Ettie Rout – First World War Safe Sex Advocate
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Censored by the New Zealand cabinet, referred to in the House of Lords as the “most wicked women in Britain”, and hailed as the “guardian angel of the ANZAC’s” Ettie Rout and her fervent conduct to prevent the spread of venereal disease (VD) can be hailed as one of the earliest health promoters among New Zealand Expeditionary Forces (NZEF). Born in Tasmania in 1877, Ettie Rout moved to New Zealand with her family in 1884. An intrepid cyclist, “eccentric even by the high standards of eccentricity”, a socialist and zealous follower of health and physical theories. She was a fearlessly independent woman with a clear vision for the sexual health well before her time and the acceptance of such matters by general society. Ettie Rout establishing the New Zealand Volunteer Sisters who’s primary responsibility was to provide alternative entertainment for soldiers to distract them from participating in vice during periods of leave. Arriving in Egypt around the time the Gallipoli veterans arrived, the work of the sisters were predominantly based with the YMCA attempting in averting soldiers interests from the Wazz brothel district in Cairo. Her efforts are well documented. Challenging the advice printed on leave passes and given to soldiers, she preferred direct action and made available a “prophylactic kit” containing condoms, Condy’s crystal and ointments. Initially, this was met with outrage from conservative elements at home. But later, endorsement addressed one of the every present issues, that of, the sexual health of military men on leave. A 1919 NZEF memorandum estimated that 12,000 to 13,000 men contracted venereal disease (VD) during the First World War. The loss of effectiveness of these men and the shame associated with contracting the “clap” and being returned home and segregated, weighed heavily of both the NZDF and the affected soldiers, officers, as well as officials back in New Zealand. It is clear that Ettie Rout’s tenacious efforts to counter the effects of VD greatly reduced the infection rates.