1915 October 3

John Sumner to Continue Comstock’s Censorship Work


On this day, John Sumner was appointed to replace Anthony Comstock as leader of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (NYSSV). He pledged to continue Comstock’s censorship crusade against alleged indecent literature under the 1873 Comstock Act (March 3, 1873), the most important federal censorship law for almost 100 years.

The NYSSV was the leading censorship organization from its founding in 1873 through the late 1930s, when its influence finally began to wane. For some of its aggressive censorship activities, see August 20, 1916; February 11, 1922; and August 12, 1922.

John Sumner retired in 1950, after which the Society changed its name but soon disbanded. Comstock’s activities gave the English language the word “comstockery” to denote an intolerant, censorious attitude.

Read a history of censorship: Paul S. Boyer, Purity in Print: Book Censorship in America from the Gilded Age to the Computer Age (2002)

Check out the anti-censorship efforts of Banned Books Week: http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/

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

Read: Jay A. Gertzman,  Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940  (1999)

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