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The nearly forgotten story of the American Plan, one of the largest and longest-lasting mass quarantines in American history, told through the lens of one young woman's story. In 1918, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, Nina McCall was told to report to the local health officer to be examined for sexually transmitted infections. Confused and humiliated, Nina did as sh The nearly forgotten story of the American Plan, one of the largest and longest-lasting mass quarantines in American history, told through the lens of one young woman's story. In 1918, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, Nina McCall was told to report to the local health officer to be examined for sexually transmitted infections. Confused and humiliated, Nina did as she was told, and the health officer performed a hasty (and invasive) examination and quickly diagnosed her with gonorrhea. Though Nina insisted she could not possibly have an STI, she was coerced into committing herself to the Bay City Detention Hospital, a facility where she would spend almost three miserable months subjected to hard labor, exploitation, and painful injections of mercury. Nina McCall was one of many women unfairly imprisoned by the United States government throughout the twentieth century. The government locked up tens, probably hundreds, of thousands of women and girls--usually without due process--simply because officials suspected these women were prostitutes, carrying STIs, or just "promiscuous." This discriminatory program, dubbed the "American Plan," lasted from the 1910s into the 1950s, implicating a number of luminaries, including Eleanor Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller Jr., Earl Warren, and even Eliot Ness, while laying the foundation for the modern system of women's prisons. In some places, vestiges of the Plan lingered into the 1960s and 1970s, and the laws that undergirded it remain on the books to this day. Scott Stern tells the story of this almost forgotten program through the life of Nina McCall. Her story provides crucial insight into the lives of countless other women incarcerated under the American Plan. Stern demonstrates the pain and shame felt by these women and details the multitude of mortifications they endured, both during and after their internment. Yet thousands of incarcerated women rioted, fought back against their oppressors, or burned their detention facilities to the ground; they jumped out of windows or leapt from moving trains or scaled barbed-wire fences in order to escape. And, as Nina McCall did, they sued their captors. In an age of renewed activism surrounding harassment, health care, prisons, women's rights, and the power of the state, this virtually lost chapter of our history is vital reading.


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The nearly forgotten story of the American Plan, one of the largest and longest-lasting mass quarantines in American history, told through the lens of one young woman's story. In 1918, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, Nina McCall was told to report to the local health officer to be examined for sexually transmitted infections. Confused and humiliated, Nina did as sh The nearly forgotten story of the American Plan, one of the largest and longest-lasting mass quarantines in American history, told through the lens of one young woman's story. In 1918, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, Nina McCall was told to report to the local health officer to be examined for sexually transmitted infections. Confused and humiliated, Nina did as she was told, and the health officer performed a hasty (and invasive) examination and quickly diagnosed her with gonorrhea. Though Nina insisted she could not possibly have an STI, she was coerced into committing herself to the Bay City Detention Hospital, a facility where she would spend almost three miserable months subjected to hard labor, exploitation, and painful injections of mercury. Nina McCall was one of many women unfairly imprisoned by the United States government throughout the twentieth century. The government locked up tens, probably hundreds, of thousands of women and girls--usually without due process--simply because officials suspected these women were prostitutes, carrying STIs, or just "promiscuous." This discriminatory program, dubbed the "American Plan," lasted from the 1910s into the 1950s, implicating a number of luminaries, including Eleanor Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller Jr., Earl Warren, and even Eliot Ness, while laying the foundation for the modern system of women's prisons. In some places, vestiges of the Plan lingered into the 1960s and 1970s, and the laws that undergirded it remain on the books to this day. Scott Stern tells the story of this almost forgotten program through the life of Nina McCall. Her story provides crucial insight into the lives of countless other women incarcerated under the American Plan. Stern demonstrates the pain and shame felt by these women and details the multitude of mortifications they endured, both during and after their internment. Yet thousands of incarcerated women rioted, fought back against their oppressors, or burned their detention facilities to the ground; they jumped out of windows or leapt from moving trains or scaled barbed-wire fences in order to escape. And, as Nina McCall did, they sued their captors. In an age of renewed activism surrounding harassment, health care, prisons, women's rights, and the power of the state, this virtually lost chapter of our history is vital reading.

