The Obscenity of Censorship

A History of Indecent People and Lacivious Publications

Copyright © 2003 Sheryl Perry

"As to the evil which results from censorship, it is impossible to measure it, because it is impossible to tell where it ends."
Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832)

1 A.D.

Emperor Augustus banishes Publius Ovid for writing Ars Amatoria and for another unknown act. Ovid dies in the Greek town of Tomi eight years later. Ars Amatoria was banned in the United States until at least 1928.


Savonarola, a notorious and powerful censor who is also a religious fanatic with a large following, persuades the artists of Florence, Italy to bring their works - including drawings of nudes - to the bonfires. All copies of Ovid's works then in Florence are burned as well, condemed as erotic, impious and tending to corrupt. The result causes some poets to no longer write verse, having been persuaded that such lines are wicked and impure.


Pope Paul III establishes the Universal Roman Inquisition, or Congregation of the Holy Office. One of the duties is to examine and condemn heretical or immoral works. The Congregation of the Holy Office lasts until 1965.


Pope Paul IV sends a list of books that he has banned to the Inquisition . The matter is referred to the Council of Trent


Boccaccio's Decamerone is one of the books banned by Pope Paul IV, unless the book is expurgated; which the Pope's revisers are happy to do. The passages are retained but they turn the erring nuns into noble women, the lascivious monks into conjurors, the Abbess into a Countess, etc., etc.


The Council of Trent of the Catholic Church issues the Index librorum prohibitum (Index of Prohibited Books). The Index is updated every 50 years until 1948 and was finally rescinded in 1965. The index eventually included more that 4,000 works.

For a complete history of the church and literary censorship see: Censorship of Books


In Paris, Jean L'Ange [or de Lange] and Michel Millot are convicted of publishing L'École des Filles, ou la Philosophie des dames. At the trial L'Ange is found guilty and is fined 200 livres, he's exiled from Paris for three years, and ordered to make formal penance. Before he could be arrested, Millot went into hiding. He is not found before the trial so he's tried in absence and sentenced to hang and have his property confiscated (he is hung in effigy and his books are burned).


John Garfield of England is imprisoned for writing the periodical The Wandering Whore.


Licensing Act of 1662, gives the English courts a vague mandate to suppress indecent books but does not indicate what id considered 'indecent'

c.April, 1683

Vénus dans le Cloître, ascribed to Jean Barrinb, is published in France.


The English translation of Vénus dans le Cloître is published in London by Henry Rhodes as Venus in the Cloyster, or the Nun in her Smock.


John Wickins of England is prosecuted for printing and publishing The Whore's Rhetorick. He is fined 40 shillings. [Possibly the first printer and publisher to be prosecuted on obscenity charges??].

March 5, 1688

In England, Benjamin Crayle is prosecuted for selling "obscene and lasivious bookes, The School of Venus (An English translation of L'Escole des Filles). Joseph Streater is prosecuted for printing The School of Venus andA Dialogue between a Marridd Lady and a Maide (An English translation of L'Academie des Dames." Crayle and Streater are found guility only for The School of Venus. Streater is fined 40 shillings and Crayle is fined 20 shillings.

The School of Venus is an English translation of L'École des Filles, ou la Philosophie des dames (Paris: 1655) 'par A.D.P.'.....not to be confused with The School of Venus by Capt Alexander Smith (Morphew, 1715) or Edmund Curll's The School of Venus (second edition, 1739).

January 10, 1690

Benjamin Crayle and Joseph Streater are indicted for publishing Sodom or the Quintessence of Debauchery. Only Crayle is convicted. He is fined 20 pounds and sentenced to prison.


The Society for the Reformation of Manners is founded to enforce laws rather than to press for new legislation

The supression of obscene literature was not one of the societies mandates; possibly because those whose morals it feared were illiterate and/or because at the time no clear law existed for obscene literature.


James Read and Angell Carter of England are found guilty of publishing The Fifteen Plagues of a Maidenhead. At the same time John Marshall is found guilty for publishing Rochester's Sodom: of, the Quintessence of Debauchery and The School of Love (An English translation of L'Academie des Dames)

Although all were found guilty, James Read moved their arrest be in lieu of judgement on the grounds that obscene libel was not something the court had the power to deal with. The court agreed.


