Spring 2022 Colloquium - Christopher Kindell
Visiting Assistant Professor and Lecturer, History of Science, Technology and Medicine
Title: Brothel of the Pacific: Syphilis and the Urban Regulation of Laikini Wahine in Honolulu, 1855-1875.
Abstract: By 1860, Hawai‘i's Indigenous population had declined by 75 per cent when compared to its estimated pre-contact level. Legislators and physicians attributed this crisis to the seasonal migration of Hawaiian women engaged in sex work. After contracting syphilis from sailors in Honolulu, these women returned to their Native villages where they unwittingly spread the disease. Drawing on legislation, health reports, and newspapers, this presentation will underscore the urban-rural nature of Hawai‘i's syphilis epidemic by analyzing the 1860 Act to Mitigate the Evils and Diseases Arising from Prostitution. The law compelled alleged prostitutes to enlist on a government registry, undergo medical inspections, and submit to treatment if infected. Arresting depopulation, adherents argued, hinged on the government's ability to police Indigenous women within a conspicuous urban environment. In designing and enacting the Act to Mitigate, legislators and physicians characterized Honolulu as a syphilitic breeding ground that catalyzed Indigenous depopulation by sheltering transient carriers of this highly gendered disease.