Venereal diseases were rampant, in The Bahamas, in the 1800s. Most cases, especially on the Out Islands, went untreated until the tertiary phase, which was of course by then too late.
By the year 1900, syphilis, from primary to tertiary; all forms of gonorrhoea, from gonorrhoea ophthalmia (passed from mother to child during the birth process) to gonorrhoea arthritis (rare complications of the disease affecting bones and joints); to soft chancre and chancroid, and others, were treated, regularly, at the Bahamas General Hospital.
The early medical treatments for venereal diseases, it must be said, were extremely painful. Many didn’t work. Most involved injecting, rather painfully, into the urethral canal either mercury (first used around 1497) and later on silver nitrate and following on from that, some sort of sulphur based treatment (1940s). Before the discovery of penicillin, in 1928, syphilis and other venereal diseases were incurable.
“One night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury:”Mercury, as a treatment for Syphilis, was first used in 1497. Mercury’s side effects could be as painful and terrifying as the disease itself. Many patients who underwent mercury treatments suffered from extensive tooth loss, ulcerations and neurological damage. In many cases, people died from significant mercury poisoning.
Before the discovery of penicillin in 1928, syphilis was an incurable disease.
World War II Brings Servicemen, Increase Cases of Venereal Disease and the Passing of New Bahamas Laws To Address Sexually Transmitted Diseases
The World War II years brought a flurry of excitement and activity to Nassau. Some 3,000 British servicemen, as well as, about 400 negro Bahamian and a few West Indian contingents were stationed in Nassau. This, not so coincidentally, brought a boom in an apparently long ongoing business, in Nassau. The business what many have called, the world’s oldest profession – prostitution. Along with an increase in the nighttime profession, there was an increase in cases of venereal disease being diagnosed, among white and negro servicemen, at the Bahamas General Hospital.
As the cases of ‘weeping willies’ began to increase among horny soldiers, the British army officials tried to warn the white servicemen about not visiting the negro native areas at night. Efforts were made to track down the more notorious prostitutes, the ‘Syphilis Susies’ and the ‘Gonorrhoea Gals.’ However, before authorities could round them up, for mandatory disease treatment at the Bahamas General Hospital, enterprising prostitutes would somehow manage to move their wooden brothel on wheels, to another part of the native negro area known as Over The Hill.
Florida 1942: Venereal Disease was so rampant among servicemen, in Florida, that a detention camp was to be set up for disease carry prostitutes
NOTES ON THE INCIDENCE OF VENEREAL DISEASE IN THE BAHAMAS Courtesy of the British Journal of Venereal Disease PUBLISHED 1947
Fears Over What Soaring Increases in Untreated Venereal Disease Could Mean For The Native Negro Community Bahamas Government Introduces Venereal Disease Laws 1945
We learn about one particular case of venereal disease, from a surprisingly unexpected source. We learn about it through a very frank autobiography, recounting, among other things, life as a coming of age, young Bahamian teenager. It’s the case of a 13-year-old Bahamian boy, living near Ross Corner, Nassau in 1940. For anyone who knows the inner city districts of Nassau, they would know Ross Corner was in the designated negro area of Over The Hill. The boy, much curious about the goings on of adults, had saved up his money, a grand total of fifty cents, very much hard earned in those years, to visit the local prostitute. In addition to a good time, the boy left with a big dose of ‘the clap,’ medically known, as gonorrhoea.
1940 – GROWING UP IN NASSAU, A VISIT TO A PROSTITUTE, A BOY LOSES HIS VIRGINITY AND CATCHING THE CLAP
Sir Sidney Poitier was born, in 1927, in Miami, Florida. He was the last of seven children born to poor farmers. The place, of emergence into the world, was by mere chance. His parents, Reginald and Evelyn Poitier, tomato farmers both born and bred on Cat Island, happened to be in Miami, to sell their produce, when Poitier’s mother, Evelyn, went into early labour. Poitier was born premature and not expected to survive. He did. The family would move from Cat Island to Nassau when Sidney was around 11-years-old. By the time Sidney was 15, his parents decided it was time to get him out of Nassau. They saw only trouble for him, as too many black young boys were falling victim to crime and mediocre ambitions. They put him on a boat to Miami. The rest, as they say, was history.
Sir Sidney, briefly in his autobiography, relates his coming of age, sexual age, as it was in 1940 Nassau. It is uncompromising and explicit. Poitier could have glossed over this time in his life, but obviously refused to do so. His coming of age and sexual curiosity coincided with the beginning of a tumultuous time in history – World War II.
Poitier recalls losing his virginity at the hands of a local prostitute, near East Street, and the major dose of clap he got for the 50 cents fee.