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When American Women Were Yanked off the Streets and Jailed in Droves for ‘Promiscuity’

March 27, 2019 in History

By Scott W. Stern

Under the government-backed American Plan, many were injected with mercury and forced to ingest arsenic-based drugs as ‘treatment.’

For much of the 20th century in America, a little-known but widespread government program locked people up without trials simply for having sexually transmitted infections—and then forced them to undergo dangerous, poisonous “treatments.”

If they were women, that is.

Take, for example, the nearly two dozen women rounded up by authorities on a single day in Sacramento, California in 1919. Margaret Hennessey was one of them, apprehended while walking with her sister to the meat market. It was Tuesday, February 25, a clear winter morning with a gentle wind and temperatures rising to the 40s or 50s. Hennessey—who lived in Richmond, California with her husband, H.J., a Standard Oil foreman—had been staying in town, recovering from influenza at the home of her sister, known from press reports only as Mrs. M. Bradich. As the two women walked to the market, they were approached by an Officer Ryan and other members of Sacramento’s “morals squad”—a unit formed that very morning, tasked with cleansing the city of vice and immorality. The police told the two lone women they were under arrest as “suspicious characters.”

Mrs. Hennessey tried to explain who she was and what she was doing in Sacramento. She offered to show the officers identification. She told the officers her 6-year-old son was attending school in a local convent, and if they arrested her, someone would have to care for him. The officers, Hennessey later told the press, “paid no heed, but took my sister and I to the hospital.” The morals squad delivered Hennessey and Bradich to the “Canary Cottage,” as the city’s isolation hospital was known. There, a doctor probed and prodded the two women’s genitalia, examining them for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). “At the hospital I was forced to submit to an examination just as if I was one of the most degraded women in the world. I want to say I have never been so humiliated in my life,” Mrs. Hennessey told the local newspaper. “My reputation means something to me and I am going to defend it.”

Margaret Hennessey’s experience was far from unusual. She had been detained under a program she likely had never heard of: the “American Plan.” From the 1910s through the 1950s, and in some places into the 1960s and 1970s, tens of thousands—perhaps hundreds of …read more

Source: HISTORY

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