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In the late nineteenth century, Anthony Comstock launched a campaign against "obscenity" that successfully led to the 1893 passage of the Comstock Act for "Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use." Comstock's campaign was undergirded by xenophobia and classism, targeting recent immigrant communities. This online exhibit from Google Arts & Culture and the U.S. National Archives provides insight into the history of the campaign against "obscenity" in Philadelphia, through legal documents from five major court cases. As the team behind this site notes, Comstock's crusade was never as popular in Philadelphia as it was in New York due to Philadelphia's relatively low immigrant population. This ambivalence contributed to some successful challenges to obscenity charges. For example, in 1883, Algernon H. Wilcox and Augustus S. Meyers stood trial for circulating a pamphlet that provided advice about how one might find "an article or thing designed and intended for the prevention of conception." The jury, however, refused to convict the two. In contrast, Isiah Gaines, charged in 1889 with "depositing in the U.S. mail an obscene letter," was charged $25 and held at Philadelphia County Prison until he was able to pay the fee.
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Scout Publication
Date of Scout Publication 2017-09-29
Archived Scout Publication URL https://scout.wisc.edu/report/2017/0929

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