1915 September 21

Anthony Comstock Dies; Censorship Lives On


Anthony Comstock, America’s most famous censor, authored the infamous anti-obscenity Comstock Act, which became law on March 3, 1873. He also founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1873, which he led until his death. Additionally, he was appointed a special agent of the U.S. Post Office, with police powers to enforce the law that bore his name. Most important in the twentieth century, the Comstock Act was used to prevent the distribution of information and devices related to birth control and abortion. News stories at the time of his death credited him with having seized 50 tons of “vile” books, 2.5 million obscene pictures, and 12,000 photographic negatives.

Comstock gave the English language the term “Comstockery,” which refers to moralistic censorship.

Read the classic biography of Comstock: Heywood Broun and Margaret Leech, Anthony Comstock: Roundsman of the Lord (1927)

Learn about Comstock at the U. S. Postal Inspection Service here.

Read Margaret Sanger’s 1915 denunciation, “Comstockery in America”:

Learn more: Paul Boyer, Purity in Print: The Vice-Society Movement and Book Censorship in America (1968)

And more: Leigh Ann Wheeler, Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood in America, 1873-1935 (2007)

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