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Anthony Comstock (1844 - 1915)

Related: vice - American censorship - banned books


Anthony Comstock (March 7, 1844 - September 21, 1915) created the Society for Supression of Vice in 1873, an institution dedicated to supervising the morality of the public. Later that year, Comstock successfully influenced Congress to pass the Comstock Law, which made illegal the delivery or transportation of "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" material. He lent his name to the term comstockery, meaning "censorship because of perceived obscenity or immorality".

He was born in New Canaan, Connecticut. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Comstock [Dec 2004]

Comstock law

The Comstock Law was a 19th century United States law that made it illegal to send any "obscene, lewd, or lascivious books through the mail. It was passed on March 3, 1873 and is regarded by many as censorship.

The Comstock Law states

Be it enacted…That whoever, within the District of Columbia or any of the Territories of the United States…shall sell…or shall offer to sell, or to lend , or to give away, or in any manner to exhibit, or shall otherwise publish or offer to publish in any manner, or shall have in his possession, for any such purpose or purposes, an obscene book, pamphlet, paper, writing, advertisement, circular, print, picture, drawing or other representation, figure, or image on or of paper of other material , or any cast instrument, or other article of an immoral nature, or any drug or medicine, or any article whatever, for the prevention of conception, or for causing unlawful abortion, or shall advertise the same for sale, or shall write or print, or cause to be written or printed, any card, circular, book, pamphlet, advertisement, or notice of any king, stating when, where, how, or of whom, or by what means, any of the articles in this section…can be purchased or obtained, or shall manufacture, draw, or print, or in any wise make any of such articles, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof in any court of the United States…he shall be imprisoned at hard labor in the penitentiary for not less than six months nor more than five years for each offense, or fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than two thousand dollars, with costs of court….
--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comstock_Law [Jun 2004]

Paul Emile Chabas's September Morn (1912)

September Morn (1912) - Paul Emile Chabas Paul Chabas's most famous painting is September Morn, not because it was particularly better or worse than any other of his paintings, but because it was reproduced massively following a scandal, set afire by Anthony Comstock, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. [Feb 2006]

The birth controllers

Peter Fryer has pointed out in his book "The Birth Controllers" that from its inception in 1873 to the end of 1882, Comstock's New York Society for the Suppression of Vice was responsible for 700 arrests 333 sentences of imprisonment totalling 155 years and 13 days, fines totalling $65,256, and the seizure of 27,856 lb. of "obscene" books and 64,836 "articles for immoral use, of rubber, etc." Much of Comstock's battle was against the use of artificial contraceptive precautions.

The Entry of Charles V into Antwerp

When Makart's painting The Entry of Charles V into Antwerp fell under the proscription of Anthony Comstock, his fame was secured in America, as the American public desired at once to see what Comstock was persecuting, so they could tell whether he was acting correctly or in error. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Makart [Dec 2004]

Banned Books [...]

Aristophanes' Lysistrata, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Boccaccio's Decameron, Defoe's Moll Flanders, and various editions of The Arabian Nights were all banned for decades from the U.S. mails under the Comstock Law of 1873. Officially known as the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act, this law banned the mailing of "lewd", "indecent", "filthy", or "obscene" materials. The Comstock laws, while now unenforced, remain for the most part on the books today; the Telecommunications Reform Bill of 1996 even specifically applied some of them to computer networks. The anti-war Lysistrata was banned again in 1967 in Greece, which was then controlled by a military junta.

The Comstock law also forbade distribution of birth control information. In 1915, Margaret Sanger's husband was jailed for distributing her Family Limitation, which described and advocated various methods of contraception. Sanger herself had fled the country to avoid prosecution, but would return in 1916 to start the American Birth Control League, which eventually merged with other groups to form Planned Parenthood. --http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/banned-books.html [Jun 2004]

"...Books banned from the U. S. mails under the Comstock Law included many of the greatest classics: Aristophanes Lysistrata, Rabelais's Gargantua, Chaucer's Canterbury tales, Boccaccio's Decameron and even The Arabian Nights. Furthermore, Heins includes modern authors censored under the Comstock Law. "..Honore de Balzac, Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde, Ernst Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Eugene O' Neil, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Clifford Odets Erskine Caldwell, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald...to name just a few." Sex, Sin and Blasphemy, Marjorie Heins pg. 19 "Founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (1872), whose slogans were: "Morals not Art and Literature!" and "Books are feeders for brothels!" Comstock campaigned tirelessly for censorship laws not only to stamp out erotic subject matter in art or literature, but to suppress information about sexuality, reproduction, and birth control. In 1873 he persuaded Congress (after less than an hour of debate) to pass the law (Federal Anti-Obscenity Act)that banned the mailing of materials found to be "lewd", "indecent", "filthy", or "obscene." Sex, Sin and Blasphemy, Marjorie Heins pg. 19 Furthermore Comstock was appointed a special agent of the U.S. Post Office, as such allowed to carry a gun and attack pornographers." (The Encyclopedia of Censorship, Jonathon Green, Facts on File , N.Y.C. Pg. 62-63) Over the next forty years Comstock prosecuted 3,500 individuals (although no more than 10% were found guilty) and had destroyed 120 tons of literature.

Results of incident
"..The Comstock Law remains on the books today, although the ban on information about birth control has been eliminated. In 1896 the court ruled that the federal Comstock Law didnÍt cover vulgar insults." Sex, Sin, and Blasphemy, Marjorie Heins, pg.19 --http://www.cd.sc.ehu.es/FileRoom/documents/Cases/68comstockLaw.html

Bondage: Laura Manson Stansfield Photocollection - Laura Manson Stansfield

  • Bondage: Laura Manson Stansfield Photocollection - Laura Manson Stansfield [Amazon US]

    Michael B. was arrested in the early 1960s under the now defunct, and then antiquated, Comstock Law, for being in possession of the photographs now depicted in this book.

    Dr. Laura Manson Stansfield, is a retired psychiatrist who served as an expert witness during the last legal test of the Comstock Law, which resulted in the US Supreme Court decision in 1969 that the constitution gives citizens the right to own erotic material.

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