Prostitution and the U.S. Military During World War II Discussion (Feb. 1996)

Prostitution and U.S. Military During WWII Discussion Feb 1996



>From Karen Hansen 20 Feb 1996

I am writing a research paper on prostitution on military bases in the U.S. during WWII and could use some help locating sources. I have found quite a few secondary sources that are very helpful such as John Costello's Virtue Under Fire, Allan Brandt's No Magic Bullet, Cynthia Enloe's Does Khaki Become You?and Beth Bailey and David Farber's The First Strange Place. I am, however, in need of some good primary sources. I know of some Newsweek, Life, and American Mercury articles that deal specifically with the American public's attitudes about prostitution around military bases as well as hearings in front of the House of Representatives concerning the "official" stance on prostitution and the military. I am interested in finding out if there were any organizations that did any activism around this issue. Any feedback would help. Thanks.



>From Andree Levesque <> 21 Feb 1996

In a book by Ken Coates, et al, about the Alaska highway that was built through British Columbia during WWII, there is, if I remember, a chapter on the effect of the military presence on Native women in the area.

>From Maria Griffin 21 Feb 1996

In the late 1960s I worked at the Virginian Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia and use to hear stories about Norfolk during WWII, in particular a locally famous stripper called Rose La Rose, and the red light district. Norfolk was, in WWII, one of the world's largest naval bases, combined with being a major ship building port. While I fear that many of the old timers have gone to the great newspaper in the sky, the newspaper's morgue of clippings should provide a fair amount of primary information. Old Dominion University is in Norfolk and they have, I believe, a Women's Studies Program. Norfolk, Va had a very peculiar attitude toward the military during WWII and there were articles about people posting, "No Dogs or Sailors Allowed" in their yards. The town was intensely segregated as well, so information on black prostitution will be particularly difficult to obtain. I worked at ODU for about seven years, in the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, and I know of no one who did research in this area during my time; however, I've been gone from there for 11 years. You might also try the US Naval Academy archives.

There is a veterans home page on the net; you might try a search on Veterans to get there. Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was/is also a major Army installation, home of the 82nd airborne Division and it also did a thriving business in prostitution. It too was strongly segregated. There is a local newspaper in Fayetteville.

There was a recent article in the Greensboro News and Record (which is owned by Landmark Communications, which also owns the VA. Pilot) about a Mr. Lew Powell who has written a book titled On This Day in North Carolina. The book is a collection of odds and ends of trivia about NC; however, he did a lot of research utilizing existing archives across the state and he might be able to point you in a direction. If I am able to find out anything useful, I will let you know.

I do know that the Women's Christian Temperance League was still a visible entity in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina during WWII. I haven't a clue where their national headquarters were and what became of their records, much less the chapter records. Good luck!

>From Julian Carter <> 23 Feb 1996

You should get hold of the Journal of the American Social Hygiene Association, that is Social Hygiene, Vol 1, no. 1 is, I believe, December, 1915, so you can't start at the very beginning of the war, but the control of prostitution in general is at the heart of ASHA's agenda, and SH makes frequent mention of broad social conditions.

Also, if you have access to a film archive or even a film archivist, get hold of "Fit to Fight", which was a sex education film(maybe produced by the feds? I don't recall) designed to scare servicemen away from prostitutes as sources of syphilitic infection...

Finally, any good government publications librarian will be able to guide you to the gov. pubs of the period. Look for trainee and enlistment pamphlets with "hygiene" in the title--mental, social or unmodified. As in most research, having the right key word opens lots of doors, and our moral government didn't like to be too explicit about writing about commercialized sex. Another keyword to look for is "abatement." as in Red-Light Abatement Acts which many cities put into law in this era. Good luck...

Editor's Note: Social Hygiene changed its title in 1922 to the Journal of Social Hygiene(the title it used through 1954). The index for US government documents, such as the pamphlets Ian mentions, during the 1940-1951 period is titled United States Government Publications Monthly Catalog --CM

>From Sue Gonda 23 Feb 1996

I heard recently there was an extensive meeting at the Beijing conference on women last year about women's forced prostitution in Japan during WWII. (The women who survived this are making additional demands on the Japanese government for recognition and compensation.) While this is not directly related to your topic, it is possible that there were other discussions along this line. You might want to check to see if there are pamphlets or representatives who were at the Beijing conference that can tell you about subtopics discussed there. I also believe PBS (or A & E, probably PBS) broadcast a great documentary about prostitutes at the US base in the Philippines. Good luck.

