First Advisor

David A. Horowitz

Term of Graduation

Fall 2001

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Sexual health -- Oregon, Public health -- Oregon, Sexually transmitted diseases -- Oregon, Public health, Sexual health, Sexually transmitted diseases, Oregon, Oregon Social Hygiene Society



Physical Description

1 online resource (186 pages)


This thesis provides the history of a grass-roots educational campaign to educate the public of the dangers of venereal disease undertaken by reformers within the Oregon Social Hygiene Society. It recounts the forces which caused prominent citizens of the state to take up the hygiene society's cause and bring the organization to national prominence for state-wide educational work. The thesis considers the inherent tensions between purity and sanitary-based reformers within the hygiene movement. It demonstrates how reformers were able to put aside conflicting views for a time and unite to pursue educational goals. The thesis provides a blueprint of a local Progressive-era reform movement that made itself known at both national and international levels through its dedicated pursuit to mold individual and societal sexual behavior.

The first chapter of this thesis recounts the social emergency declared by a group of prominent social hygienists and its organizational efforts to meet this emergency by forming an educational society to pursue venereal disease prevention work. The second chapter demonstrates the Society’s efforts to win public approval for its cause by ridding the state of an illegal sex-medicine business, thereby gaining legislative funding for its work to expand from a city to a state-wide level. Chapter three surveys the various educational campaigns undertaken by hygiene reformers in their attempts to convert men and women to health and moral sexual behavior. The fourth chapter examines the Society’s efforts to extend its message to children through their parents and through public schools. The final chapter follows the Society as it rose from a little-known educational endeavor to an internationally recognized model of hygiene work. The conclusion elaborates the Society’s legacy as well as its shortcomings and places the organization’s work in the context of cultural and social reform in the Progressive era.


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