1926 July 25

Is He Kidding? Censorship Crusader Claims He Supports Free Speech, Is Not a Censor


In a long profile published on this day in the New York Times, John Sumner, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, claimed that he believed in free speech and freedom of the press, and that he does not see himself as a censor.

In fact, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice was the most aggressive and notorious crusader for the suppression of sexually-oriented books, magazines, and photographs in the country. The Society had been founded and led for many years by Anthony Comstock, whose name is attacked to the federal Comstock Act (March 3, 1873), which banned sexually-oriented materials (including material on birth control) from the U.S. mails.

Sumner became leader of the Society on October 3, 1915, promising to continue Comstock’s work. He earned the label “puritan” by virtue of his censorship work and his family background. His family arrived in America and settled in Dorchester, MA in 1634.

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