John Martin is indicted for "being evil disposed and wickedly intending to corrupt the subjects of the Lady the Queene and seduced by cupidty published and sold a scandalous book entitled Gonosologium Novum, or a new system of all the secret infirmities and diseases natural accidental and venereal in men and women..." Martin is acquitted.


Colonial Massachussetts makes it a crime to publish "any filthy, obscene, or profane song, pamphlet, libel or mock sermon". (Acts and Laws of the Province of Mass. Bay, c. CV, 8)

February, 1728

Edmund Curll (1683-1747) is found guilty for publishing Venus in the Cloister (An English translation of Vénus dans le Cloître, 1683) and Meibomius's A Treatise of the Use of Flogging in Venereal Affairs (bound with A Treatise of Hermaphrodites). Curll is also found guilty for publishing The Prisoner's Advocate, a government spy's (John Ker) memoirs of his experiences in the King's Bench Prison. He's fined 25 marks for each of the two obscene books and 20 marks plus one hour in the pillory for publishing Ker's memoirs.

It is Curll's trial that leads the Court of King's Bench to define the law of obscene libel. "Libel" is defined as being from the Latin libellus, meaning 'a little book', Rex v. Curll.

November, 1748

The first volume of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Fanny Hill), written by John Cleland (1709-1789), is printed by Thomas Parker and published in London by G. Fenton [Fenton Griffiths, pseud. for Ralph Griffiths]. The second volume follows in early February 1749. Cleland wrote the story while serving a sentence for debt in Fleet Prison in hopes of selling enough copies to pay off his debts.

March 15, 1749

A warrant is issued for the arrest of the author, printer and publisher of Fanny Hill. By the end of the month, Cleland, Parker and Griffiths are free on bail. While awaiting trial Cleland edits out most of the erotic content and in March 1750 the expurgated result is published in one volume as Memoirs of Fanny Hill. Despite heated exchanges of letters between the Secretary of State, the Attorney-General and the Bishop of London, not to mention the groveling letters from Cleland and Ralph Griffiths blaming everything on a non-existent brother he calls Fenton, it appears the case is never pursued.


Donatien Alphonse François de Sade (1740-1814) writes 120 Journées de Sodom (aka 120 Days of Sodom). Sade writes the story onto sheets of paper that are pasted together into a roll about 12 metres in length and 11 centimetres wide. In 1789, ten days before the Bastille is stormed and destroyed (where Sade is imprisoned), he is quickly evacuated from his cell and moved to Charenton. In the confusion, his manuscript is left behind. Sade believes the manuscript lost but it's later discovered by one of the revolutionaries. Unbelievably, that original manuscript still exists to this day in a private collection. As far as I can determine, Sade's works have never been banned in the United States.

120 Days of Sodom was first published in Berlin by Max Harrwitz in 1904 as Les 120 Journees de Sodome, poorly edited by Iwan Bloch. A much better edition [and from which all future editions are taken from] was published by Maurice Heine in Paris, 1931. The first English translation was published by Olympia Press in 1954 in two variants [1. Two volumes on thick paper. 2. One volume on China].

June 1, 1787

King George III issues a "A Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue, and for the Preventing and Punishing of Vice, Profaneness and Immorality', including the suppression of all 'loose and licentious Prints, Books, and Publications, dispersing Poison to the minds of the Young and Unwary and to Punish the Publishers and Vendors thereof".

This law is policed by groups such as the Proclamation Society, which later becomes the Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1802.

August 26, 1789

In France, freedom of speech and freedom of the press is established (Article 11) in La Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen (Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens). However, In 1791 a law is passed making criminal public assaults on the modesty of women by indecent action, the exposure for sale of obscene pictures, and the corruption of young persons, which basically wiped out Article 11.

Article II: La libre communication des pensées et des opinions est un des droits les plus précieux de l'Homme : tout Citoyen peut donc parler, écrire, imprimer librement, sauf à répondre à l'abus de cette liberté dans les cas déterminés par la Loi.

