thumbnail of The V.D. epidemic; V.D. and the schools
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
The following program was produced by a group w o the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company and is distributed to educational stations by the national educational radio network from Chicago here is Northwestern University's Dr. Bergen Evans an extraordinary semantic confusion in connection with venereal infections led to a particular crime so frightful that one hesitates to mention it. Yet thousands of innocent children were destroyed by it throughout the 17th 18th and 19th centuries and in isolated instances even into the century little girls were sexually attacked by infected men with as the legal phrase had it quote intent to give her the foul disease it was felt that the giving of the disease was like the giving of a present and that if the disease was given the first possessor could no longer retain it and it was believed it could only be given to somebody who definitely already did not have it. And the chief assurance of that would be to select a child so young that she could not possibly have acquired it. It is monstrous that the
mere mis understanding of a word could have caused so much suffering. So it was and personally frightful as this was I don't find it as offensive as the furious attacks which were made first on salvo arson and later on the use of penicillin as a cure of syphilis on the grounds of the real diseases. The fear of them was one of the chief works of sexual morality not those who violated the standard deserve to be quote punished. This seems to me even more malignant than the disease. It took Dr. Evans just a bit over one minute to tell that rather horrendous story. In that time one of our nation's youthful population became afflicted with infectious VD. Our children are still suffering the ravages of venereal disease and it's estimated that a new cases contracted by a teenager almost every two minutes of every day. In San Francisco the victims can go to a clinic under the director of the Bureau of Disease Control. Dr.
Irwin Brad. I asked him about his teenage patients the less knowledgeable and therefore they can be more fearful you know and disobedient. Particularly with the lack of education and knowledge in the public schools and his information may be completely erroneous from one extreme to the other. I mean for instance one of the cliches used as it were it's no worse than a cold. So if it's no worse than a cold and you get it it's an inconvenience. However the folklore has it on the other extreme you know you have these things you go immediately blind and crazy because these are like complications of the disease but certainly if taken care of it's no acute problem and so you have this this whole range of folklore of mores and things that are sort of influenced the child in this regard. The fact that they could be cured quickly and easily is something not told them in their schools in the schools as the subject of this. Another in a
series of reports produced not to be sensational but to help fight our current raging epidemic by a group w Westinghouse Broadcasting Company in cooperation with the Columbia University School of Public Health and administrative medicine and with the American Social Health Association. Your reporter Walter McGraw. There are group w radio stations in New York Boston Chicago Pittsburgh Philadelphia and Fort Wayne Indiana. In talking to William Schwartz educational consultant to the venereal disease branch of the United States Public Health Service I asked him about the disease. Education in those cities. I would have to say with the possible exception of Fort Wayne Indiana that not a single one of these cities has what I would consider a satisfactory approach to venereal disease education. And in fact to the best of my knowledge in most. They stare is
no nail disease education to speak of at all in their public school systems at the present time. Only about 5 percent of the young people who should have been getting this information were actually getting it so that there's a tremendous dearth of education in this country we need education in at least one area of the country where a good program of venereal disease education has been introduced into the school system. And this is Los Angeles the teenage rate has been completely reversed prior to 1963. The syphilis rate was increasing rapidly in Los Angeles city and county and the teenage rate was rising almost twice as fast. But beginning in 63 a very good session of the nearly disease education was introduced not a long session it's only about three or four hours
total. But it was introduced into the Los Angeles City school system in the following year and at a county school system with the exception of Pasadena and Long Beach. And beginning that same year 63 they total syphilis rate for all ages. It reversed itself in Los Angeles city and county. And decrease now is 25 percent from 63 but the teenage syphilis rate has dropped fifty eight percent which is quite a victory for an Ariel disease education. You said there were two communities which did not go along with this one. Well I think the prevailing attitude at the time was that these communities did not feel that they had to sufficient problem to be that much worried about it. And since the rates did increase in both of these areas at the same time they were decreasing throughout the rest of Los Angeles County. Both of these areas now have instituted the
newsies education also. Here is a young college girl who came down with hepatitis and then discovered she also had syphilis. Her reaction you brought up in a sterilized cellophane wrapped society and you think a syphilis like maybe the black plague as something which simply doesn't present itself as a likelihood for you. What stage were you when I was in secondary. Evidently I had the macular lesions on the palms and I had not exactly a rash but an odd kind of modeling that much of my skin. I don't know what proportion of the intense discomfort in pain and agony that I was going through. At that time was due to the syphilis and what part of it was due to the hepatitis. And it was only my doctor who was able to distinguish among symptoms and say well the likelihood that you might have syphilis as well if you hadn't had hepatitis. Is that something that you might just have gone by and let go.
