"Menace to the Men": Policing Women and Girls' Sexuality in World War I Texas, 1900-1920




Adams, Anh

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While the United States sent its men to Europe to fight in World War I, its women and girls faced a very different, yet still dangerous, war at home. Threatened by the spread of venereal disease to U.S. servicemen, the federal government implemented a program to repress prostitution by institutionalizing women suspected of promiscuity. The premise of this program, known as the American Plan, was that women’s bodies were inherently sexually deviant, and therefore morally and physically dangerous to the nation’s fighting men. Simply by taking up space, women transformed into the enemy on the home front. This was especially true in Texas, where the already existing, highly visible connections between prostitution and the military enabled further mobilization to abolish prostitution—both by the state and local reform organizations—in the name of national security. What resulted, however, was a strengthening of a detrimental campaign to police, incarcerate, and control women’s bodies. In this time, thousands of women were institutionalized and forced to sacrifice their freedom and bodily autonomy as they became subject to mandatory venereal disease exams. Under the expanding power of the state, any woman, but especially poor women and women of color, could be stripped of her autonomy regardless of her exam results. Through the extensive reach and influence of the American Plan, American women and girls reckoned with issues of war, the spaces they called home, and the freedoms stolen from them in the name of American success.



detention homes, prostitution, progressive-era reform, Texas, World War I


Adams, A. (2023). "Menace to the men": Policing women and girls' sexuality in World War I Texas, 1900-1920. Honors College, Texas State University.


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