Anti-Vice Crusader Anthony Comstock
To purify America and protect its youth from sin, self-appointed anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) devoted a lifetime to battling wickedness with far-reaching effects. By the 1870s, armed with exhibits showing young lives wrecked by pornography, Comstock shepherded through the U.S. Congress with little opposition a stringent anti-obscenity law known as the ‘Comstock Law.’ Pornography was outlawed, but so was anything that could be described as ‘lewd, obscene, lascivious, or filthy’–terms even modern courts find difficult to define. Over the years, targets of Comstock’s rigid definition of obscene have been abortionists, sellers of contraceptive devices and even those merely disseminating information about contraception, including medical doctors. After his appointment as special postal agent in 1873, Comstock boasted that he had seized thousands of pounds of obscene materials. By the time of his death in 1915, Victorian ideals of propriety were changing and Comstock had become a parody of himself, but the Comstock Law and its impact on American culture outlived him.
Image: Planned Parenthood Federation of America