Well I must say that thought has crossed my mind because maybe if I hadn't had any pain I would I have often wondered well if I might have been very lucky. My hepatitis might have been very rare. And it's odd way although I don't care to go through it again. How much did you know about venereal disease before this had you had any education in it. No I knew it existed but other than that I knew nothing whatsoever. I ignored perhaps things which ought to have given me warning. So that meant that my doctor was the one who spotted it. If her doctor had not spotted the signs which should have been obvious to her but weren't. And she had not received treatment. Her signs and symptoms would have gone away but the disease could linger in her body for years before striking again causing blindness or insanity crippling her or killing her if without treatment she became pregnant. She could pass the disease and were unborn child who could have what is called congenital
surplus which could in turn blind cripple or kill the child. Or it could hide in the child's body to plague it later. It's estimated that almost 1 million Americans have latent syphilis but they have the organisms in their bodies without knowing it because they did not recognize or ignore the early signs. Any of these people could be struck down at any time. Now if knowledge of syphilis that signs and results is literally a matter of life and death why then are we not given that knowledge as part of our education. Again William Schwartz There is general apathy and I think it's some subtle feeling that perhaps we still need these diseases to keep me young people in line. And this I have fought for many years and am hoping to see some changes in attitudes as we go along. But many school
authorities believe they will be set upon by irate parents if they do allow Beaty education to be taught in their schools. I might say that this is really a paper tiger because where superintendents and principals have gone ahead and done it anyway they parents have been nothing but grateful for it. And indeed where it is not been. Some parents feel the schools have been remiss. Example. New York City now has a pilot VD education program in six high schools. But the Board of Education has not decided when or even if the program will be extended to all schools. A parent's reaction I mean Mrs. Hamlyn Hankin vice president of the United parent association I one time I was House chairman and it was at that time that the health department contacted me about the incident from the theory of disease among teenagers in New York City. We took the word of the health department that venereal disease was rising at
an alarming rate among teenagers in the city and among all classes of society in the city. We took resolution to our delegate assembly which is our policymaking body and. Asked them whether they would approve of a program of venereal disease education in the junior high and high school curriculum and they voted unanimously in approval of such a program to be included in the curriculum. At that time the Board of Education said that they would look into it. A committee was formed which felt that you should not take the negative approach of an area of the field education but rather the more positive one of family living and have a whole unit on family living which would include sex education as well as education of venereal disease. However that committee was disbanded temporarily and it's not yet been reactivated as far as we know. And we feel that as long as the venereal disease rate is rising and such an alarming pace that they should at least be the kind of unit in the curriculum which would give children the information they need so that they will not be
subject to venereal disease at that present time their hygiene curriculum which includes a unit on communicable diseases and we see no reason why the myriad diseases communicable disease could not be taught in this unit in the hygiene curriculum. While the board of education continues to formulate its sex education and family living program it's often charged that if sex education or education even was put in the curriculum then this would encourage promiscuity among our youth. What do you feel about them. I don't think that knowledge would breed promiscuity I think knowledge might. At least teach children what the pitfall thought and keep them from contracting the real diseases in Chicago the director of venereal disease information education Tom feeble put it this way. By the time my child was 13 14 years old they reached the age of puberty a boy instinctively knows that there is something exciting about that girl and vice versa.
