In 1917, the state of Kansas passed a law, Chapter 205, State of Kansas Quarantine. Over 5000 women suspected of having sexually transmitted diseases, were imprisoned due to this law. This barbaric law was on the books until 1942.
Why Officials Panicked about Kansas Women’s STDs
During World War I, returning soldiers brought back a wave of STD infections including syphilis and gonorrhea. The US government saw it as a national security risk. Before the days of penicillin, these STDs were often lethal. The government was worried the STD outbreaks would immobilize the military.
In a time when women’s sexuality was taboo in society, and women lacked rights, women took the brunt of the blame. Communities panicked. There were witch hunts against women suspected of engaging in sexual activities, especially in small towns, where everyone knew or thought they knew each other’s business.
By the end of WWI, over 400 women were imprisoned under, Chapter 205. Women were shipped to Kansas State Industrial Farm in Lansing, Kansas. Officials refused to send them to penitentiaries, worried about the potential for abuse from male prisoners and thinking the women would spread their diseases to inmates.
STD tests were inaccurate, and with due process being thrown to the side, women often had zero chance of refuting the charges.
Authorities busted dance halls while arresting all the women present. Jealous husbands reported their wives to the authorities. Rapists accused their victims of giving them STDs. Meanwhile, the authorities thought if a woman was sexually active, she must have an STD.
The average age of an imprisoned women was between 16-22. They spent two to three months at the Kansas State Industrial Farm, subjected to primitive treatments including toxic chemicals and medical practitioners applying spicy, Indonesian peppers to their genitals.
Because free, public, health clinics didn’t exist and treatment was expensive. Women with STDs sometimes turned themselves in to receive treatment.
Chapter 205 was taken off the books in 1942. In part because the government also needed women to work in factories during WWII.
Chapter 205 has almost been forgotten by history except for a few records and the haunting mugshots left behind.