Chicago's War on Syphilis, 1937-40: The Times, the "Trib," and the Clap Doctor (Hardback)Suzanne Poirier
Hardback Published: 01/03/1995
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Chicago's War on Syphilis, 1937-1940, offers valuable lessons to those struggling to deal with today's AIDS epidemic. The Chicago Tribune, one of the first newspapers to discuss the disease, followed daily developments, including a new pre-marital testing law, court-ordered screening of selected individuals, creation of testing stations in city parks, and the steadily rising count of those tested for it. The time was the late 1930s, however, and the disease was syphilis. The Chicago Syphilis Control Program was launched in 1937, an important part of the U.S. Public Health Service's nationwide campaign to find, treat, and eradicate syphilis. Though a large number of cases were identified - and many treated - the program didn't reach its goals. Suzanne Poirier shows how the effort was limited from the start because of the refusal of the government, press, and public to directly confront the issues behind the problem. Poirier's narrative is memorable for its vivid scenes, colorful characters that include Chicago's clap doctor, Ben Reitman, and its account of the heated debate that surrounded the effort. All are supported by careful research into official documents of the Chicago Syphilis Control Program, Reitman's personal papers, and the Tribune's coverage. What were the issues? Using Chicago as a microcosm for the nation, Poirier shows that they included mandatory testing, confidentiality, testing and insurance, sex education in the schools, isolation and quarantine of non-compliant infected people, interpretation and limitations of V.D. tests, the disease's relation to class and race, collection and interpretation of statistics, prevention of the disease by mechanical or chemicalmeans versus sexual abstinence, and the role of moral judgment in fighting venereal disease and treating its victims. In her epilogue, Poirier discusses similarities between current efforts against AIDS and the handling and politics of the syphilis problem in the late 1930s. She also explores similarities among the positions of people as diverse as Reitman, the writer and AIDS activist Larry Kramer, and former U.S. surgeons general Thomas Parran and C. Everett Koop.
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
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