30 review for The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison "Promiscuous" Women

  1. 5 out of 5

    El

    Disclaimer: I read this book at the request of a professor I work with, as this book was written by his son. I did not meet the author prior to reading this book, so the connection to his father has no bearing on my opinion of the book. * Have you heard of the American Plan? No? You probably won't find too much if you Google it. The author himself heard about this as an undergraduate, but in almost a throwaway sort of manner. He became interested in the topic, spent the rest of his undergraduate c Disclaimer: I read this book at the request of a professor I work with, as this book was written by his son. I did not meet the author prior to reading this book, so the connection to his father has no bearing on my opinion of the book. * Have you heard of the American Plan? No? You probably won't find too much if you Google it. The author himself heard about this as an undergraduate, but in almost a throwaway sort of manner. He became interested in the topic, spent the rest of his undergraduate career researching and writing about it, then graduated and decided to wait before going on to Yale Law School so he could spend two more years researching and writing about what has sort of slipped from the consciousness of the American people. Which is especially interesting since it continued well into the middle of the 20th century - a little too recent for us to have forgotten about something so awful, but then we have a really short memory here when it's convenient. The short definition of the American Plan is that women were able to imprisoned if it was suspected that they might have a sexually transmitted illness (STI). Of course known prostitutes and women of color were most affected by this, but it could be a young woman eating dinner by herself which, obviously, is totally suspect and therefore she must be a prostitute. Nina McCall was an 18-year-old woman when it happened to her that she was told to report to the local health officer and be examined. After being told she had an STI, she argued that it couldn't be possible as she had not had sex, and yet that seemed beside the point. She was sent to the Bay City Detention Hospital where for three months she was injected (painfully, I might add) with mercury. Mercury was the common treatment for STIs in the early 20th century - this painful procedure caused a host of other health issues and, not surprisingly, didn't help anyone who didn't have an STI to begin with as happened to many women who were imprisoned for being "promiscuous". (In other words, any women that some dirty ol' man wanted to get into trouble, or a doctor wanted to feel up.)As a result of her toxic treatments, Nina "suffered physical pain," as she bluntly put it. "My arm" - where she received the injections - "swelled so that it was so full I couldn't hardly move it nor anything." Over time, the arm became "sore and lame. It affected my sleep." Furthermore, "I suffered with my mouth, my teeth get sore and loose, they were so loose that they could bend them any place. They had never been that way before." Her hair started to fall out. She endured all this even as she was expected to continue scrubbing dishes and floors. In this respect, Nina's experience was similar to that of thousands of women across the nation. (p95) THOUSANDS OF WOMEN. This program was supported by some surprising people such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Eliot Ness. It lasted from the 1910s to the 1950s but in some states, the Plan continued well through the 1970s. Not surprisingly, some of today's laws are not that dissimilar to what began as the Plan. This is fascinating stuff and a part of our history that seems to be almost entirely forgotten. Scott Stern traveled to various states to access historical records to find out the truth. Nina McCall's story is just one of many, but to have a name gives life to the history, bringing it alive for us to read, learn, and hopefully never repeat. The War on Women has always existed in one capacity or another - here is just one more battle that we should be aware of so we remember how easily shit goes off the rails whenever anyone tries to regulate the body of women. The book is also a wake-up call to readers from a judicial standpoint as well. The "hospitals" were merely prisons, and they laid the foundations for the women's prisons we know today. The penal system is all sorts of fucked up - another issue that has been going on entirely too long and no one seems terribly concerned with improving. My only concern is that this book reads as quite academic, which makes sense considering Stern is an academic - unfortunately it took longer to read as a result than I would have liked. Stern did an incredible amount of research, and it is not a book meant to breeze through. I have heard this has been optioned for a movie already (we hate this kid, right?), and I look forward to seeing how it translate to the screen. If done well, a movie could bring even more necessary attention to a topic that needs to be discussed more frequently.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Darcia Helle

