Die Jugendschutz (Protection of Minors)
May 1893 — Congress of Representative Women, Chicago World’s Fair, Chicago IL
I stand before you as the president of the association Jugendschutz in Berlin, which means, in English, protection to young people from the danger of impurity, which destroys the happiness and health of mankind.
The practical part of our work is to provide homes for honest young girls without means of making a living, and without any one to support them. We make no discrimination among religions in the Jugendschutz, but teach girls to understand that the essential is the same in all religions, namely, to be good. Another purpose of the Jugendschutz is to show to everybody the fearful dangers which are threatening the happiness and health of our families. Surely there is no mother in any country of the world who is not glad to see her daughter married. But do these mothers consider how many of their daughters when married suffer from illness and disappointment by reason of the fact that ninety-nine per cent of all young men live impure and vicious lives before they marry? Famous professors of medicine — for instance, Nöggerath and Ricord — assert that eighty per cent of young men who lead impure lives are infected with gonorrhea and syphilis by those unfortunate girls who, with the permission of the government, are submitted to the most infamous and degrading prostitution. These contagious diseases, which are a thousand times more dangerous and fearful in their destruction than the cholera (as we are told by Professor Pehlman, in Bonn, and others), are incurable, and are followed oftentimes, even after many years have passed, by dreadful abscesses, rotting off of various parts of the body, blindness, drying up of the marrow, madness, etc. The famous Professor Schroeder of Berlin gave us the assurance that most of the attacks of illness among women are the results of the former vicious living of their husbands, the family doctor concealing always this fact in order not to disturb “conjugal peace,” as they call it. The same authority traces back directly to hereditary syphilis all nervous diseases of children, cramps, imbecility, dropsy of the head, disease of the spine, and scrofula. Even more serious than syphilis is gonorrhea, because this illness has not been regarded as dangerous, and, therefore, has not been treated so much. Doctor Nöggerath of New York showed, in 1872, the danger of this malady. He states that the malady is incurable, and always, even if seemingly cured, infects the wife. The truth of his statement is confirmed by many famous physicians, as Henning, Lenger, Gusserow, Martin, Fritsch, Hegar, Schwarz, McDonald, Lawson, Schroeder, Olschansen, Kraft-Eling, Ribbing, and Torrel.
We ask with astonishment, how can it be possible that nevertheless so many physicians degrade themselves by aiding unconscientious men in the work of making thousands of wives miserable? Is it not time to lift the ethical level of the profession?
Will such explanations not induce even the most phlegmatic of mothers to consider whether she has been a good protectress of her family? Professor Ribbing says that only a woman who knows what prostitution is understands the danger eventually to be feared from a husband whose moral purity is stained, whose health is destroyed, whose manners are coarse, whose faithfulness can not be trusted, whose sense of beauty is ruined; she knows that her children will inherit diseases and sexual concupiscence. She must furthermore fear as a consequence of prostitution many dangers and temptations for her sons, and the most cruel disappointments and sufferings for her daughters.
Is it not the greatest nonsense for people to pretend that prostitution is a protection to honest women? It is false that prostitution is a “necessary evil,” and must be tolerated in order to satisfy the instinct of propagation in men. We demand herewith that education and self-control shall be applied to the instinct of propagation. Mankind must no longer be injured by this instinct, which up to date has been nursed and increased enormously in an artificial way, by means of drinking spirituous liquors, by consuming too much meat, by reading equivocal books, by visiting frivolous spectacles and public houses. This demand agrees perfectly with that of hygiene, which prescribes an absolutely pure life for men and women before marriage, and absolute faithfulness during marriage, as the only possible assurance of health. Professor Kraft-Eling says: “A large number of young men of normal constitutions do desist from contenting their instinct of propagation without injuring themselves thereby.” Osterlin reports: “Self-control can protect from misfortune if based on fine moral sentiment, on pure sense, proper judgment and education, and if supported by a proper method of living and pure moral surroundings.” Lionel Reale of King’s College in London says: “It can not be taught too impressively that the most rigid abstemiousness and purity is in accordance with the laws of physiology, and that yielding to the wishes and desires can not be justified by the physiological more than by the moral or religious nature.” Professor Ribbing assures us that during his practice of twenty-nine years he did not find anybody who claimed that it was impossible to control this instinct. Acton declares in his famous chapter on “Continence and Incontinence,” that total abstinence from sexual intercourse can be practiced by young unmarried men without danger to their health.” The College of Medicine of the University of Christiana, in 1887, asserted that, “The opinion that a pure life and sexual continence are working injury to the health of mankind is a great mistake. About this we are of the same opinion. We do not know of any disease or debility which can be traced back to a pure moral life.”
We must use all our energy to reach a better moral education for both sexes, but all of this labor will be of no avail so long as we are governed by laws which, as far as impurity is concerned, stand on the side of the wicked. So long as any higher and bolder vocation is closed against women, and the most uncleanly and injurious trade of prostitution is allowed, no moral education will be of avail. If women had a seat in our parliament these shameful laws, which are a disgrace to all the people of the world, never would have existed. But as this is not the case we must do for the present what we are able to do.
Source: The World’s Congress of Representative Women, ed. May Wright Sewall (Chicago: Rand, McNally & Company), 1894, pp. 905-908.