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Comstock Law

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by

Lisette Gibson

on 1 December 2016

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Transcript of Comstock Law

Born 1844, Connecticut
Congregationalist
Married
Government employed, activist
Died 1915

Known best for decency campaign starting in the 1870s in Manhattan.

Appointed Secretary of the NY Society for the Suppression of Vice (YMCA)-1872
Lobbied for tougher laws--like the 1873 Comstock postal act.

Result?

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….

The Comstock Law

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….

The Comstock Law

Effects of the Comstock Law

Did you know that in Connecticut, a married couple could be arrested and serve a year in jail for using contraception?

This painting was celebrated in France. Big reactions in Chicago and in New York City.

Much Ado About A September Morn

http://faculty.uml.edu/sgallagher/excerpt_from.htm (part of History of Privacy--http://historyofprivacy.net/) by Susan Gallagher

In a 1915 article, Margaret Sanger refers to the Comstock Law saying, "There is nothing which causes so much laughter or calls forth so many joking comments by people in Europe as Comstockery in America".

Comstock and the Pill

Comstock used old postal law against mailing obscene materials to stop distribution of an account of Lyman Ward Beecher’s affair with a parishioner.

Comstock vs. the Beecher book

1873 act for the "Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use” extended the 1864 law to allow for the seizure of obscene materials from the mail by federal marshals.

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….

The Comstock Law

Soon after the federal law was on the books, twenty-four states enacted their own versions of Comstock laws to restrict the contraceptive trade on a state level.

Fought against birth control information as well as birth control
Anything salacious or “obscene” could be banned
Even some anatomy books were banned from being distributed to medical students.

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….

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