(The free communication of the thoughts and the opinions is one of the most invaluable rights of the Man: any Citizen can thus speak, write, print freely, except to answer the abuse this freedom in the cases determined by the Law.)


Justine, ou les Malheurs de la vertu, written by the Marquis de Sade, is published in Paris by J.=V. Girouard. Sade writes to his lawyer "...My publisher wanted it well peppered, I was short of cash, so I wrote it fit to corrupt the Devil." In 1797, a reworked edition is published as La Nouvelle Justine in 10 volues; Justine (vols.1-4) and Juliette (vols. 5-10); illustrated with a frontispiece and 100 unsigned engravings.


Great Britain's Society for the Suppression of Vice and for the Encouragement of Religion and Virtue throughout the United Kingdom is established to "check the spread of open vice and immorality, and more especially to preserve the minds of the young from contamination by exposure to the corrupting influence of impure and licentious books, prints, and other publications...".


Thomas Bowlder (1754-1825), an English physician, expurgates the works of William Shakespeare in which he "endeavoured to remove every thing that could give just offence to the religious and virtuous mind", and publishes the result as The Family Shakespeare.

Bowlder's name lives on in the term 'bowdlerized', the process of censorship by arbitrary deletion of "objectionable" material from a work of literature to "purify" it, rather than banning the work outright.


Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (illustrated) is banned in the United States for obscenity (Commonwealth v. Holmes, 17 Mass. 336). This is generally regarded as the first recorded suppression of a literary work in the United States on grounds of obscenity


George Cannon, a London publisher of erotica that spanned almost forty years, is convicted of publishing Sade's Juliette, ou les Prospérités. Since the prosecution was obliged to translate some of the passages of Juliette into English for the benifit of the jury [which is preserved in the trial records], this marks one of the earliest English references to Sade.


The first edition of Gamiani, ou, Une nuit d'excès is published in Bruxelles.


The Tariff Act of 1842 (c. 270, 28, 5 Stat. 566) is enacted. The is the first U.S. federal law designed to restrict the flow of obscenity by prohibiting the "importation of all indecent and obscene prints, paintings, lithographs, engravings and transparencies". Up until the 1840s there was no pornography being produced in the United States so it had to be quietly and clandestinely imported.

September 28, 1842

In New York, the first grand jury indictments in America against publishers of obscene books are issued: People v. Richard Hobbes and People v. Henry R. Robinson. In addition, indictments were issued against the five print shop owners and bookstand operators used by the two publishers.

Titles named in the indictments: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure; Memoirs of the Life and Voluptuous Adventures of the Celebrated Courtesan Mademoiselle Celestine of Paris; The Cabinet of Venus Unlocked; The Curtain Drawn Up, or The Education of Laura; The Confessions of a Voluptuous Young Lady of High Rank; The Amorous Songster or Jovial Companion; The Lustful Turk; The Amorous History and Adventures of Raymond De B— and Father Andouillard; The Auto-Biography of a Footman.


William Dugdale (1800-1868), a prolific publisher of erotica in London, is sentenced to two years imprisonment for being "in possession of obscene prints with the intent to sell". This is not Dugdale's first encounter with prison; he was imprisoned 9 times before he died in 1868 while an inmate in the House of Correction at Clerkenwell, once again for trafficking in obscene publications.


The first Obscene Publications Act is enacted in Great Britain. Until now, the only law against sexually explicit material was King George III's Royal Proclamation of 1787. The second Obscene Publications Act was in 1959, the third in 1964.

June, 1857

Les Fleurs du Mal, a collection of decadent poems written by Charles Baudelaire (1827-1867), is published by Auguste Poulet-Malassis (1825-1878) in 1857, 1100 copies are printed. Baudelaire also has issued a small number (20-23) printed up on Hollande which he gives to friends and family. On August 20, 1857 the French government charges Baudelaire and Poulet-Malassis of having outraged public morals. Being found guilty, Baudelaire is fined 300 francs (later reduced to 50 francs), Poulet-Malassis is fined 100 francs. Six of the poems [with the exception of "Le Vin de l'assassin"] are banned from publication. The ban is lifted in 1949.

