Social hygiene movement

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"Sex hygiene" is contrasted with "false modesty" in this frontispiece to an early 20th-century book. Sex hygiene and false modesty.png
"Sex hygiene" is contrasted with "false modesty" in this frontispiece to an early 20th-century book.

The social hygiene movement was an attempt by Progressive-era reformers to control venereal disease, regulate prostitution and vice, and disseminate sexual education through the use of scientific research methods and modern media techniques. Social hygiene as a profession grew alongside social work and other public health movements of the era. Social hygienists emphasized sexual continence and strict self-discipline as a solution to societal ills, tracing prostitution, drug use and illegitimacy to rapid urbanization. The movement remained alive throughout much of the 20th century and found its way into American schools, where it was transmitted in the form of classroom films about menstruation, sexually transmitted disease, drug abuse and acceptable sexual behavior in addition to an array of pamphlets, posters, textbooks and films. [1]

The Progressive Era was a period of widespread social activism and political reform across the United States that spanned the 1890s to the 1920s. The main objectives of the Progressive movement were eliminating problems caused by industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and political corruption. The movement primarily targeted political machines and their bosses. By taking down these corrupt representatives in office, a further means of direct democracy would be established. They also sought regulation of monopolies and corporations through antitrust laws, which were seen as a way to promote equal competition for the advantage of legitimate competitors.

Prostitution Engaging in sexual relations in exchange for payment

Prostitution is the business or practice of engaging in sexual activity in exchange for payment. Prostitution is sometimes described as sexual services, commercial sex or, colloquially, hooking. It is sometimes referred to euphemistically as "the world's oldest profession" in the English-speaking world. A person who works in this field is called a prostitute, and is a type of sex worker.

Vice practice or behavior or habit generally considered immoral, depraved, or degrading in the associated society

Vice is a practice, behaviour, or habit generally considered immoral, sinful, criminal, rude, taboo, depraved, or degrading in the associated society. In more minor usage, vice can refer to a fault, a negative character trait, a defect, an infirmity, or a bad or unhealthy habit. Vices are usually associated with a transgression in a person's character or temperament rather than their morality. Synonyms for vice include fault, sin, depravity, iniquity, wickedness, and corruption.



The social hygiene movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was an attempt by Progressive-era reformers to control venereal disease, regulate prostitution and vice, and disseminate sexual education through the use of scientific research methods and modern media techniques. A mental hygiene movement also developed, partly separately and now generally known as mental health, although the older term is still in use, e.g. in New York state's law. [2] The social hygiene movement represented a rationalized, professionalized version of the earlier social purity movement. [3] Many reformers, such as Marie Stopes, were also proponents of eugenics. Inspired by Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, they argued for the sterilisation of certain groups, even racial groups, in society. Indeed, by the 1930s thousands of forced sterilizations of people deemed undesirable took place in America and other countries each year. This continued for several more decades in some countries, though after 1945, the movement was largely discredited. [4]

Scientific method Interplay between observation, experiment and theory in science

The scientific method is an empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century. It involves careful observation, applying rigorous skepticism about what is observed, given that cognitive assumptions can distort how one interprets the observation. It involves formulating hypotheses, via induction, based on such observations; experimental and measurement-based testing of deductions drawn from the hypotheses; and refinement of the hypotheses based on the experimental findings. These are principles of the scientific method, as distinguished from a definitive series of steps applicable to all scientific enterprises.

Mental health Describes a level of psychological well-being, or an absence of a mental disorder

Mental health is defined as the level of psychological well-being or an absence of mental illness. It is the state of someone who is "functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioural adjustment". From the perspectives of positive psychology or of holism, mental health may include an individual's ability to enjoy life, and to create a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health includes "subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, inter-generational dependence, and self-actualization of one's intellectual and emotional potential, among others." The WHO further states that the well-being of an individual is encompassed in the realization of their abilities, coping with normal stresses of life, productive work and contribution to their community. Cultural differences, subjective assessments, and competing professional theories all affect how one defines "mental health".

The social purity movement was a late 19th-century social movement that sought to abolish prostitution and other sexual activities that were considered immoral according to Christian morality. The movement was active in English-speaking nations from the late 1860s to about 1910, exerting an important influence on the contemporaneous feminist, eugenics, and birth control movements.

Social Hygiene Movement

Social hygiene as a profession grew alongside social work and other public health movements of the era. Social hygienists emphasized sexual continence and strict self-discipline as a solution to societal ills, tracing prostitution, drug use and illegitimacy to rapid urbanization.

