This kept him quite busy, because the foes of such advocacy were legion: Postal Inspector Anthony Comstock
was on the lookout for smut (a category that extended to birth control education and discussion of abortion); red-baiting prosecutors sought to protect the prerogatives, wealth and untouchability of the capitalist class by going after that class's critics for sedition (not to mention deploying armies of goons to suppress unionism); and warmongers, led by the Wilson White House, treated as treasonous any challenge to the waging of the First World War or the conscription required to make that war possible.
was slated from the outset to fill that position.
Weingarten describes the unlikely alliance of US postal inspector and antiabortion activist Anthony Comstock
and birth control advocate Margaret Sanger.
fought for the North during the Civil War and returned to New York City deeply offended by the widespread circulation of obscene images among his fellow soldiers.
At the heart of this story is the book's protagonist, Anthony Comstock
. Comstock was head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice whose mission was to protect citizens from the dangers of obscenity and blasphemy.
Under the Comstock Act of 1873, Americans who trafficked in birth control could be "imprisoned at hard labor in the Penitentiary for not less than six months nor more than five years each offense, or fined not less than $100 nor more than $2,000, with costs of court." The moral crusader Anthony Comstock
was made a special agent of the Post Office, and he spent the next 42 years vigorously enforcing the new law.
1873 Postal inspector Anthony Comstock
crusades against "obscenity" such as birth control.
The Constitution also reported that New York City newspapers, aided by Anthony Comstock
, an agent for the Society for the Suppression of Vice, had joined in a crusade in that city against the photographs, while the cigarette dealers responded that the pictures were no more immoral or indecent than the pictures of well-known actresses exhibited in the bars of leading hotels.
Individual articles are occasionally sarcastic, argumentative, or otherwise written in a way that seems inappropriate for a work of reference--for example, the entry on the antivice crusader Anthony Comstock
ends, 'His cadaver was put into a hole in Brooklyn, New York' (209), where 'He was buried in Brooklyn, New York' would have sufficed.
Examples include the Borgias who changed church rules and local laws to sanction their immoral behavior; an overview of the Spanish Inquisition and its failed war on heresy; and the American Anthony Comstock
whose campaign against "sneering godless liberals" drove him to destroy obscene books and oppose nude art and birth control.
, the most notorious of these crusaders, started out in New York as a stock clerk in a dry-goods store, which may explain why, in his new career as a public scourge, he failed at first to intimidate the city's tough and amply bribed cops and judges into prosecuting obscenity.
Each of the seven chapters highlights the movement's better-and lesser-known figures, cases, and acts, including Anthony Comstock
and his Comstock Act and Roe attorney Linda Coffee.