"..... Alongside these poems ["Le Reniement de Saint-Pierre", "Abel et Caïn", "Les Litanies de Satan", and "Le Vin de l'assassin"] and several others in which the immortality of the soul and the dearest beliefs of Christianity are considered as nothing, there are others which are the expression of the most revolting lewdness [including "Femmes damnées", "Les Métamorphoses du Vampire", and "Les Bijoux".


In 1864 an alarmed postmaster general reported that "great numbers" of dirty pictures and books were being mailed to Civil War troops. Congress reacted quickly to the postmaster's report, passing a law making it a crime to send any "obscene book, pamphlet, picture, print, or other publication of vulgar and indecent character" through the United States mail. (Post Office Act, chap. 89, sec. 16, 13 Stat. 504, 507).


Benjamin Hicklin, a British magistrate, prosecutes a militant Protestant who published an anti-Catholic pamphlet that denounced the "depravity" of the confessional booth (Regina v. Hicklin, L.R.3 Q.B. 360).

Hicklin states that the test for obscenity should reside in the material's "tendency to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall." and allows a work to be ruled obscene based on isolated passages taken out of context. In addition, Hicklin provides that a search warrant could be issued on any individual's sworn information that obscene publications are kept for sale or distribution on any premises, and that it's the owner who is required to prove why the materials should not be confiscated and destroyed.

March 3, 1873

Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) sucessfully lobbies federal anti-obscenity statues through Congress, known as the Comstock Law, now incorporated in title 18 U.S.C. 1461.

Be it enacted? That whoever, within the District of Columbia or any of the Territories of the United States?shall sell?or shall offer to sell, or to lend, or to give away, or in any manner to exhibit, or shall otherwise publish or offer to publish in any manner, or shall have in his possession, for any such purpose or purposes, an obscene book, pamphlet, paper, writing, advertisement, circular, print, picture, drawing or other representation, figure, or image on or of paper of other material, or any cast instrument, or other article of an immoral nature, or any drug or medicine, or any article whatever, for the prevention of conception, or for causing unlawful abortion, or shall advertise the same for sale, or shall write or print, or cause to be written or printed, any card, circular, book, pamphlet, advertisement, or notice of any kind, stating when, where, how, or of whom, or by what means, any of the articles in this section?can be purchased or obtained, or shall manufacture, draw, or print, or in any wise make any of such articles, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof in any court of the United States?he shall be imprisoned at hard labor in the penitentiary for not less than six months nor more than five years for each offense, or fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than two thousand dollars, with costs of court.


The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice [NYSSV] is founded by Anthony Comstock.


William Lazenby [c.1825?-c.1888?], a London publisher of clandestine erotica, is arrested for "soliciting and inciting Charles Drew Harris to sell or publish certain obscene, wicked and lewd books". Lazenby is arrested again in 1886 and and imprisoned at age 61 for "unlawfully selling in an open public shop certain lewd books, indecent photographs and other articles".

July, 1879

The underground Victorian magazine The Pearl is published in London in 18 parts. William Lazenby is attributed as the publisher, editor and part-time author.


The 11 volumes of My Secret Life is published in Amsterdam, probably by Augustin Brancart (1851-c.1894?). The book is banned in the United States until 1966.

It appears there may have been a 12th volume [possibly published at a later date and different place, Paris?] consisting of the index to the chapters, the Introduction and Prefaces, and an alphabetical index but according to Mendes no copy of that volume has come to light. The authorship of this work continues to be in dispute but the authors put forth have been H.S. Ashbee, Frank Harris or William S. Potter.


The United States Supreme Court uses the Hicklin definition (Regina v. Hicklin, L.R.3 Q.B. 360) of what constitutes obscenity in the case of Rosen v. United States.

For more information see: Rosen v. US (161 U.S. 29)


George Bedborough is arrested and prosecuted for selling "a certain lewd, wicked, bawdy, scandalous and obscene libel in the form of a book".....Havelock Ellis' (1859-1939) seven volume Studies in the Psychology of Sex; more specifically, the volume Sexual Inversion, a controversial study of homosexuality which argues that homosexuality is inherited and inborn.


