El Problema de la Prostitucion

Date: 1926
Owner: Sindicato Medico del Uruguay
Source Type: Images

Dra. Paulina Luisi (1875-1940) was the first female doctor in Uruguay and the leading figure of that country's feminist movement during the early twentieth century. Luisi was ubiquitous among the cohort of feminists that sprang up in the Southern Cone circa 1900 and she exercised considerable sway in national policies concerning women, sexuality, and public health.

As a young woman, she was both the first Uruguayan woman to earn a bachelor's degree (1899) and the first to graduate from medical school (1909). Even before completing her medical degree, Luisi made public appeals for the introduction of sexual education in Uruguayan schools, a radical concept at the time. She promoted teaching not only technical reproductive knowledge, but also stressed the importance of personal ethics and the outcome of undisciplined sexual activity. She thus believed that sex should not be pursued for pleasure alone but only for the purpose of having healthy children within a marriage (though pleasure could be a byproduct of such coitus). In an effort to erode the double standard of responsibility for children, men and women were both to be taught responsible parenting.

Like many scientists, doctors, and hygienistas of this period, she argued that the state ought to take an active role in controlling some aspects of personal sexuality for the benefit of society on the whole. She supported eugenics measures that would prevent parents with transmissible diseases from reproducing and campaigns against alcoholism, drug use, and--as seen in this text--regulated prostitution. Prostitution, according to Luisi, spread venereal diseases, led to degeneration, and added to social woes like poverty and moral licentiousness.

Her ideas about sexual education and social hygiene were closely bound with her actions as a social reformer, one who fought for workers rights and gender equality. Although she was not entirely against abortions (she supported them for fetuses that would by mentally or physically disabled), she thought most abortions were the result of social problems that could be prevented by progressive government reforms. For example, if the state offered aid to workers who got pregnant and had children, then poor women would not need to get abortions for economic reasons (e.g. could not support themselves if forced to miss work with a child).

Luisi may be best remembered for her campaign for women's suffrage and equal rights. She led the Alianza Uruguaya de Mujeres, the most influential (but not only) women's group to impact Uruguayan policy makers, and she became a prominent figure in international feminist circles as well (she was honorary vice president at the 1922 Pan-American Women's Conference in Baltimore). Thanks largely to her efforts, Uruguayan women earned the vote in 1932, relatively early for Latin America.

Reference: Lavrin, Asuncion. Women, Feminism, and Social Change: in Argentina, Chile, & Uruguay, 1890-1940. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

CITATION: Luisi, Paulina. El Problema de la Prostitucion: Abolicionismo o Reglamentacion?. Montevideo: Sindicato Medico del Uruguay, 1926.