1938 April 11

“Birth of a Baby” Public Health Photographs Called Obscene

 

Life Magazine published 35 photographs from the public health education film, Birth of a Baby. Some moralists on this day called the pictures “obscene.” The magazine was banned in 33 cities and in the entire state of Pennsylvania because the photographs were considered obscene. The photographs are all scientifically clinical and not the least bit erotic. The mother’s body is draped with sheets, but photographs clearly show the baby emerging from her vagina.

Morris Ernst, a lawyer who championed cases that expanded Americans’ rights to privacy and freedom from censorship, successfully represented the magazine at trial over obscenity. Most famously, Ernst also successfully ended the U.S. Customs ban on the acclaimed novel Ulysses by James Joyce on December 6, 1933.

The film, The Birth of a Baby, from which the photographs were taken, was banned in New York, Cincinnati, Omaha, and Lynchburg, Virginia. The New York state censorship board found the film “indecent,” “immoral,” and likely “to corrupt morals.” It did, however, approve a special license to show the film for “educational purposes,” but not in “places of amusement.”

See the pictures: http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/the-birth-of-a-baby/

Learn more about the film: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0169615/

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

Find a Day

Go
Abortion Rights ACLU african-americans Alice Paul anti-communism Anti-Communist Hysteria Birth Control Brown v. Board of Education Censorship CIA Civil Rights Civil Rights Act of 1964 Cold War Espionage Act FBI First Amendment Fourteenth Amendment freedom of speech Free Speech Gay Rights Hate Speech homosexuality Hoover, J. Edgar HUAC Japanese American Internment King, Dr. Martin Luther Ku Klux Klan Labor Unions Lesbian and Gay Rights Loyalty Oaths McCarthy, Sen. Joe New York Times Obscenity Police Misconduct Same-Sex Marriage Separation of Church and State Sex Discrimination Smith Act Spying Spying on Americans Vietnam War Voting Rights Voting Rights Act of 1965 War on Terror Watergate White House Women's Rights Women's Suffrage World War I World War II Relocation Camps

Topics

Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear your comments, criticisms and suggestions!