Obscenity and the Comstock Act 1873

Obscenity and the Comstock Act 1873

Obscenity and the Comstock Act 1873
The Comstock Act, named after moralist Anthony Comstock who is shown here, banned the circulation
of educational materials related to legal birth control – Obscenity and the Comstock Act 1873

Anthony Comstock (1844–1915), George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)

Sending “obscene, vulgar, or lascivious,” “immoral,” or “indecent” books over the mail was made criminal by the Comstock Act of 1873. Selling, giving away, or possessing an obscene book, pamphlet, photograph, sketch, or advertisement became a misdemeanour under the law.

Even if prepared by a physician, the legislation’s scope encompassed writings or documents relating to contraception and abortion. Although the act was formally named An Act for the Suppression of Trade in and Circulation of Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use, it lacked a definition of obscenity.

In reaction to the growth of obscene materials in the 1870s, Congress passed the Comstock Act. The leader of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, Anthony Comstock, had showed members of Congress filthy images and pushed legislators to adopt the bill to prevent juvenile crime and corruption.

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