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American Social Hygiene Association Relationship to Community Welfare

Relationship Of The American Social Hygiene Association To Community Welfare

October 25, 1923

Department of Legal Measures

Not more than fifteen years ago a social hygiene survey of almost any one of our larger communities would not doubt have revealed conditions contrasting sharply with those which we find to-day.

Legislative and law enforcement machinery were almost non-existent.  Prostitution was rampant in the streets and public places, and a section of the city was dedicated particularly to it, which was popularly called the “segregated” or red-light district.

There was little or no public health machinery for the combating of venereal diseases.  Virtually nothing was being done to determine their prevalence or to prevent their spread.  Facilities for scientific diagnosis and treatment were either very limited or nonexistent.

In the field of protective measures there was little organized effort toward preventing girls and boys from becoming recruits for the underworld.  There were no women police.  The parks were un-patrolled and badly lighted.  Places of commercialized amusement were unsupervised.  Delinquents convicted of crimes, victims of hereditary and environmental handicaps, received punitive instead of rehabilitative treatment.

In recreation, community activities were largely undeveloped.  Community houses, organized play, and similar recreational measures would doubtless have been regarded as curiosities.

In education there was no national organization devoted largely to the promotion of sex education, or to the dissemination of information to the public with reference to social facts and conditions bearing on social hygiene.  Neither had this become a concern of the government nor of any state department.

The outstanding thing, however, which would have been revealed by such an investigation is the prevalence of prostitution and the increasing dissemination of the venereal diseases.  Facts such as those were disclosed by the thirty or more vice commissions which were organized during the past decade. (Ed. Note: The March Against Commercialized Prostitution: 1886-1949

In addition to the disclosures of these commissions during that period, many other significant events occurred in the field of social hygiene.  Such were the organization of the American Social Hygiene Association and the well known activities of the government in social hygiene during the war, which were continued thereafter to some extent by the U.S.  Inter-departmental Social Hygiene Board and the U.S.  Public Health Service.  As a result of all these activities, much improvement has occurred in community conditions with reference to social hygiene.

The example may be cited of a city in which the social hygiene machinery has been gradually improved during the past ten years.  The court records of this city show the number of arrests for

Men who fail to develop self-control sometimes yield to sex temptation to indulge in sexual intercourse with immoral girls and become infected with a venereal (sex) disease. The chief venereal diseases are syphilis (pox) and gonorrhea (clap).
Men who fail to develop self-control sometimes yield to sex temptation to indulge in sexual intercourse with immoral girls and become infected with a venereal (sex) disease. The chief venereal diseases are syphilis (pox) and gonorrhea (clap).

prostitution in 1911 to have been approximately 5,600, and in 1921 to have been 1,680; the number of convictions in 1911 to have been 4,928, and n 1921 to have been 1,190:  whereas the enforcement of measures affecting these results was tightened (not relaxed, as the figures might indicate) through an intensive program of repression of prostitution.

An authoritative estimate of the number of prostitutes in that city in 1911 place the same number at 25,000; an intensive investigation of conditions in the same city at the present time indicates that the number of prostitutes operating in 1921 did not exceed 3,000.  In 1911 this city had a large red-light district, and in 1921 investigation failed to reveal a dozen open houses of prostitution.  To put this comparison between the conditions during the days of the red-light district and the present concretely:

If we consider a minimum of 10,000 prostitutes during the earlier the policy of repression.  This policy which began as an experiment ten years ago, may now fairly be described as a successful demonstration.  Progress has also been made in the other measures of the social hygiene program, which, it has been demonstrated, must be carried forward along with that of the repression of prostitution, since permanent progress rests fundamentally upon an improvement in community standards of sex conduct.

This improvement depends primarily upon information and education – information which shows the relation of prostitution and the venereal diseases to the wrecking of the family and the deterioration of the race; and education which formulates and promotes the adoption of sex habits and customs in the interest of the individual and society.

It must also be supplemental by medical, rehabilitative, protective and recreational measures: to salvage those who, when they leap the barriers of restraint, become diseased, and to protect the public health; rehabilitative measures to provide a new outlook, a different environment, and honest work for the delinquent; protective measures directed toward the prevention of delinquency; and recreational measures to provide for the wholesome use of leisure as a substitute for vice.

The only national voluntary agency which is at present promoting these activities is the American Social Hygiene Association.  It is a membership, nonprofit-sharing corporation, and is entirely dependent upon voluntary subscription for funds.  It extends its service to individuals and to private and public organizations interested in any phase of social hygiene work.   For practical administration, it is divided into five departments: legal measures, medical measures, protective measures, recreational measures, educational measures, and public information.

Its Department of Legal Measures, with its staff of trained investigators, diagnoses community with reference to prostitution, and finds a remedy through the medium of the law, the police, and the courts.  It demonstrates to communities how commercialized prostitution can be completely suppressed and its other aspects greatly diminished.  It assists communities and states in the drafting of laws and ordinances, and advises in matters pertaining to their enforcement as well as to the enforcement of all laws which fall within the field of social hygiene.

Its Department of Medical Measures acts as a clearing house for doctors, clinic directors, hospital superintendents, public health officers, and other interested in the medical phases of the venereal disease problem.  It cooperates with health authorities in encouraging communities to establish model venereal disease clinics as part of their public health administration.

This girl may become an invalid for life if she marries a man who has had gonorrhea not entirely cured. Gonorrhea causes: 1. Many surgical operations upon women; 2. Much invalidism among innocent wives; 3. Many childless marriages.
This girl may become an invalid for life if she marries a man who has had gonorrhea not entirely cured. Gonorrhea causes: 1. Many surgical operations upon women; 2. Much invalidism among innocent wives; 3. Many childless marriages.

Its Department of Protective Measures studies and promotes methods of determining causes of sex delinquency in individuals and in communities.  It promotes measures for safeguarding young people from activities and environments conducive to sex delinquency.  It also studies and promotes methods for rehabilitation of sex offenders.

Its Department of Recreational Measures studies the influence of existing recreation and entertainment facilities, and encourages communities to provide suitable measures for the wholesome use of leisure time as a substitute for vice.

Its Department of Educational Measures endeavors to stimulate education of both young and old to the true purpose of sex in life – to displace the old myths and falsehoods with authoritative information on the subject.

Its Department of Public Information informs the public on social hygiene topics, with a view to creating an enlightened public opinion and to securing favorable action on legislative measures and all other measures having to do with social hygiene.

Progress in social welfare has not been spontaneous.  If it is desired to correct or improve a social condition by the formulation of a law, something more must be done that the mere enactment thereof.  Laws will not enforce themselves.  If a cure is discovered for a disease, something more must be done than its inscription in a medical textbook to make it a factor in the improvements of public health.  The same may be said of other social activities.  In order to secure effective progress, activities or private and voluntary groups are necessary to supplement and fill in the gaps left by official agencies.  The American Social Hygiene Association is organized and equipped to do just this.  It is apparent that the activities of the American Social Hygiene Association toward the conservation and protection of the family as a basic social unit is of vital importance to the welfare of any community.

Source: American Social Health Association Records, 1905-2005. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN:

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