1931 July 18

“Contraception” Not Obscene


U. S. District Court Judge John M. Woolsey ruled on this day that Dr. Marie C. Stopes’ book, Contraception, was not obscene or immoral, thereby overturning a ban on the book by U.S. Customs. Stopes was a British physician and pioneer on birth control (see the international organization in her honor, below).

The case was one of the milestones in the long struggle to win the right to discuss birth control in public, to send both birth control information and devices through the mails, and to import information and devices through U.S. Customs. See, for example, the evening of April 16, 1929, when Margaret Sanger was banned from speaking in Boston and she appeared on stage with a gag over her mouth. See also the court decision on December 7, 1936, that allowed the importation of Japanese contraceptive devices.

Judge Woolsey had a strong record on censorship issues. On April 6, 1931, he overturned a ban on Stopes’ book, Married Love. He is most famous for ending the Customs Department’s ban on James Joyce’s classic novel Ulysses on December 6, 1933. The appellate court upheld his decision regarding Ulysses on August 7, 1934.

Read a short biography of Stopes: http://john.curtin.edu.au/womenshealth/stopes.html

Learn more: June Rose, Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution (1992)

Learn about the work of Marie Stopes’ International today: http://www.mariestopes.org.uk/

Read: Linda Gordon, The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America, 3rd ed. (2007)

Watch historian Linda Gordon discuss the history of birth control: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQ2ymfXxN5

Find a Day

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


Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear your comments, criticisms and suggestions!