Social work academic discipline and profession

Social work is an academic discipline and profession that concerns itself with individuals, families, groups and communities in an effort to enhance social functioning and overall well-being. Social functioning is the way in which people perform their social roles, and the structural institutions that are provided to sustain them. Social work applies social sciences, such as sociology, psychology, political science, public health, community development, law, and economics, to engage with client systems, conduct assessments, and develop interventions to solve social and personal problems; and to bring about social change. Social work practice is often divided into micro-work, which involves working directly with individuals or small groups; and macro-work, which involves working with communities, and - within social policy - fostering change on a larger scale.

Public health preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through organized efforts and informed choices of society and individuals

Public health has been defined as "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting human health through organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals". Analyzing the health of a population and the threats it faces is the basis for public health. The public can be as small as a handful of people or as large as a village or an entire city; in the case of a pandemic it may encompass several continents. The concept of health takes into account physical, psychological and social well-being. As such, according to the World Health Organization, it is not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Urbanization longterm population movements (shift) from rural to urban areas;gradual increase in the proportion of people living in urban areas, and the ways in which each society adapts to the change;process by which towns and cities are formed and become larger

Urbanization refers to the population shift from rural areas to urban areas, the gradual increase in the proportion of people living in urban areas, and the ways in which each society adapts to this change. It is predominantly the process by which towns and cities are formed and become larger as more people begin living and working in central areas. Although the two concepts are sometimes used interchangeably, urbanization should be distinguished from urban growth: urbanization is "the proportion of the total national population living in areas classed as urban", while urban growth refers to "the absolute number of people living in areas classed as urban". The United Nations projected that half of the world's population would live in urban areas at the end of 2008. It is predicted that by 2050 about 64% of the developing world and 86% of the developed world will be urbanized. That is equivalent to approximately 3 billion urbanites by 2050, much of which will occur in Africa and Asia. Notably, the United Nations has also recently projected that nearly all global population growth from 2017 to 2030 will be by cities, about 1.1 billion new urbanites over the next 13 years.

The social hygiene movement began to gain momentum and in 1913 making the movement part of publishings such as the American Journal of Public Health. [5] The American Social Hygiene Association was officially formed in 1913. It was later renamed to the American Social Health Association and, in 2012, the American Sexual Health Association.

American Sexual Health Association organization

The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) is an American non-profit organization established in 1914, that cites a mission to improve the health of individuals, families, and communities, with an emphasis on sexual health, as well as a focus on preventing sexually transmitted infections and their harmful consequences. ASHA uses tools such as education, communication, advocacy and policy analysis activities with the intent to heighten public, patient, provider, policymaker and media awareness of STI prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment strategies.

The Social hygiene approach was adopted in medical schools in Russia in the 1920s and supported by the Commissariat of Public Health. The definition adopted by Commissar Nikolai Semashko was less focussed on eugenics and more in line with what is now regarded as public health: “study of the influence of economic and social factors on the incidence of disease and on the ways to make the population healthy”. The State Institute for Social Hygiene opened in 1923. This approach was not popular with educators or with medical students. In 1930 the institute was renamed the Institute of Organisation of Health Care and Hygiene. [6]

Nikolai Semashko (medicine) Soviet academic

Nikolai Aleksandrovich Semashko, was a Russian statesman who became People's Commissar of Public Health in 1918, and served in that role until 1930. He was one of the organizers of the health system in the Soviet Union, an academician of the Academy of Medical Sciences (1944) and of the RSFSR (1945).

The movement remained alive throughout much of the 20th century and found its way into American schools, where it was transmitted in the form of classroom films about menstruation, sexually transmitted disease, drug abuse and acceptable sexual behavior in addition to an array of pamphlets, posters, textbooks and films. [1]

Menstruation Regular discharge of blood and tissue from the inner lining of the uterus through the vagina

Menstruation, also known as a period or monthly, is the regular discharge of blood and mucosal tissue from the inner lining of the uterus through the vagina. The first period usually begins between twelve and fifteen years of age, a point in time known as menarche. However, periods may occasionally start as young as eight years old and still be considered normal. The average age of the first period is generally later in the developing world, and earlier in the developed world. The typical length of time between the first day of one period and the first day of the next is 21 to 45 days in young women, and 21 to 31 days in adults. Bleeding usually lasts around 2 to 7 days. Menstruation stops occurring after menopause, which usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age. Periods also stop during pregnancy and typically do not resume during the initial months of breastfeeding.

