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Venereal Disease

A soldier who is not available to fight due to a preventable disease disrupts the overall execution of the military mission. Venereal disease, a preventable disease, was targeted in efforts to keep soldiers disease free. Many felt that the enemy sent diseased women to infect U.S. soldiers on the home front.

In a January 2, 1918, letter to Washington Senator Wesley L. Jones, Dr. Franklin Martin, Executive Secretary, Committee for Civilian Cooperation in Combating Venereal Disease, wrote:

"2. During the twelve weeks ending December 7, 1917, there were reported from 31 cantonments, 21,742 new cases of venereal disease. The incapacitation of these men involves not only the loss of time; in addition, it has cost the Government to keep them during the period of hospital confinement (which varies from one to eight weeks) more money than is required to maintain the entire command at Camp Dix (the cantonment in New Jersey with 20, 859 men) plus an additional sum for medical treatment."
"4. (regarding soldiers in transit between bases and on leave) …The enormous cost to the Government on account of venereal disease is due largely, therefore, to conditions in civil life."

While anti-prostitution laws were already on the books, Congress and the War Department passed further laws. By order of the Secretary of War, Payton March, in August 1918:

"1. Ten miles from any military camp, station, fort… within which it shall be unlawful to engage in prostitution or to aid or abet prostitution or to procure or solicit for purposes of prostitution, or to keep or set up a house of ill fame, brothel, or bawdy house, or to receive any person purposes of lewdness…"

Civilian organizations, such as the YMCA and the American Protective League, Minute Men Division, worked with law enforcement and the military to educate soldiers about the dangers of venereal disease and to enforce laws banning prostitution. Prophylactics, widely available to 'Doughboys,' were complementary to the educational and legal restrictions placed on the soldiers and prostitutes.