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American Social Health Association Records

Identifier: SW0045

Scope and Content

The American Social Health Association (ASHA) records chronicle the association’s efforts to prevent and eradicate venereal disease, prostitution, and drug abuse from 1905 to 1990. The records trace the work of ASHA, which was known as the American Social Hygiene Association until 1960, and its predecessors: the American Federation for Sex Hygiene, the American Vigilance Association, and the American Society for Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis. In particular, the records document ASHA’s legal and protective measures, research projects, and educational programs. The records also provide a rich resource on issues surrounding prostitution, venereal disease, sex education, family life education, and drug abuse. Equally important, the ASHA records also reflect contemporary attitudes about sexuality, morality, disease, and gender roles as well as the values of ASHA’s leadership and supporters.

ASHA conducted numerous investigations in support of its legal and protective efforts. Community survey records, legal reference files, research project working files and reports, and field representatives’ correspondence are among the records that document ASHA’s investigative and research activities. The association’s community surveys provide information on prostitution and VD as well as housing, recreation, sanitation, and other social factors. The studies also include information on local public health programs and the availability of “quack” remedies. ASHA also conducted venereal disease research studies. Most prominently, these studies include the Deschin Study of 600 adolescents who sought treatment for VD at New York City clinics between 1958 and 1961. Records produced by the study include the 30-page questionnaires for all 600 subjects and narrative summaries of selected cases.

In addition to legal and protective measures, ASHA attempted to halt prostitution, promiscuity, and VD through a variety of educational programs. The association disseminated information about the spread, consequences, and appropriate treatment of VD; promoted biological sex education and a healthy lifestyle; and encouraged sexual morality. Pamphlets, posters, radio scripts, periodicals, curriculum materials, public service announcements, promotional materials, board and committee minutes, staff correspondence, reports, correspondence with the public, budgets, and program materials are some of the resources that document these efforts. For example, kits containing promotional and informational materials trace the annual Social Hygiene Day from 1937.

The records also provide information on cooperation between ASHA and government agencies or other social health organizations. In particular, the files trace the association’s work the military and United States Public Health Service during the first and second world wars to prevent prostitution near military camps and provide education to soldiers on avoiding and treating VD.

The ASHA records not only document social health initiatives, but also chronicle the formation, administration and funding of a private-sector social welfare organization and reflect the development of federated fund-raising as well as its impact on a national association's program. In particular, board and committee minutes, solicitation letters and acknowledgments, correspondence, annual budgets, and reports are among the records that document the association’s fund-raising efforts and relations with community chests and funding organizations. The records also reflect the activities of ASHA staff, especially longtime executives and staff members William Snow, C. Walter Clark, Bascom Johnson, and Paul Kinsie.


  • 1905-2005

Language of Materials


Use of Materials

There are no restrictions on access to the records described in this inventory.


The American Social Health Association retains copyright to materials created by its staff and officers. Check with the Archives for contact information.


At the beginning of the twentieth century venereal disease was a prevalent concern for social health organizations. Diseases such a syphilis and gonorrhea affected many people and the social stigma attached to sexually transmitted disease prevented most people from discussing or addressing means of treatment for venereal disease. In 1913, at a conference in Buffalo, New York, several organizations dedicated to fighting prostitution and venereal disease joined together to form the American Social Hygiene Association (ASHA). Key figures in the initial organization included John D. Rockefeller, Jr., initial financial contributor; Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University; Jane Addams of Chicago's Hull House; Dr. William Snow, Stanford University professor and secretary of the California State Board of Health; Dr. Thomas Hepburn, leader of the Connecticut social hygiene movement; David Starr Jordan, chancellor of Stanford University; James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore; philanthropist, Grace H. Dodge; and R. Fulton (Robert Fulton) Cutting of New York. The association was established to stop the venereal disease epidemic by educating the public about sexually transmitted infections, working to break down the social stigma attached to VD, and encouraging high moral standards. In 1914, ASHA established its national headquarters in New York City, a western division office in San Francisco, and a central states division office in Chicago.

ASHA immediately went to work to fight VD as the United States prepared for the first world war. Venereal disease was a significant problem in the military. ASHA worked with the U.S. War Department on a vigorous anti-VD campaign. Their efforts involved two primary strategies. The first was to educate soldiers about venereal diseases and their transmission. The second strategy was to eliminate prostitution, which was believed to be the primary vehicle for VD transmission among the armed forces. ASHA was successful in shutting down many of the prostitution rings that traditionally surrounded military bases. Due to its contribution to the war effort, ASHA gained national attention and succeeded in creating public awareness of VD.

During the 1920s, ASHA served as a central coordinator for the local or regional committees, doctors, public health officials, and social welfare agencies that were combating venereal disease and vice. In addition to the continued fight against venereal disease and prostitution, ASHA published the Journal of Social Hygieneand the Social Hygiene Bulletin.In addition, ASHA conducted studies on the prevalence of syphilis, undertook community vice and VD surveys, published synopses of laws affecting prostitution and vice, and supported legislation which required a premarital exam for syphilis. The organization also promoted character and sex education as a means of preventing the spread of venereal disease. The ASHA educational program emphasized preparation for a wholesome family life, avoiding venereal disease, and physical as well as moral fitness.

During World War II, ASHA fulfilled a role reminiscent of its work during World War I, serving on the VD Coordinating Committee for the U.S. military and working against prostitution. ASHA's efforts contributed to a fifty percent drop in VD infection rates in the military during the first years of the war. In 1944, the army began using the "wonder drug" penicillin as a cure for syphilis and, by the late 1950s, ASHA believed that syphilis would no longer pose a serious health threat. As a result, the Journal of Social Hygiene discontinued publication.