Pamphlet unbound booklet containing text

A pamphlet is an unbound book. It may consist of a single sheet of paper that is printed on both sides and folded in half, in thirds, or in fourths, called a leaflet, or it may consist of a few pages that are folded in half and saddle stapled at the crease to make a simple book.

Poster any piece of printed paper designed to be attached to a wall or vertical surface

A poster is any piece of printed paper designed to be attached to a wall or vertical surface. Typically, posters include both textual and graphic elements, although a poster may be either wholly graphical or wholly text. Posters are designed to be both eye-catching and informative. Posters may be used for many purposes. They are a frequent tool of advertisers, propagandists, protestors, and other groups trying to communicate a message. Posters also are used for reproductions of artwork, particularly famous works, and are generally low-cost compared to the original artwork. The modern poster, as we know it, however, dates back to the 1840s and 1850s when the printing industry perfected colour lithography and made mass production possible.

American Social Hygiene Association

The American Social Hygiene Association partnered with the government during The Great War. The American Social Hygiene Association provided social hygiene health and sexual health information to the soldiers in hopes that this education would help take fewer soldiers out of action from venereal diseases. [7]

The idea of prostitution was considered a “necessary evil” in light of an artificial demand that had been created through various forms including political corruption and advertising. With further investigation into the business of prostitution cities that did not contain commercialized prostitution had less crime and appeared to be in better shape than those who contained such. Most prostitutes that had been examined were found to have venereal diseases, but with that included a negative social stigma which stopped people from getting examined and so there became a campaign involving several organizations to suppress prostitution and begin educating people about sex and venereal diseases. The two organizations that had developed were the American Vigilance Association, fighting prostitution, and the American Federation for Sex Hygiene. Finally, the two organizations had realized their mutual interest and called a meeting in Buffalo, New York which the term “social hygiene” was coined. By 1914 the organizations formed into one, calling themselves, “The American Social Hygiene Association”. [8]

Progressive Era

The social hygiene movement helped with the development of the management of prostitution in the Progressive Era. The Progressive Era was the turning point in the state's regulations of sexuality. It was said that the Progressive Era had physicians and women moral reformers working together to help manage prostitution and educate the people on social hygiene. [9]

Racial Hygiene Association

This link between racial hygiene and social hygiene movements can be seen in Australia, where the Racial Hygiene Association of New South Wales is now named The Family Planning Association. [10]

Negro Project

In the 1940’s during World War II, ASHA (American Social Hygiene Association) launched a new project called The Negro Project, also known as the Negro Venereal Disease Education Project. The aim of this project was to address the widespread presence of venereal diseases among African Americans. In the early 1940’s, ASHA drafted a grant proposal and in 1942 it was sent to prospective funding agencies. The proposal emphasized two main aspects of the Negro Project, “that the higher rate of prevalence of venereal diseases among the black population was alarming; and two, that this higher prevalence rate was not the fault of the black community.” (A. Sharma) The main purpose of the Negro Project was to provide educational materials and methods for instruction regarding syphilis. Some of the intended materials to be produced were pamphlets, posters, and motion pictures specifically aimed at the African American community. After being rejected by private funding organizations, the project found support from the Social Protection Division of the Federal Security Agency. In November 1943 in New York City, the Negro Project held its first major activity which was the National Conference on Wartime Problems in Venereal Disease Control. This conference was held so that they could form a committee and create an action plan for the Negro Project. After the national conference in 1943, project officials held meetings at regional level, predominantly in Southern states. However, in 1945 the records of the project suddenly go silent and no further activity for this project was documented in ASHA records. It has been speculated that due to the Social Protection Division of the Federal Security Agency being dissolved in the 1940’s, the funds for the project dried up causing the project to end. [11]

Mental Hygiene Movement

In regards to the mental hygiene movement, it helped providers realize that the problems of mental health and prevention of disease goes beyond providers in hospitals. The movement helped healthcare train their providers properly. It also helped with studies of more sympathetic treatment for mental health patients. [12]

Helpful Definitions

Social Hygiene is "the practice of measures designed to protect and improve the family as a social institution. Specially the practice of measures aiming at the elimination of venereal disease and prostitution" according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. [13]

Mental Hygiene is "the science of maintaining mental health and preventing the development of mental illness" according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. [14]

See also

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  2. NYS Mental Hygiene Admissions Process
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