And there's something delightful about the whole thing. It doesn't take them long to put the facts together from what they're seeing in any neighborhood theater House or the literature that's on the drugstore news racks. And without any information they're going to tend to experiment much quicker by that if they're given straight factual information. They have a choice. The young kids 12 13 years old or so and I and when I say this this is indicated in their conversations with me that they haven't yet experiment is actually this far as intercourse is concerned and they're very interested in everything you have to tell them about material is easy and do their conversations well maybe it would be better if I didn't want to experience this at this time because of what you've told us now with older kids who have a already a definite sexual pattern and most of these kids I'm talking about have had intercourse already. They're not about to change their ways. They're only interested in how they can assure themselves of
preventing an infection. And I'll tell you this point blank what are you doing about educating the neos E's education. Soon will be introduced at the seventh grade level and then again reintroduced on a high school level and those should be forthcoming within the year. Provisions already been made curriculum is being developed so that we should see this very soon. Has there been any up to this point. It's been sporadic you know talking about public schools the Procul schools actually set the pace in the Chicago area. They were first to start introducing us in their schools and a good number of them by doing it routinely according to William Schwartz Chicago is no exception in this regard he says that nationally parochial schools are far ahead of public schools in VDI education. This prompted me to talk to a Catholic educator long concerned with the problem. My name is Sister Mary Louise and I'm a full time instructor in the school of near thing I
think and intact but I'm in New York. Why do you think so many people object to having an aerial disease taught in the school. My first reaction to that would be that perhaps they may have been concerned that the child will focus her through it for historic upon this type of effect jacked and become involved infatuations. That they might not be involved in if they were ignorant. In other words if they know nothing at all the chances might seem great that they would go along and never in any way in their lives need to know anything about venereal disease and completely bypass it. What are your answers to the arguments you just presented. I think they're full of holes. Well it seems to me that youngsters can pick up half truths and small informal groups with their peers they can pick up misconceptions they can throw the subject of venereal disease
around in a very immature way. And if they do not have the basis on which to build if they do not have clear thoughts about what they do is what happens to persons when they are not treated for it. They will run a greater risk of becoming involved in a contraction of a venereal disease. In your experience have you seen the result was true. Well I have seen occasions where this is manifested in a way. We had a youngster come into clinic one day. A 16 or 17 year old girl who had applied for a marriage license and had gone for premarital blood test the results of the tests that were given to her and she brought them to a private doctor. He told her that she needed treatment for syphilis and that he would offer her this treatment for quite a lot some of the money or was indigent anxious to go
through with her plans and came into clinic for advice. Our physician investigated the history of the child's health and was able to assure her that she could go through with her plans. In other words this was going genitals. Anything that she didn't like. That's right. It's my feeling that if this youngster had been informed she would have not been frightened she would have not have presented herself to a private physician and been subjected to his. Offer. And I think she would have been able to handle this problem intelligently. I do think too that many youngsters and older persons are misinformed and uninformed. They are frightened when any of the symptoms of an Ariel disease occur. They are also very concerned later on if they learn they may have misstep on some earliest symptoms and maybe in a later stage of this
infectious disease. More about VD in the schools in just a moment. At the venereal disease branch of the United States Public Health Service. William Schwartz as long worked to get VD education into the schools of the nation we believe that venereal diseases should be approached in the school system the same as any other communicable disease that education about these diseases should be included anyplace in the curriculum where other diseases are taught. This means health classes for science classes biology. Things like that rather than mixing venereal disease education in with for instance family life education arm our education and so forth and we have the support of a great many educators both public and parochial on this. We do have methods of doing this very rapidly effectively and efficiently. We've worked for about
