1907 November 4

Chicago Creates First Film Censorship Board in the U.S.


The City of Chicago on this day enacted an ordinance creating the first-ever film censorship board in the U.S. The law required film distributors to submit each film to the 10-person board, which was chaired by the Superintendent of Police, and which had the power to deny a permit or to order the deletion of any sequences it believed to be immoral or offensive. The law did not, however, define any standards of immorality or any other offensive category, thereby giving the board unlimited discretion.

Creation of the Chicago film board marked the beginning of over a half a century of film censorship in America. Some of that censorship was imposed by city or state boards, while other restrictions involved self-censorship by the film industry, most notoriously in the form of the Motion Picture Production Code, created on ___, 1934.

The Chicago film censorship ordinance was the product of several years of political agitation over the alleged undesirable effects of movies, particularly on children and adolescents. The effort to clean-up the movies was a broad-based movement, which included the creation of the first juvenile court in the U.S., efforts to clean-up slum neighborhoods, to “Americanize” recent immigrants, and to improve the w0rking conditions for women employees.

In the spring of 2008, theater owner Jacob Block was denied a permit for the films, The James Boys of Missouri and The Night Riders. On May 8, 2008, supported by about 200 other theater owners, Block sued the Chicago movie censorship board. In April, 2009, however, in Block v. Chicago, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the authority of the board.

Learn more at a timeline on film censorship in the U.S.: https://www.aclu.org/files/multimedia/censorshiptimeline.html

Learn more: Frank Walsh, Sin and Censorship: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry (1996)

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