simply not enough there for Nina McCall to be considered the protagonist. And the book suffers for it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Cleaves

    Another dissertation. It needed work before being released as a book. The first cloying errors involved basic spelling. State and street names need to be capitalized. So do the names of government departments. There is a repetitive consistency to the author’s errors that demonstrates sloth and disdain for the reader. The beginning of the book offered a thick forest of facts and an over abundance of dissertational footnoting. But laced through those facts is the miasma of the author’s moral recti Another dissertation. It needed work before being released as a book. The first cloying errors involved basic spelling. State and street names need to be capitalized. So do the names of government departments. There is a repetitive consistency to the author’s errors that demonstrates sloth and disdain for the reader. The beginning of the book offered a thick forest of facts and an over abundance of dissertational footnoting. But laced through those facts is the miasma of the author’s moral rectitude and judgment. There is no real attempt to organize the book’s focus. If you want to say things have changed, do so. But if you plan to stick with history as the author did, then it is disingenuous and offensive to indict those who came before as if they should be aware of the future in the past. By the time the author moves past the halfway point, attempts at objectivity are abandoned with specific attacks raised against liberals for following the law of that time and place. Attacks become specious and unsupported and evidence a strong sense of privilege, an uninformed and narrow view of the world. It’s a good thing the author is attending law school, albeit belatedly. Some of my basic frustration lies in his framing this book as if it is about the law rather than history, yet the author clearly has no grasp of legal precepts or practice and repeatedly draws false or erroneous conclusions as a result. Even a neophyte knows that this author is entirely unaware of the fact that his suggestion that if Ms. McCall’s case had come before the state Supreme Court two years earlier that her outcome would have been different because a Justice had a familial conflict of interest. One hopes he has learned by now that that Justice would be required to declare that conflict and not hear the matter. He also overlooks relevant and applicable law established by the US Supreme Court which would explain rather neatly his confusion as to why people acted differently about the Plan over time. Due process and public health standards had been established legally in.cases not citing literally to the Plan as he has defined it. Yes, it’s a fascinating topic especially given how our national perceptions have changed. Yes the author has a lot of facts at hand, but what he doesn’t have is a clear or accurate picture conveyed well.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    I enjoy reading about little-known, unbelievable events that happened in our country, and that is why I chose this book. This book is about a little-known and shocking event in our country’s history. It is about the American Plan, a plan in effect from the 1910’s into the 1950’s, that originally tried to keep sexually transmitted diseases from spreading. This was the period of our history that was greatly affected by the World Wars, so the American Plan was originally created to stop the spread I enjoy reading about little-known, unbelievable events that happened in our country, and that is why I chose this book. This book is about a little-known and shocking event in our country’s history. It is about the American Plan, a plan in effect from the 1910’s into the 1950’s, that originally tried to keep sexually transmitted diseases from spreading. This was the period of our history that was greatly affected by the World Wars, so the American Plan was originally created to stop the spread of the diseases through the ranks of the armed forces. First, young women who were suspected of “loose” behavior” were followed. Eventually, they were forced to succumb to ineffectual testing of these diseases. If the authorities decided the girl had one of the diseases, she was forced into a facility where she received ineffectual and debilitating treatment. Nina McCall was one such girl. However, it was never even proven that she ever had the disease. Despite that, she was forcibly incarcerated and given weekly injections of mercury. These were not a proven cure, and, as you can imagine had disastrous results in her health. After she was released after three months, she was continually stalked and forced to continue painful treatments. When she tried to disappear, her mother was threatened by social workers. I had thought this book was a biography about Nina. However, I found it to be a very detailed account of the history and furtherance of the American Plan, a little-known plan to protect soldiers from diseases thought to be spread by promiscuous women. It is a well-researched and detailed historical account. I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Bianchi

    Was like swimming through mud trying to get through this book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bill O'driscoll

    Stern unearths stunning material for this nonfiction book, a great bit of historical detective work about the decades-long practice in the U.S. of surveilling, arresting, and even imprisoning women, supposedly on suspicion of carrying STIs but more often just as an especially heinous form of social control. Women across the country were often targeted simply for being alone in the wrong part of town. Many were institutionalized and "treated" for STIs before anyone knew how to effectively diagnos Stern unearths stunning material for this nonfiction book, a great bit of historical detective work about the decades-long practice in the U.S. of surveilling, arresting, and even imprisoning women, supposedly on suspicion of carrying STIs but more often just as an especially heinous form of social control. Women across the country were often targeted simply for being alone in the wrong part of town. Many were institutionalized and "treated" for STIs before anyone knew how to effectively diagnose them (false positives were highly common) or treat them: Treatments until the WWII era and widespread use of antibiotics involved small continuous doses of toxins like arsenic, which not surprisingly ended up hurting more women than they helped. This happened all over the US (probably in your town or county) but it hasn't been brought together until this book because -- though the so-called "American Plan" was the result of high-level crusades by prominent citizens like John D. Rockefeller -- most of the laws and all the enforcement were done at a hyper local level. Stern has done yeoman's work tying it all together. In this book he draws the story of McCall, a young woman arrested in the WWI era who took her tormentors to court, though the larger chronological narrative like a thread. His big-picture view is less compellingly told -- it's dry, perhaps inevitably bureaucratic in tone, and often bogs down in secondary detail -- but this is required reading on the history of the repression of women in America.

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