six years developing a teacher's handbook on venereal disease education and a companion auto instructional manual. And we find this has been the most efficient way of teaching about these diseases so far it is not the only way it's simply the most efficient way. We teach youngsters simply the facts about these diseases how their contract did what they can do to the body what you do to avoid them how you can seek treatment and why you should seek treatment at the earliest possible moment and how you can help to keep others from contracting the diseases. In other words how you can help. Stop the spread of the diseases in the community. You say How to Avoid Them. The first thing that pops into anybody's mind I suppose is are we teaching profile axis. We're not really teaching mechanical profile axis mechanical profile axis might have a strong effect at against the transmission of gonorrhea but it
certainly is no guarantee whatsoever against a transmission of syphilis. So it's just not the sort of thing that we would teach even if we could teach it. However I think that most youngsters who understand that these diseases are spread by skin to skin contact and who understand that the more intimate and prolonged and abrasive the nature of that contact the more likelihood will there be that disease could be spread from someone who has or to someone who does not. But the more likelihood will it be that the youngster will avoid possible contact with the disease. Also there is one type of profile axis which I think is perfectly ethical and logical and that is that soap and water never hurt anybody. And after any possible exposure to any kind of infectious disease it's a good idea to wash as rapidly as possible with soap and water. Is the charge ever made that you were encouraging promiscuity with teenagers with
this type of education. I have had a rather small number of vocal individuals say well now that they have the pill and they're not scared of getting pregnant and you afraid that if you take syphilis and gonorrhea way from we won't have any way to keep them in line anymore. But my answer to this is that the simply ridiculous because obviously what we've been using in the past hasn't worked since the rates were increasing rapidly moreover. I have two youngsters one in the third and one in the fourth grade and I would hope that they grow up physically strong mentally alert and morally straight. But if they do I hope that it's because they recognize and want the benefits of physical mental and moral health and I would hate like the devil to think that it was just because they were scared of catching syphilis. But San Francisco's doctor Braff we must do more if we're to cut down the teenage and adult.
You're going to have to change people's attitudes about sexual activity. People are going to have to be concerned with that when they do have sexual activity that there are certain safeguards that they can take to reduce the hazard of their requiring the infection I mean there is that possibility if you don't drive a car you know you're going to get into any accidents but one can drive a car carefully. People do not have their sexual activity carefully in terms of picking up a haven erial to sit where do people learn how to be careful in their sexual activities. It's difficult enough to introduce venereal diseases in the school system to people could learn about the signs and symptoms of the disease and hopefully when these things occur get under medical care and get a cure. And before you spread it to others and get complications and certainly this is a plus it's will be Douce in that sense. It may influence certain
people because of discussions of the DEA to modify their own sexual activities but I think video education should be disassociated from the moral aspects of it because otherwise you're going to get into the position of talking about VD as a dirty thing and I think it isn't a dirty thing. I think VD is an accident of some activity and unfortunately our society feels that the activity is more reprehensible of this accident occur. This is you not unique with the day you have you are promiscuous girl who has many sexual activities and experiences but who doesn't get pregnant compared to the gal who just sort of slipped once at the prom. Maybe she had too much to drink and this is the only time she's ever had sex when she becomes pregnant. Well I mean our society obviously condemns the latter. Much more than the form of the same is true
The V.D. epidemic
V.D. and the schools
Producing Organization
Westinghouse Broadcasting Company
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-4q7qsc1p).
Episode Description
This program features William Schwartz, Dr. Irwin Braff, San Francisco Board of Health; Dr. Bergen Evans; Helen Henken of United Parents Association; Sister Mary Lewis; and Tom Thiebaut.
Other Description
A series about a venereal disease epidemic in the 1960s, especially among teenagers.
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Interviewee: Schwartz, William
Interviewee: Evans, Bergen, 1904-1978
Interviewee: Thiebaut, Thomas
Interviewee: Lewis, Mary
Interviewee: Braff, Irwin
Interviewee: Henken, Helen
Producing Organization: Westinghouse Broadcasting Company
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-40-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:24:34
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “The V.D. epidemic; V.D. and the schools,” 1967-10-04, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 9, 2022,
MLA: “The V.D. epidemic; V.D. and the schools.” 1967-10-04. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 9, 2022. <>.
APA: The V.D. epidemic; V.D. and the schools. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from