    I'm sitting here trying to come up with the right words to express my thoughts. They won't come. I think I'm still in shock. What I can immediately tell you is don't hesitate; read this book. Scott Stern is a talented writer. His style is narrative nonfiction, similar to Erik Larson's writing. He puts us in the moment, with all the emotions of the people involved and the turmoil surrounding the events. I felt it all happening and saw it playing out. The research is impeccable. Stern clearly put I'm sitting here trying to come up with the right words to express my thoughts. They won't come. I think I'm still in shock. What I can immediately tell you is don't hesitate; read this book. Scott Stern is a talented writer. His style is narrative nonfiction, similar to Erik Larson's writing. He puts us in the moment, with all the emotions of the people involved and the turmoil surrounding the events. I felt it all happening and saw it playing out. The research is impeccable. Stern clearly put his heart and soul, along with an immense amount of time and energy, into writing this book. And now the content, which is where words fail me. How had I never heard of the American Plan? How could my own country, the supposed "land of the free", randomly pluck women off the streets, force them to submit to gynecological exams, and lock them away without even a basic court hearing? I am appalled that, not only did this happen, but it went on for decades. I am shocked at the absolute media silence surrounding inhumane treatment. Within the pages of this book, we see misogyny at its core, at a time when government and police forces were very much male-dominated. We see how fear drives racism and bigotry. We see how war provides cover for all sorts of atrocious behavior, right here within our own borders, perpetrated by those in power upon those who are powerless. I cannot properly express the impact this book had on me. Scott Stern gave us the gift of unearthing all the dirty secrets and laying them out for us to see. I hope everyone will pick up a copy of this book and give Nina McCall, and all the women like her, the courtesy of acknowledging what was done to them under the guise of the so-called American Plan. *I received an advance copy from the publisher, via Amazon Vine, in exchange for my honest review.*

  3. 4 out of 5

    R.E. Conary

    The Trials of Nina McCall (Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison “Promiscuous” Women) is author Scott W. Stern’s meticulously researched exposé of America’s unconscionable misuse of power. The writing can be dry at times but that only accentuates the mind-numbing, gut-wrenching atrocities inflicted. Nina McCall was but one victim of the draconian and misogynistic laws passed and enforced by “right-minded”, primarily white, male-dominated, government and police force The Trials of Nina McCall (Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison “Promiscuous” Women) is author Scott W. Stern’s meticulously researched exposé of America’s unconscionable misuse of power. The writing can be dry at times but that only accentuates the mind-numbing, gut-wrenching atrocities inflicted. Nina McCall was but one victim of the draconian and misogynistic laws passed and enforced by “right-minded”, primarily white, male-dominated, government and police forces. She — and others like her — tried to fight back but most lost their legal battles. All would be forgotten if not for Scott Stern. A harrowing and haunting story. An American shame brought to light, it should be required reading in every high school, college and university and read by every office holder and every law enforcement officer. *I read an advance copy of "The Trials of Nina McCall."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    The Trials of Nina McCall is a meticulously researched, immensely fascinating deep dive into a hitherto almost unremembered aspect of American history: the American Plan, a decades-long attempt to unfairly imprison and forcibly treat thousands of women who were “suspected” (reasonably or, more often, not) of being infected with STIs. It is a harrowing, sometimes downright chilling tale of consistent, coordinated oppression and the denial of civil liberties and constitutional rights on an almost The Trials of Nina McCall is a meticulously researched, immensely fascinating deep dive into a hitherto almost unremembered aspect of American history: the American Plan, a decades-long attempt to unfairly imprison and forcibly treat thousands of women who were “suspected” (reasonably or, more often, not) of being infected with STIs. It is a harrowing, sometimes downright chilling tale of consistent, coordinated oppression and the denial of civil liberties and constitutional rights on an almost unspeakably immense scale. At the heart of the book (and standing in for thousands like her who were victimized by the Plan in cities across the country) stands Nina McCall, an eighteen-year-old Michigan resident who was detained, examined, and ultimately quarantined in a detention facility where she was subjected to painful and medically unnecessary treatment. Ultimately, Nina sued to call attention to the horrors that she, and so many others, were forced to endure. Her voice is one of few that remains in the historical record, and The Trials of Nina McCall brings that voice to life, weaving a compassionate, engaging, and deeply personal narrative into the fabric of a history much larger, lengthier, and more complex than historians have previously understood. A magnificent debut work written in compelling prose, The Trials of Nina McCall is, at times, almost overwhelming. The sheer level of detail Stern presents, the revelation of the incredible depths of a coordinated government plan to imprison and harass women and girls, and the story of an obfuscation of the historical record so successful that most readers will have never heard of the Plan before picking up this book combine to paint a riveting, oftentimes gut-wrenching picture. Yet, while the details of the American Plan might be unfamiliar to most, Stern deftly connects the narrative to stories that are all too familiar: Japanese internment during World War II, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, the HIV/AIDs epidemic, and, of course, the rabid (and ongoing) criminalization and demonization of persons based on their gender, race, and level of poverty. These intricate, important connections lend the story of the American Plan a weight that moves it from an intriguing historical chapter to a captivating narrative that is vital to our full understanding of the history of gender and public health in America. The Trials of Nina McCall is, at the end of the day, the start of a conversation, the introduction onto the world’s stage of a story that needs to be heard, studied, and understood. Without question, this book is only a beginning. Fortunately, it is an exceptional one. I look forward to wherever the conversation leads next. Rating: 5 Stars Disclaimer: I am a classmate of the author at Yale Law, and count him as a friend. This had no influence on my review or rating.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Deestarr

