The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison "Promiscuous" Women
Scott W. Stern
When World War I broke out, men across America left their hometowns and moved to army bases. Government officials, eager to build the strongest army possible, scrambled to keep these new soldiers safe from an insidious threat: women. In the halls of power, it was widely thought that prostitutes would weaken the army by infecting soldiers with STIs like gonorrhea. A nationwide program called the American Plan empowered health authorities to surveil women, quarantine them in miserable conditions, and force them to undergo painful and ineffective treatments. The program persisted into the 1950s in some places, affecting at least tens of thousands of women. In The Trials of Nina McCall, Scott Stern, who as an undergraduate became obsessed with the American Plan and its historical neglect, zooms in on a single Michigan woman, ably tracing and contextualizing her coercive quarantine, humiliation—and eventual decision to fight back.
A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Pacific Standard. Subscribe now and get eight issues/year or purchase a single copy of the magazine. It was first published online on April 24th, 2018, exclusively for PS Premium members.