‘The Great Foe to the Reproduction of the Race’: Diagnosing and Treating Infertility Caused by Venereal Diseases, 1880–1914

  • Anne HanleyEmail author


Infertility was a source of great anxiety for childless couples and a subject of uncertainty and concern for doctors. Yet the specificities of infertility caused by venereal diseases have been overlooked. Medical authors at the turn of the twentieth century and historians in more recent decades have instead been preoccupied with the congenitally syphilitic child or the infant with gonorrhoeal ophthalmia neonatorum. This chapter remedies these historiographical gaps, addressing some of the more significant problems attendant upon diagnosing and treating infertility among infected men and women. Even with the development of bacteriological and serological testing, the venereal aetiology of a patient’s infertility was difficult to confirm. Venereal diseases did not always result in infertility and doctors found that many infertile patients showed few clear signs of infection. Having established the place of infertility within medical discourse and patient care, this chapter situates it within a wider eugenic framework of perceived degeneration and national efficiency.


Gonorrhoea Medical knowledge Venereal disease Sterility Syphilis 

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OxfordOxfordUK

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