    How often we women turn on our own.Stern discusses one part of the movement in the early 20th century to criminalize female sexuality. Between 1918 and 1950 thousands of women were incarcerated and forcibly subjected to dangerous and experimental medical treatments, forcibly sterilized and publicly shamed for the merest suspicion they were sexually active or infected with an STI. As part and parcel of the American eugenics movement , the American Plan was instigated by women, and often enforced How often we women turn on our own.Stern discusses one part of the movement in the early 20th century to criminalize female sexuality. Between 1918 and 1950 thousands of women were incarcerated and forcibly subjected to dangerous and experimental medical treatments, forcibly sterilized and publicly shamed for the merest suspicion they were sexually active or infected with an STI. As part and parcel of the American eugenics movement , the American Plan was instigated by women, and often enforced by women. Stern's illustration of this shameful period in U.S history is becoming increasingly relevant in a sociopolitical climate where women's rights are quickly eroding. This book is well written and detailed. Overall recommended for history buffs and those interested in women' issues.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    I am really pleased to have been introduced to a subject matter previously unknown to me and I applaud the author for his thorough research. However (and especially since it was stated that the author will publish a more in-depth version to be consumed by academia), there was FAR too much detail in this book for me to enjoy it. I don't really care if a Michigan political group met in the east wing or west wing of a building. I think it would have been great (for me) if everything could have been I am really pleased to have been introduced to a subject matter previously unknown to me and I applaud the author for his thorough research. However (and especially since it was stated that the author will publish a more in-depth version to be consumed by academia), there was FAR too much detail in this book for me to enjoy it. I don't really care if a Michigan political group met in the east wing or west wing of a building. I think it would have been great (for me) if everything could have been edited down to something that, say, Vanity Fair could have presented in a 10 to 12 page essay (Vanity Fair is not just for fashion; over the years VF has published many fascinating, in-depth stories).

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tessa Clare

    I can't believe this book only has 12 reviews. This looks like such a fascinating read!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    I enjoy reading about little-known, unbelievable events that happened in our country, and that is why I chose this book. This book is about a little-known and shocking event in our country’s history. It is about the American Plan, a plan in effect from the 1910’s into the 1950’s, that originally tried to keep sexually transmitted diseases from spreading. This was the period of our history that was greatly affected by the World Wars, so the American Plan was originally created to stop the spread I enjoy reading about little-known, unbelievable events that happened in our country, and that is why I chose this book. This book is about a little-known and shocking event in our country’s history. It is about the American Plan, a plan in effect from the 1910’s into the 1950’s, that originally tried to keep sexually transmitted diseases from spreading. This was the period of our history that was greatly affected by the World Wars, so the American Plan was originally created to stop the spread of the diseases through the ranks of the armed forces. First, young women who were suspected of “loose” behavior” were followed. Eventually, they were forced to succumb to ineffectual testing of these diseases. If the authorities decided the girl had one of the diseases, she was forced into a facility where she received ineffectual and debilitating treatment. Nina McCall was one such girl. However, it was never even proven that she ever had the disease. Despite that, she was forcibly incarcerated and given weekly injections of mercury. These were not a proven cure, and, as you can imagine had disastrous results in her health. After she was released after three months, she was continually stalked and forced to continue painful treatments. When she tried to disappear, her mother was threatened by social workers. I had thought this book was a biography about Nina. However, I found it to be a very detailed account of the history and furtherance of the American Plan, a little-known plan to protect soldiers from diseases thought to be spread by promiscuous women. It is a well-researched and detailed historical account. I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cara Group

