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New York WPA Federal Art Project

The Venereal Disease Visual History Archive is a project to present and make available visual culture materials related to syphilis and gonorrhea from the first half of the twentieth century. Visual materials were a significant part of efforts to control VD because they were engaging and could reach a wide audience. I collected the items included in the archive as research for my dissertation on the campaign to “stamp out” VD in the United States during 1930s and 1940s. These visual sources are scattered among a variety of digital and traditional archives. One purpose of this project is to bring these materials together in one place so researchers, educators, and students can access them easily.

The other purpose of this project is to present some of my own analysis of the themes, iconography, and rhetoric used in the visual materials created for the campaign against venereal disease. While many scholars have focused on campaigns against prostitution in the Progressive Era, VD policies and practices during the World Wars, and the Public Health Service’s Syphilis Study at Tuskegee, the New Deal is often overlooked in the scholarship in spite of the momentum this issue gained in the 1930s. I hope to address how and why VD control became popular in this period. I argue that Parran and others were able to tap into issues that had great salience during the Great Depression and WWII in order to gain widespread support for the expansion of public health venereal disease control programs across the nation.

You can see more of my writing on related topics here and here.

Also, this archive was originally created in 2014 and 2015 and has not been updated significantly since that time. It reflects my own research and thinking at that time as well as what sources were available and digitized. Some of those things may have changed.

If you use any content from the archive or exhibitions, please cite them appropriately and give me credit.


Erin Wuebker received her PhD in American History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and her BA in history and art history from Beloit College. Her research is on the public health campaign to “stamp out” venereal disease and the cultural meanings of VD during the 1930s and 1940s. She teaches American history and women's and gender studies at Queens College.

Erin has also worked in the public history field as a Museum Scholar at the Museum of the City of New York. She also served as assistant curator at the Brooklyn Historical Society on the exhibition, "Taking Care of Brooklyn: Stories of Sickness and Health."

erin.e.wuebker@gmail.com  /  Academia.edu profile  /  @erinewuebker