[Editor's Note: Two websites of potential interest are:


>From Richard Stephens <> 23 Feb 1996

In November, 1994, when I was serving aboard USMS "Cape Cleare" (an attack troop transport), we were ordered to Honolulu, Hawaii along with our "sister" transport, "Cape Mendocino" for the purpose of transporting prostitutes from the Islands to the US mainland. It is my recollection that prostitution in the Hawaiian Islands had either been legal, or widely tolerated, during the war and was being surpressed or terminated at this point. At any rate, several thousand women, defined as residents of the US(mainland) were "deported" to San Francisco where they were "released." I presume this was under some order of the military authorities at the time although I have never seen (or heard) of any references to it. As it turned out, my ship, "Cape Cleare" was not given the job of transporting the prostitutes--that fell to "Cape Mendocino." Because our ship

had a surgery and modest hospital facilities, we were assigned the task of bringing home wounded servicemen who were able to be moved from the hospitals in Hawaii.

>From Lisa Levenstein <> 27 Feb 1996

As an undergraduate at Brown, I wrote my senior thesis on Victory Girls and the construction of female sexuality during WWII. I focused predominately on New York City (the New York Times did cover the issue extensively) and found that discourse in 1942 focused on the menace of the "professional prostitute" and the need for municipalities to enforce anti-vice laws. By 1943, however, reports claimed that while the "year of nation-wide war" against the professional prostitute had been a complete success, a dangerous new source of venereal disease had appeared on the scene--that being the "victory girl" or "amateur prostitute"(in New York City, "victory girls" were portrayed to be white.)

My thesis dealt with Victory Girls and youth culture more broadly but for your project, in terms of primary sources, (in addition to the NYT), some things which I don't think have been mentioned yet are publications by the US Government's Social Protection Division (which operated out of the office of Community War Service of the FSA), the Senate Hearings on Juvenile Delinquency, Life Magazine, the American Journal of Public Health, and Venereal Disease Information(a periodical). I also found Karen Anderson's book Wartime Women very helpful.

Good luck.

>From Mary Agnes Costello 27 Feb 1996

There is a book entitled Let the Good Times Roll which deals with the prostitution in the Philippines, South Korea, and Okinawa as it relates to the military. A recent book entitled The Comfort Women details the Japanese use of women, primarily from Korea, to staff its military brothels. The First Strange Place which is about Hawaii during WWII, discusses prostitution at length. Other books that mention prostitution and the military are Virtue Under Fire, and Acts of War. These last two are WWII. For the entertaining history of prostitution I recommend Whores in History by Nickie Roberts. Finally, with respect to sources I suggest that you might take a look at Prostitution: A Guide to Sources, 1960-1990 edited by Vern L. Bullough and Lilli Sentz, published by Garland Publishing,Inc, NY, 1992. Good luck!


Response From Miriam Reumann 26 Feb 1996

Beth Bailey and David Farber's The First Strange Place(John Hopkins U Press, 1992 or so) offers a lot of information on prostitution and the military in WWII Hawaii.

In my own research on postwar sexuality I've come across more references to women and girls' casual sex with soldiers than to professional prostitution. It seems to me that many reformers were more disturbed by the breakdown of the difference between prostitution and sexual permissiveness(by "otherwise good girls," as many experts phrased it), than they were by organized prostitution, as evidenced by the concern over V-girls near military camps. Any thoughts on this?

Response From Theresa Kaminski 26 Feb 1996

Last semester one of the students in my history of sexuality class was looking into how the army dealt with venereal disease during WWII. As was mentioned in a previous post, the key was to look under "hygiene." He found that this was a major issue in New York City because of the number of troops who passed through there and the corresponding growing prostitution trade. I bet the New York Times would have covered this issue extensively during the war.