    This book made me angry. I have no other way to express this, other than feeling angry. As a student of history (and law), my mind is simply amazed (and yet not) that I had never heard of the American Plan. Granted, my studies focused primarily on the European side of things during WW1 & WW2, but to never hear of it at all is just a stark reminder another type of privilege is to have your story told after you die. Since it is only relatively recently that women’s history is considered import This book made me angry. I have no other way to express this, other than feeling angry. As a student of history (and law), my mind is simply amazed (and yet not) that I had never heard of the American Plan. Granted, my studies focused primarily on the European side of things during WW1 & WW2, but to never hear of it at all is just a stark reminder another type of privilege is to have your story told after you die. Since it is only relatively recently that women’s history is considered important enough to write down, so it shouldn’t surprise me this much. Additionally, this book is a stark reminder of how hysteria can cause our government to strip people of their rights and halt us on our journey to creating a more perfect union. Weak, scared men in power (& women, although women are less frequently granted said power) can destroy lives and communities when given unrestricted power. Our constitution, with the bill of rights providing further protections, only works when the courts are balanced enough to do their job.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Petri

    The fifth star is also for the new and frightening information about our government's love for heinous treatment of the citizens who are supposed to be the power behind the government. Stern uses the life of Nina McCall as representative of the long and despicable plan by the government to enforce morality, as defined by itself, on it's citizens. The cruelty, torture, degradation, and ruined lives brought about by this program over the last century, or so, is unimaginable except for Stern's chro The fifth star is also for the new and frightening information about our government's love for heinous treatment of the citizens who are supposed to be the power behind the government. Stern uses the life of Nina McCall as representative of the long and despicable plan by the government to enforce morality, as defined by itself, on it's citizens. The cruelty, torture, degradation, and ruined lives brought about by this program over the last century, or so, is unimaginable except for Stern's chronicle of exactly what happened, to Ms. McCall and thousands like her, in the name protecting public health and morality. I can not begin to list the atrocities committed by the holier-than-thou protectors of the public good. It was a program misguided from the beginning by righteousness, racism, and misogyny; yes the laws were implemented to control women, men were over-looked in the enforcement of "the American Plan". Learn this History! I received this book through librarything early reader program.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Adam Bricker

    A majority of the book is about the false imprisonment, questionable services for and eventual trial of Nina McCall all in the name of the betterment of America. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of government overreaching, racism, sexism and religious bias in the plan used to help keep the soldiers and general men safe from Sexually Transmitted Infections. Also, as the author states in the epilogue, prostitution has had a much larger role in American history than one would imagine. I never really A majority of the book is about the false imprisonment, questionable services for and eventual trial of Nina McCall all in the name of the betterment of America. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of government overreaching, racism, sexism and religious bias in the plan used to help keep the soldiers and general men safe from Sexually Transmitted Infections. Also, as the author states in the epilogue, prostitution has had a much larger role in American history than one would imagine. I never really gave much thought to the world's oldest profession between wild West brothels and the spattering of legal or blind-eyed places that support that occupation in recent years. It was an interesting and frustrating, from the standpoint of seeing what the "land of the free" will do to keep it such, read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

    Informative and intense. The book was overwhelming at times with loaded historical background. Quite often, I felt as though I was rereading the facts... overly stated and perhaps could have been summarized better. I also did not like the fact that the author never touched on male birth control and the part it could have, should have, but didn’t have on the issue. It seemed relevant and needed but was completely absent. I also wish the book had a better title as the book was more of a textbook a Informative and intense. The book was overwhelming at times with loaded historical background. Quite often, I felt as though I was rereading the facts... overly stated and perhaps could have been summarized better. I also did not like the fact that the author never touched on male birth control and the part it could have, should have, but didn’t have on the issue. It seemed relevant and needed but was completely absent. I also wish the book had a better title as the book was more of a textbook about the American Plan than about the trial of Nina McCall. While the author dives deep into the trial and live of Nina, it is most certainly not a 300+ page novel about her and her trial.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Britgne

    This book was a tough for you. The writing was dry and at times overly detailed with things like the weather and character descriptions. I give it a better rating because of the subject matter and that the author brought this to my attention.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Speaker7

    important work of nonfiction. The American Plan subjected countless women to forcible gynecological exams and incarceration. It was especially rough on the marginalized in society. And these laws are still on the books.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Maddie

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chris Munster

  17. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

  18. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  19. 5 out of 5

    Karin Slaughter

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mark Bethoney

  21. 4 out of 5

    ලක්ෂිත බඹරන්ද

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Dudgeon

  23. 4 out of 5

    Diana

  24. 4 out of 5

    Cat

  25. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

  26. 5 out of 5

    William

  27. 4 out of 5

    Liz Gnidovec

  28. 5 out of 5

    Steven Musicante

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ahmad Maaz

  30. 5 out of 5

    Adam

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