Harry Nicholls' "Walpole Press" office is raided and he's arrested for advertising and selling books "found to be of a very obscene nature". Before the trial can be held he absconds to Paris where he stays in exile until he emigrates to the United States in 1908.


The British Museum destroys six boxes of "obscene" books ["...offensive matter which is of no value or interest and which could not possibly be distributed] out of the collection that Henry Spencer Ashbee (1834-1900) bequethed to the library at his death.


Charles Carrington (1867-1921), publisher of erotica and psuedo-medical literature is expelled from France for consistently publishing and selling literature "of a very obscene and vulgar character". Carrington moves to Bruxelles and continues his publishing activities, albeit not on a large scale. In 1912 he returns to Paris, broke but he still manages to reopen a bookstore and resume his business until a few months before he dies in 1921.


Anthony Comstock dies. In his 42 year career Comstock claims to have convicted "enough persons to fill a passenger train of 61 coaches -- 60 coaches containing 60 passengers and the 61st not quite full." That's over 3,600 people but the truth is, very few of those people were actually found guilty.

Comstock's sucessor is the non-charimatic, John Saxton Sumner (1876-), a soft-spoken, fire-and-brimstone evangelist who shows no leniency to the heathens who sell copies of Fanny Hill or those who advocate birth-control. In 1915 alone he logs 121 obscenity arrests.


The first volume of Frank Harris' (1856-1931) four volume erotic autobiography My Live and Loves is published/smuggled clandestinely from Mexico by Esar Levine and Benjamin Rebhuhn.

Levine and Rebhuhn continue publishing the first volume after returning to New York in 1924. But in June of 1925 Levine is arrested while arranging the typesetting for volume 2. Volume 2 does eventualy get published with the help (and money) of Ben Miller. In 1927 Levine and Rebhuhn join with a third party to publish volumes 3 and 4. Although a few copies were ready in May of 1927, the printers refused to deal with the "Trinity" and pirated the text of volumes 3 and 4, including a new one-volume edition.


Samuel Roth (1894-1974) is charged with mailing obscene literature [The Perfumed Garden - Kama Shastra Society]. He's found guilty and sentenced to 6 months, suspended. For the next 30 years Roth is arrested at least 13 different times for possession and sale of indecent literature, mailing obscene and salicious material, etc. His last arrest and conviction is in 1955.

September 12, 1923

The International Convention for the Suppression of the Circulation of and Traffic in Obscene Publications treaty is adopted.

July, 1928

D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) has his Lady Chatterley's Lover, "privately printed" in Florence, Italy with the assistance of Pino Orioli. With Lawrence's aid, Orioli distributes the work through the writer's friends, who hide copies and deliver them to booksellers as he instructs. It doesn't take long before expurgated pirated editions abound in both Europe and the United States. The book is banned in the U.S. until 1959 and in the United Kingdom until 1960.

This Orioli edition was printed in a limited edition of 1000 copies on smooth, white laid paper unwatermarked. 8 15/16" x 6 3/8". 365pp. "Printed by the Tipografia Giuntina, directed by L. Franceschini".


5,000 erotic books and circulars are burned. Book burnings become common. The U.S. Post Office is given the power to administer criminal penalties for obscenity violations.

November 25, 1930

An agent of the New England Watch and Ward Society purchases a copy of Lady Chatterly's Lover at the Dunster House Book shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts. James Delancy, the manager, and Joseph Sullivan, his clerk, are both convicted of selling obscene literature, a crime for which Mr. Delancy is fined $800.00 and assigned four months in the house of corrections while Mr. Sullivan is sentenced to two weeks in prison and a $200.00 fine.


$150,000 worth of erotic books and photographs are seized and burned this year. Sumner even helped the workmen stoke up the fires, putting on a show for the reporters.


For the first time in the United States, flagellation books are seen as obscene and fall under the ever watchful eye of the Comstock law, and Sumner.

