During World War I, U.S. federal officials became concerned that a huge percentage of men in the military were infected with syphilis or gonorrhea. These diseases were not only a health risk to the soldiers, but it’s also a national security risk as well. If the soldiers couldn’t perform their soldierly duties, it hurt the U.S. war effort and the country couldn’t have that.
In 1918, Congress passed the Chamberlain-Kahn Act, also known as the American Plan. The law gave the government the power to quarantine any women suspected of having a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Under the law, a woman was detained, put through a medical examination and if it revealed an STD, the discovery would act as proof of prositution. The thinking at the time was that the men were getting the STDs from prostitutes, and if you cut down on the prositution, it would cut the STD rates. The law went into effect and covered a five-mile radius next to any military base. Never did it cross the officials’ minds that the soldiers may have been giving the women the STD’s or that they may have came from homosexual activities.
Further research showed that most soldiers and sailors who had STDs contracted them back in their hometown. More research showed that the woman who supposedly infected the men weren’t professional prostitutes. Federal officials pushed every state to pass a similar law to the American plan in their states. The laws would enable police officers to forcibly examine any person “reasonably suspected” of having a STD. Under the laws, they could hold a person in detention for as long as it took to render the person noninfectious. The law was gender neutral, but the actual practice of enforcing it was always targeted at women.
Support for the American plan ranged all across the country. New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia gave speeches lauding the plan; California Governor Earl Warren spearheaded the plan’s enforcement in California. Thomas Watt Gregory, the then U.S. Attorney General, sent a letter to every U.S. Attorney in the country, assuring them the law was constitutional; he also sent a letter to every U.S. district judge, urging them not to interfere with the laws enforcement. Public endorsement of the plan came from Eleanor Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller Jr, and Pat Brown. During World War…