If Anthony Comstock had his way, today’s card would not be delivered (and I might have gotten a scolding — or worse since I am a woman). Luckily for me, Mr. Comstock died in 1915 though his “work” persists. Comstock was a crusader for what he believed was decency. What I believe about it is for another time.
In 1873, Congress passed the Comstock Act. The act made it illegal (and still does, though definitions have changed) to send “obscene literature and articles of immoral use” through the US Mail. What, you may ask, constitutes “obscene literature” or “articles of immoral use”? Well, in 1873, they included articles, ads, postcards, etc. related to the following:
- Erotica (of course)
- Sex (ANY mention of sex — for any reason)
- Venereal diseases
- Hygiene (if naughty bits were mentioned)
- Ankles (specifically, women’s ankles)
Amanda Frisken’s article, Obscenity, Free Speech, and “Sporting News” in 1870s America covers this topic in detail. It’s available for free through jstor.org if your library or an institution you belong to has a partnership with the org. You can find a list of partner orgs here. I wish I had a more elegant way of telling you how to log in if you do belong to a partner org. After several failed attempts to let the site guide me, I googled “Multnomah library jstor.” The top result was a log-in page. I entered my library card number and password and was able to access the site and article.
An interesting little Comstock Act tidbit…until 1997, information (any information) regarding abortion was still considered obscene.