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

Beacon. May 2018. 356p. notes. index.ISBN 9780807042755. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780807042762. SOC SCI
Scholar Stern, expanding upon his thesis research, recounts the "American Plan," a World War I-era mass incarceration movement in which women suspected of being infected with syphilis or gonorrhea were forced to undergo gynecological examinations, then incarcerated and subjected to harsh, ineffective treatments. The story is told through the eyes of Nina McCall, who was imprisoned under the plan and afterward sued her captors. Although the focus is on Nina's experience, Stern weaves in accounts of other women across the United States. Notably, he shows how prisoners and former advocates resisted the plan. They were fighting against formidable odds, as many prominent figures of the day, including Franklin Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller Jr., and Fiorello LaGuardia supported the program. Stern does not shy away from the horror of the plan and emphasizes the sexism and racism inherent in its execution, tracing its development through World War II up to the 1970s and lingering impacts today.
VERDICT A chilling look at a sadly relevant period in American history. Highly recommended for readers interested in women's studies and public health.
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