On 19 July 1916, women were asked to clear the public galleries of the New Zealand House of Representatives in order that war regulations relating to venereal disease could be discussed. The Minister of Health, George Russell, wished to create new regulations aiming to prevent the spread of the disease ‘communicated’, he believed, ‘in lavatories, privies, and barbers’ shops, by the use of towels, the kissing of children, the smoking of infected pipes, and in other ways’.1 By the time of his address, 90 soldiers were already ‘segregated on a certain quarantine station’.2 Just six years earlier, in 1910, the New Zealand Parliament had finally rescinded the 1869 Contagious Diseases Act. The Act was repealed in response to years of pressure from the women’s movement, whose members wanted to see an end to the double standard that allowed the policing of women thought to be prostitutes while their male customers went scot-free.3 In mooting new regulatory measures, the minister of health knew he had to tread carefully in order to quell opposition from women’s groups. Wartime, however, created extraordinary pressures. George Russell proclaimed that he was not the ‘Minister of Morals but the Minister of Health’ and that action was necessary to stem the tide of a disease said to be ‘rampant’ in New Zealand.4 At the time of the outbreak of the First World War, New Zealand had a population of just over 1 million, spread over the two main islands. The furthest dominion within the British Empire from the fields of battle, New Zealanders were nonetheless wholehearted in support of Britain in the Great War.
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