Comstock, Anthony

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Comstock, Anthony

(kŏm`stŏk), 1844–1915, American morals crusader, b. New Canaan, Conn. He served with the Union army in the Civil War and was later active as an antiabortionist and in advocating the suppression of obscene literature. He was the author of the comprehensive New York state statute (1868) forbidding immoral works, and in 1873 he secured stricter federal postal legislation against obscene matter. That same year he organized the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. As secretary of the society until his death, Comstock was responsible for the destruction of 160 tons of literature and pictures. For his liberal enemies he became the symbol of licensed bigotry and for his supporters the symbol of stalwart defense of conventional morals. Comstock also inspired the Watch and Ward Society of Boston.

Bibliography

See biographies by H. Broun and M. Leech (1927) and De Robinge Bennett (repr. 1971).

Comstock, Anthony

(1844–1915) in comstockery, immortalized advocate of blue-nosed censorship. [Am. Hist.: Espy, 135]

Comstock, Anthony

(1844–1915) reformer; born in New Canaan, Conn. A Civil War veteran, he worked as a shipping clerk and retail salesman (1865–73), eventually in New York City, and pursued legal actions against book dealers selling allegedly obscene material. In 1873 he won passage of federal legislation prohibiting the mailing of obscene material. From 1875 on, as secretary to the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, he zealously opposed activities he considered immoral, often conducting sensational raids. His targets included writers and publishers, abortionists, dispensers of contraceptives, and art galleries with "indecent" pictures; although not as well known for this in later years, it is also true that he fought quacks and purveyors of patent medicines and as such was a precursor of the consumer protection movement. He lost a legal battle to ban a production of George Bernard Shaw's play Mrs. Warren's Profession in New York (1905); it was Shaw who coined the word "comstockery" from Comstock's name. Comstock boasted of having destroyed "160 tons of obscene literature" in his lifetime and driven 15 people to suicide.
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or Anthony Comstock, shall decide what books may be read; whether freedom of conscience, of speech, of the press, and of the mails, the most precious and indispensable achievements of civilization, are to be permanently suppressed in these States.
According to one diatribe, the "orthodox obscenest," Anthony Comstock, had become "President de facto of these States" in 1873.
As elite defenders of family and cultural status, Nicola Beisel, Imperiled Innocents: Anthony Comstock and Family Reproduction in Victorian America (Princeton, N.
Trumbull, Anthony Comstock, Fighter: Some Impressions of a Lifetime of Adventure in Conflict with the Powers of Evil (New York: Fleming, 1913), 51; Anthony Comstock, "The Suppresion of Vice," North American Review 135 (1882): 484.
Anthony Comstock, whose name is associated with many efforts to root out what was considered obscene, immoral, or pornographic in the nineteenth century, figures prominently in Fuller's story as one committed to protecting Americans from temptation and therefore to assuring their adhering to evangelical moral standards.
In 1873 Anthony Comstock, America's first great vice hunter, lamented the state of the union in his diary.
The anti-obscenity law, the result of the relentless campaigning of its namesake, purity crusader Anthony Comstock, proscribed, among other things, the private or public dissemination of any
Anthony Comstock, a special agent for the Post Office for whom the censorious, 1873 Comstock Law was named, declared before the first film ever flickered that a 14-year-old boy was driven to murder by reading sensationalistic nickel novels of the 19th century.
Their bestknown foe was a man whose name has become synonymous with prudish censorship: Anthony Comstock, Christian fundamentalist and founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, who devoted his life to suppressing sexual, anti-clerical, and otherwise "immoral" literature.
The advice books examined here obviously were written for a lay middle-class audience (notwithstanding the inscriptions on their title pages, for the benefit of Anthony Comstock and his myrmidons, that they were for the use of those in the medical or legal profession only).