Up until the mid-30s flagellation novels were not considered obscene and were in fact sold openly. This ended, however, when John Sumner writes his annual report to constituents: "Other books which occupied our attention during the year included paper covered volumes on the subject of flagellation. The illustrations and text tended and were intended solely to appeal to a perverted sex sense. Books of this type might very well arouse sex excitement in a person of unbalanced mind, leading to vicious anti-social acts."

July 16, 1949

French law targets "publications destinées à la jeunesse," [publications intened for the youth]. Initially, the law applied to magazines and periodicals of a semi-salacious nature, usually well illustrated. In 1954 the law was expanded to include printed books as well.


Barney Rosset (1922 - ) buys a failing Grove Press for $3,000.


Olympia Press is founded in Paris by Maurice Girodias (1919-1990), son of Jack Kahane (1887-1939) who founded Obelisk Press (1931-1939).

March, 1954

The French law of 1949 is expanded to include printed books.

January 12, 1956

Samuel Roth is convicted by a jury in the District Court for the Southern District of New York upon 4 counts of a 26-count indictment charging him with mailing obscene circulars and advertising, and an obscene book, in violation of the federal obscenity statute." Roth is sentenced to five years for each count (to run concurently) in the Lewisburg Penitentiary and fined $5,000.

For more information see: Samuel Roth v. United States

June 24, 1957

Samuel Roth's 1956 conviction is upheld on appeal by the US Supreme Court. The court holds that: "Obscenity is not within the area of constitutionally protected freedom of speech or press - either (1) under the First Amendment, as to the Federal Government, or (2) under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as to the States."

A new definition of obscenity, The Roth Test, is also adopted. Now, in order to claim a work is obscene it must pass three criteria: First, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole must appeal to prurient interest in sex; Second, a court must find that the material is patently offensive because it affronts contemporary community standards relating to the description or representation of sexual matters; Third, before something can be found to be obscene it must be utterly without redeeming social value. For more information see: Roth v. United States (354 U.S. 476)

May 6, 1959

The New York Post office impounds 24 packages from Grove Press containing 164 copies of [unexpergated] editions of Lady Chatterley's Lover. A hearing is held on May 28th to determine the mailability of the books. The judge declines to rule the book obscene and refers the decision to the Post Master General (P.O.D. Docket No. M-18). On June 11th, the Postmaster bans Lady Chaterley's Lover from the mails. Barney Rosset immediately sues in the Federal District Court asking that the ruling of the Postmaster be laid aside. On July 21st, after both sides argue their case, Judge Bryan issues an order that the book be allowed all the privileges of the mail (Grove Press v. Christenberry, 175 F. Supp. 488 (S.D.N.Y. 1959). This decision is upheld on March 26, 1960 in Grove Press, Inc. v. Christenberry 276 F.2d 433 (2d Cir. 1960)

November 2, 1960

Penguin Books in England prints off and sends 12 copies of Lady Chatterley's Lover to the Director of Public Prosecutions challenging him to prosecute, which he duly does on this day. After a six day trial the prosecution is unable to prove the book is obscene. On November 10th, Penguin's first run of 200,000 books sells out on it's first day of publication. Within a year Lady Chatterley's Lover sells two million copies, outselling even the Bible.


In Gershon Legman's (1917-1999) introduction to Henry Spencer Ashbee's Bibliography of Prohibited Books (Jack Brussel, 1962), he states "One of the largest libraries in the United States is at the present time under so close a moral surveillance by its trustees, that no catalogue whatsoever of erotic accessions is said to be kept, and these are smuggled helter-skelter into a private room (after having been announced as "destroyed"), in the hope that they can perhaps be brought out and a least catalogued a century from now!"

Legman is speaking of the Library of Congress' "Delta Collection", which was dismantled and integrated into the Rare Books and Special Collections Division in 1964.


The United States Supreme Court rules John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (aka Fanny Hill), does not meet the test for obscenity under the Roth law.

For more information see: Memoirs v. Massachusetts (383 U.S. 413)


Grove Press sucessfully publishes My Secret Life.

