1929 July 26

“The Well of Loneliness” Held Not Obscene by U.S. Customs Court

 

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall is probably the most famous lesbian novel of the first half of the 20th century. U.S. Customs had banned it from being imported into the U.S. On this day, however, the Customs Court ruled that it was not obscene and could be imported. This was the second victory for the novel in three months. On April 19, 1929, a New York court had ruled that the novel was not obscene under the terms of New York state law. That case had been initiated by John Sumner of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

In the United Kingdom, the novel had been found to be obscene, and copies were ordered destroyed. In the U.S., however, it was an enormous success, having sold 40,000 copies by the spring and eventually 100,000 copies. In his memoirs, Hall’s publisher Donald Friede recalled writing her first royalty check for $64,000. Since the New York obscenity case had caused sales to double, Friede went to Boston to try to maneuver the Watch and Ward Society, the famous local anti-obscenity group, to declare it obscene, but to his disappointment it said it did not find the novel objectionable.

Read the novel: Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness (1928)

Watch a short reading of The Well of Loneliness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJoIwgeCG9U

Learn more: Diana Souhami, The Trials of Radclyffe Hall (1999)

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!