Sunday, November 16, 2014

More About Nashville's Civil War Prostitute History: Hospital 15

By Betsy Phillips

William Moss Wilson has a cool piece in the New York Times about his great grandfather's great grandmother who ran a brothel in Nashville during the Civil War. (You may remember we talked about Nashville's ill-fated attempt to ship all its white prostitutes to Louisville earlier this year.) One of the cool parts is his discussion of the hospitals specifically devoted to treating Nashville's prostitutes and their soldier clientele.

"Two hospitals were dedicated to treating sexual infections in Nashville: Hospital 11, for soldiers, and Hospital 15, also known as the Pest House, for prostitutes. The head surgeon, Robert Fletcher, claimed that after the first six months of regulation, when 92 women had been diagnosed with S.T.D.’s, only 13 of the nearly 31,000 soldiers admitted to Hospital 15 had contracted their infections in Nashville. Dr. William Chambers, charged with medical inspections of the women, noted that regulations led to improvements in hygiene in addition to the decrease in new infections.

"Chambers’s work led him to a discovery that challenged the conventional wisdom of the day, which held prostitutes solely to blame for spreading sexual infection. In February 1864, a substantial spike in new visits to Hospital 15 accompanied the thousands of re-enlisted soldiers returning from furlough. The following days brought a surge of new female patients to the Pest House. Chambers concluded that the returning soldiers must have brought the S.T.D.s with them and then infected his female patients."

This is a little confusing because the hospitals are misnumbered in the first paragraph and numbered correctly in the second. Hospital 11 was the hospital for prostitutes, located on Second Avenue in the old home of a Catholic Bishop. (A lot of Civil War Historians think this picture is probably of that hospital.) Hospital 15 was for soldiers. So, soldiers came back and were sick and then prostitutes got sick.



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