The nearly forgotten story of the fight against the American Plan,
a government program designed to regulate women's bodies and
consistently surprising page-turner . . . a brilliant study of the
way social anxieties have historically congealed in state control
over women's bodies and behavior." --New York Times Book Review
Nina McCall was one
of many women unfairly imprisoned by the United States government
throughout the twentieth century. Tens, probably hundreds, of
thousands of women and girls were locked up--usually without due
process--simply because officials suspected these women were
prostitutes, carrying STIs, or just "promiscuous."
program, dubbed the "American Plan," lasted from the 1910s
into the 1950s, implicating a number of luminaries, including Eleanor
Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller Jr., Earl Warren, and even Eliot Ness,
while laying the foundation for the modern system of women's prisons.
In some places, vestiges of the Plan lingered into the 1960s and
1970s, and the laws that undergirded it remain on the books to this
Nina McCall's story
provides crucial insight into the lives of countless other women
incarcerated under the American Plan. Stern demonstrates the pain and
shame felt by these women and details the multitude of mortifications
they endured, both during and after their internment. Yet thousands
of incarcerated women rioted, fought back against their oppressors,
or burned their detention facilities to the ground; they jumped out
of windows or leapt from moving trains or scaled barbed-wire fences
in order to escape. And, as Nina McCall did, they sued their captors.
In an age of renewed activism surrounding harassment, health care,
prisons, women's rights, and the power of the state, this virtually
lost chapter of our history is vital reading.