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Comstock Act

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 7 months ago

Back to 1870s


In March of 1873 Congress passed the Comstock Act, named after Anthony Comstock, who lobbied for the legislation as secretary of the New York Y.M.C.A. Committee for the Suppression of Vice. The Act, which made illegal the sending of any "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" material through the mail, impacted the ways in which people were able to send and receive printed materials. In passing the Comstock Act, Congress also named Anthony Comstock as the postal inspector who would make sure the law was enforced.

Soon after the Comstock Act was passed through Congress, the New York legislature passed legislation to support a New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Combined with the Comstock Act, this decision enabled Comstock to directly make arrests related to the suppression "vice," which took the form of fiction, gambling, contraceptive information, and photographs. Comstock was especially concerned for the welfare of young men from rural areas who had come to the city to find work. Eager to suppress such materials in cities accross the United States, Comstock encouraged the formation of organizations similar to that of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in other areas. The most famous of these sister organizations was the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice, also known as the Watch and Ward Society. This group was extremely active and led to the coining of the phrase "banned in Boston."

Shortly before his death, Comstock claimed that his actions helped to confiscate over 53 tons of books, 3 million postcards and photographs, and 344,000 birth control devices. He also made over 3,600 arrests and closed plays and other entertainment activities 18 times. This included the closing of the play Mrs Warren's Profession by George Bernard Shaw in 1907. The closing of Shaw's play came two years after the playwright had coined the phrase Comstockery to describe the excessive censorship of materials deemed immoral.



O'Brien, Robert. "Anthony Comstock." Censorship: A World Encyclopedia. Ed. Derek Jones. Chicago: Fitzroy Publishers, 2001. 566-567.


Preer, Jean. "Censorship." Encyclopedia of Library History. Eds. Wayne A. Wiegand and Donald G. Davis. New York: Garland, 1994, 117-123.


by Molly K.


Back to 1870s

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