Thomas Parran and the New Deal
In November 1934 the Columbia Broadcasting Company scheduled a radio address by New York State Health Commissioner Thomas Parran, Jr., on future goals in the area of public health. Parran planned to review the major problems confronting public health officers in their battle against disease. But the talk was never delivered. Moments before air-time, CBS informed him that he could not mention syphilis and gonorrhea by name; in response to this decision, Parran refused to go on. Listeners who had tuned in to hear the address heard piano melodies instead. Parran, reacting angrily to being censored, pointed out the hypocrisy in the standards for radio broadcasting. In a press release issued by his office the next day, he commented that his speech should have been considered more acceptable than "the veiled obscenity permitted by Columbia in the vaudeville acts of some of their commercial programs." 1
Fifteen years earlier, during the anti-venereal crusade during World War I, the conspiracy of silence had appeared to be defeated. Newspapers and magazines had dramatically publicized the problem; Congress and the military addressed it forthrightly. In the following years, however, the anti-venereal campaign had faltered. After the radical interventions that the war brought on -- not only in politics and economics, but socially as well -- America returned to a normalcy" that also pervaded public health efforts.
The 1920s, despite their apparent frivolity, marked less of a watershed in the area of sexual morality than has often been assumed. Though among the young there was a distinct increase in sexual activity, a strong crosscurrent of demands for moral rectitude and gentility persisted. 2 While women took champagne baths at speakeasies and couples went on jaunts in roadsters along country lanes, respectability was reasserted in many quarters. It is important to remember that if the twenties marked the decade of bathtub gin, so, too, was it the decade of prohibition. In spite of the new openness towards sexuality, the sexually transmitted diseases were drawn once again behind a veil of secrecy. Until the 1930s the venereal problem would go largely unheeded.
During the New Deal, Thomas Parran would commit the nation to the erad-