Accepted Paper:

The sick, the walls and the morals: revisiting the syphilis prison-infirmaries   

Author:

Cristiana Bastos (Universidade de Lisboa)

Paper short abstract:

Continental European prison-infirmaries for sick prostitutes served for temporary confinement of potentially contagious women while providing them with medical treatment. The study of those penal-sanitary institutions allows us to expand the scope of confinement debates.

Paper long abstract:

In opposition to the prohibitionist regimes that outlawed prostitution, regulationist regimes not only consented but strictly controlled commercial sex in brothels and other venues. Sex workers had to carry a professional license, go to regular check ups and obey the sanitary police. Symptoms of venereal disease led to forced internment in houses of confinement, which in some circumstances were special hospital infirmaries. In this paper I will bring data from two early twentieth century prison-infirmaries in Lisbon, Portugal, which were medical and penal devices at once: Santa Maria Madalena and Santa Egipcíaca, both located in the hospital of Desterro, then a wretched annex of the central hospital of São José. I will also analyze the debates between the health professionals and advocates of regulation Vs the opponents of legal prostitution. The debates lasted until prostitution was outlawed in 1961, when the mounting evidence about penicillin's therapeutic powers over syphilis weakened the arguments for a policed prevention and for confinement as a tool of public health. The analysis of the broad period of debates regarding the social implications of confinement as prevention will contribute to expand the scope of current debates on the anthropology of confinement.

Panel P002
Confinement institutions, ethnography, and public relevance [Anthropology of Confinement Network]