Beginning in the 1950s, ASHA expanded its family life education efforts and added new programs aimed at drug and alcohol abuse. The Family Life program explored experimental school curricula and the drug abuse program set up regional committees that published scholarly papers. In 1960, ASHA changed its name from "hygiene" to "health" to reflect its broader approach. The association's newsletter became "Social Health News."In the 1960s, ASHA studied the extent of narcotics addiction in the United States and became a primary source of public information on the problem. During the 1970s, ASHA also continued its work on venereal disease. Despite the use of antibiotics, health problems such as syphilis and gonorrhea persisted. In addition, genital herpes, human papillomavirus, and hepatitis B were identified. ASHA developed new programs, such as the Venereal Diseases Research Fund (1975) and a Herpes Resource Center (1979), in response to the continuing problem of sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, ASHA increased its activities in the area of legislation and public policy and established an Office on Public and Government Affairs in Washington. In 1975, the ASHA newsletter changed its name from "Social Health News"to "VD News"and, in the next year, the association moved from New York to Palo Alto, California.

During the 1980s, ASHA continued to educate the public about sexually transmitted diseases, primarily by means of telephone information and referral hotlines, such as the National STD Hotline and the National Aids Hotline. The association also continued to advocate for public policies to combat STD's and increased funding for research. The identification of the AIDS virus added a new area of concern to the association's long fight against sexually transmitted diseases. In 2012, ASHA became the American Sexual Health Association.


  1. American Social Health (Hygiene) Association records, 1905-1990, Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
  2. ASHA historical summary by Allen Brandt published in the 1988 ASHA annual report (copy in ASHA records, Box 191)
  3. "American Social Health Association" historical sketch. In Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Institutions, Social Service Organizations, edited by Peter Romanofsky, 150-159. London: Greenwood Press, 1978.
  4. The American Sexual Health Association website "".


116 Linear Feet


The records chronicle the American Social Health (originally "Hygiene") Association's efforts to control and prevent venereal disease, prostitution, and drug addiction through educational, legal, and medical measures. The records reflect considerable interaction with the armed forces, particularly during periods of war or full mobilization. Field reports document conditions in individual cities and the influence of housing, recreation, sanitation, and other factors on vice and public health. Financial sections reflect the development of federated fund-raising and its impact on a national association's program. Activities of longtime executives and staff members William Snow, C. Walter Clarke, Bascom Johnson, and Paul Kinsie are extensively documented. Also included are extensive files of printed materials on social hygiene produced by ASHA. In 2012, ASHA became the American Sexual Health Association.

Arrangement of the Records

The Records are arranged into eleven series:

  1. 1. Historical Materials, 1885, 1905-1959, 1979-2004(Boxes 1-4, 205, 209, 229-231)
  2. 2. Corporate Records, 1913-1988(Boxes 4-21, 189, 191, 205, 231-232)
  3. 3. Finances and Fund-raising, 1914-1986(Boxes 22-47, 192, 233)
  4. 4. Personnel, 1920-1986(Boxes 48-58, 196-197, 233)
  5. 5. Public Relations, 1920-1985(Boxes 58-81, 194-195, 231, 236)
  6. 6. Education, 1920-1975(Boxes 81-97, 189, 199-201)
  7. 7. Legal and Protective Measures, 1910-1971(Boxes 209-215, 98-113)
  8. 8. Venereal Disease Projects, 1919-1973(Boxes 114-124, 179-185, 188)
  9. 9. Relations with Other Organizations, 1916-1968(Boxes 125-141)
  10. 10. International Materials, 1882-1965(Boxes 216-225, 202-203)
  11. 11. Publications, 1915-2004(Boxes 141-180, 186-190, 193, 226-228, 230, 231, 233-236, and map case drawer 11)
  12. 12. Medical Research and Advocacy, 1989-2005(Boxes 229-230, 232, 234, 235)


Gift from the American Social Health Association, received in 1966, 1979, 1982, and 1989

The American Social Health Association records comprise multiple acquisitions. The original acquisition was received in 1966, with an additional shipment arriving in 1979. These records totaled 88 linear feet. Two supplemental acquisitions, totaling 20 linear feet, were received in 1982 and 1989.

Microfilm Edition

The minutes of the board of directors, executive committee, and annual meeting of the American Social Health Association are available on microfilm. Minutes of the American Federation for Sex Hygiene (1910-1914), the American Vigilance Association (1912-1913), and the Education Committee of the Society for Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis (1913) are also on microfilm. Supporting documents e.g., reports and lists, were not filmed. The records were filmed by Anacomp Micrographics, Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1981.

Processing and Finding Aid Information

The American Social Health Association records comprise multiple acquisitions that form two separate sets of records. The original acquisition was received in 1966, with an additional shipment arriving in 1979. These records, totaling 88 linear feet, were arranged and described in the early 1980s and a finding aid was produced in 1983. Two supplemental acquisitions, totaling 20 linear feet, were received in 1982 and 1989. These materials were inventoried and a preliminary description was written in 1994.

Formerly, the original acquisition and the supplements were described in two separate finding aids, making it necessary for patrons to consult multiple documents in order to obtain complete information on the ASHA records. As part of a project to mount finding aids online, the archives has merged the information about the ASHA records into one comprehensive finding aid.

American Social Health Association Records, 1905-2005
David Klaassen, Brian Mulhern, and R. Merwin Swanson. Revised by Linnea M. Anderson
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Collecting Area Details

Contact The Social Welfare History Archives Collecting Area