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Comstock, Anthony (kŏmˈstŏk), 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.
See biographies by H. Broun and M. Leech (1927) and De Robinge Bennett (repr. 1971).
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(1844–1915) in comstockery, immortalized advocate of blue-nosed censorship. [Am. Hist.: Espy, 135]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.