It’s A Syphilis Miracle!
September 4, 2016 § Leave a comment
Among the unintended consequences of the Civil War and Reconstruction were advances in the art of pornography for use by lonely soldiers, as well as the spread of prostitution—and thus venereal disease—to thousands of towns and village across the country, including Austin.
“Children” is a key word to describe Victorian-age marital relations; women were meant to be worshipped from a distance. Married couples coupled to create babies, not to have fun. It was “understood” that men possessed carnal desires absent in decent women and therefore were allowed to relieve themselves in the embrace of a lady of the night.
The peculiarities of the marriage relationship in Victorian America meant that thousands and thousands of unlucky husbands brought venereal afflictions home to mommy, who then potentially passed it on to subsequent children. As a wedding present, young grooms often gave their blushing brides the clap or syphilis. Rich or poor, it did not mat
With all this widespread sexual activity, venereal disease was running rampant during Victorian America, prompting the saying, “an evening with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury,” as mercury was the most popular treatment for syphilis. It deceptively relieved some of the symptoms without curing the disease and extracted its own terrible toll, such as causing you to lose all your hair and teeth. In cities where prostitution was regulated (it was not in Austin), prostitutes with venereal disease could have their genitals painted with mercury.
World War I got people talking about sex for the first time, the trigger being the rate of venereal disease found in the U.S. Armed Forces. In August 1918, the Council of National Defense estimated, on a conservative basis, that more than 500,000 adult Texans had some flavor of VD. Texas’s state health officer opined that at least 1 million Texans were infected. Keep in mind that according to the 1920 U.S. Census, Texas had 4.66 million citizens of all races, ages and sexual preferences, which means that about half of the adults in Texas had VD, if you wish to believe worst-case estimates. Newspapers in many cities, including Austin, carried discreetly worded ads for VD cures and physicians (called “clap doctors”). Gut-wrenching guilt and the promise of salvation were at the heart of every product ad aimed at men. Some products and ads were aimed at women as well.