TitleThe "Medical Plot Thickens": Bad Medicine and Good Health in the Contagious Diseases Acts Repeal Campaign.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsO'Brien, EL
JournalLit Med
Date Published2021

Britain's Contagious Diseases Acts (1864, 1866, 1869) mandated the use of medical detention and speculum exams to manage the bodies of "common prostitutes" and thereby reduce sexually transmitted diseases among enlisted men. Repeal advocates challenged the gendered power structure of the Acts but also used melodramatic frameworks to produce a broader critique of nineteenth-century Britain's centralizing medical orthodoxy and to argue for unregulated traditional approaches to medicine. Across a variety of repeal speeches and documents, advocates idealized alternative health practices in order to challenge institutionalized modern medicine and the governmental interests that extended its authority. J. J. Garth Wilkinson's Forcible Introspection of Women for the Army and Navy by the Oligarchy, Considered Physically (1870) exemplifies the multivocal and intertextual medicolegal plots of repeal melodrama as it cast professionalized modern medicine as corrupt, villainous, and in collusion with the state while presenting alternative medicine as authentically preventative, curative, and democratic.

Alternate JournalLit Med
PubMed ID34176812