With an introduction by Gershon Legman. New York: Grove Press, [n.d.]. 24cm. 2 volumes in slipcase. Vol.1 [Volumes 1-6]: lxiii + 1290pp., Vol.2 [Volumes 7-11]: 1291-2359pp. [numbered columns, pagination continuous]. Unexpurgated.

May 8, 1967

In 1965 a New York City newstand clerk, Robert Redrup, sold two pulp sex novels, Lust Pool and Shame Agent to plainclothes police; for which he is found guilty in 1965. He appeals his case to the Supreme Court where his conviction is over-turned by 7-2. The court's ruling affirmed that consenting adults in the United States ought to be constitutionally entitled to acquire and read any publication that they wish ? including concededly obscene or pornographic ones ? without government intereference.

For more informtion see: Redrup v. State of N.Y. (386 U.S. 767). After this decision, the Supreme Court systematically and summarily reversed, without further opinion, scores of obscenity rulings involving paperback sex books, girlie magazines and peep shows.


President Lyndon Johnson appoints the National Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. The commissioners are charged with: (1) Analyzing laws pertaining to the control of obscenity and pornography and to evaluate and recommend definitions of obscenity and pornography. (2) To ascertain the methods employed in the distribution of obscene and pornographic materials and the nature and volume of traffic in such materials. (3) To study the effect of obscenity and pornography on the public and minors in particular, and porn?s relationship to crime and other antisocial behavior. (4) And to recommend legislation, administrative or other actions to regulate pornography.

To the surprise, and shock, of the conservative leaders who had pushed for the report, the recommendation of the commission called for "the abolition of all general laws that prohibit distribution of obscene materials of the normal consensual kind to adults, and that obscenity laws should just take the form of specific laws dealing with particular kinds of contexts: public displays, unsolicited mailings and distribution to children. The commission also recommended that the country get serious about sex education." Needless to say, that finding infuriated a lot of people and by a vote of 60-5 the Senate effectively dismissed the report like a bad dream.

June 21, 1972

The Miller test for what constitues obscenity in the United States is formed in the trial of Miller v. California.

A work is considered obscene only if all three of the following conditions are satisfied: (1) Whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (2)Whether the work depicts/describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law, (3) Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. For more informtion see: Miller v. California (413 U.S. 15)

October 5, 1990

In April of 1990 the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) in Cincinnati, Ohio holds an exhibit of sexually explict photographs by the late artist Robert Mapplethorpe: "The Perfect Moment". The following day, the Hamilton County Grand Jury indicts CAC and Dennis Barrie (museum currator) for criminal violations of the Ohio obscenity statute. CAC and Barrie are aquitted of the charges when a jury dertermines the photographs in questions do not meet the Miller definition of obscenity.

For more information see article: What Happened When: Censorship, Gay History & Mapplethorpe

Sources Used

•  Avalon Project at Yale Law School.

•  BBC. The Obscene Publications Act, etc. January 30, 2002. .

•  Darnton, Robert. Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France. W.W. Norton & Co., 1995

•  Dutel, Jean-Pierre. Bibliographie des Ouvrages Érotiques 1880-1920. 2001.

•  FindLaw. .

•  Foxon, David. Libertine Literature in England 1660-1745. University Books, 1965.

•  Gertzman, Jay. Bookleggers and Smuthounds. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

•  Gertzman, Jay. A Descriptive Bibliography of Lady Chatterley's Lover. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.

•  Johns, Adrian. The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making, 1998.

•  Kearney, Patrick. A History of Erotic Literature. London: Macmillan, 1982.

•  Kearney, Patrick. Scissor & Paste Bibliographies..

•  McCalman, Iain. Radical underworld. Cambridge University Press, 1988.

•  Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute Archives. .

•  Mendes, Peter. Clandestine Erotic Fiction in English 1800-1930. Scolar Press, 1993.

•  St. Jorre, John de. Venus Bound. New York: Random House, 1994.

•  Thomas, Donald A Long Time Burning. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., 1969.

•  University of Virginia. Special Collections exhibit on Censorship. .

•  USPS Administrative Decisions. .