New York Society for the Suppression of Vice
The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (NYSSV or SSV) was an institution dedicated to supervising the morality
Morality is the differentiation among intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good and bad . A moral code is a system of morality and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code...

 of the public, founded in 1873. Its specific mission was to monitor compliance with state laws and work with the courts and district attorneys in bringing offenders to justice. It and its members also pushed for additional laws against perceived immoral conduct. While the NYSSV is better remembered for its opposition to literary works, it also closely monitored the news-stands, commonly found on city sidewalks and in transportation terminals, which sold the popular magazines of the day.

The NYSSV was founded by Anthony Comstock
Anthony Comstock
Anthony Comstock was a United States Postal Inspector and politician dedicated to ideas of Victorian morality.-Biography:...

 and his supporters in the Young Men's Christian Association. It was chartered by the New York state legislature. After his death in 1915, Comstock was succeeded by John S. Sumner
John S. Sumner
John Saxton Sumner headed the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice , a New York state censorship body empowered to recommend obscenity cases to the appropriate prosecutors. He served as Associate Secretary of the NYSSV for three years, succeeding founder Anthony Comstock as Executive...

. In 1947, the organization's name was changed to the Society to Maintain Public Decency. After Sumner's retirement in 1950, the organization was dissolved. The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice is not to be confused with its namesake, the earlier, 19th century Society for the Suppression of Vice.

Noteworthy actions pursued by the NYSSV

  • 1908: Olga Nethersole
    Olga Nethersole
    Olga Isabella Nethersole, CBE, RRC was an English actress, theatre producer, and wartime nurse/health educator.-Biography:...

     was arrested for "violating public decency" and later found innocent at trial.
  • 1915: Forced off the market Stanisław Przybyszewski's Homo sapiens
    Homo sapiens (novel)
    Homo Sapiens is a trilogy by Polish author Stanisław Przybyszewski. The novels were originally published in German as Uber Bord , Unterwegs and Im Malstrom . It deals with the question of deviance and sexuality, and is counted among Przybyszewski's most important and best-known works...

  • 1916: Forced off the market Theodore Dreiser
    Theodore Dreiser
    Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser was an American novelist and journalist of the naturalist school. His novels often featured main characters who succeeded at their objectives despite a lack of a firm moral code, and literary situations that more closely resemble studies of nature than tales of...

    's The Genius
    The "Genius" (novel)
    The "Genius" is a semi-autobiographical novel by Theodore Dreiser, first published in 1915. It concerns Eugene Witla, a painter, whose strong sexual desire allows the book to explore issues of art, business, love, sexuality, and morality. The book was rapidly banned due to its stark treatment of...

  • 1916: Opposed Margaret Sanger
    Margaret Sanger
    Margaret Higgins Sanger was an American sex educator, nurse, and birth control activist. Sanger coined the term birth control, opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, and established Planned Parenthood...

     and publishers of birth control
    Birth control
    Birth control is an umbrella term for several techniques and methods used to prevent fertilization or to interrupt pregnancy at various stages. Birth control techniques and methods include contraception , contragestion and abortion...

  • 1919: Failed in its effort to suppress the fantasy novel Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice
    Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice
    Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice is a 1919 fantasy book by James Branch Cabell – the eighth among some fifty-two books written by this author – which gained fame shortly after its publication.-The book and its reception:...

     by James Branch Cabell
    James Branch Cabell
    James Branch Cabell, ; April 14, 1879 – May 5, 1958) was an American author of fantasy fiction and belles lettres. Cabell was well regarded by his contemporaries, including H. L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis. His works were considered escapist and fit well in the culture of the 1920s, when his...

     and ended up giving it considerable publicity and boosting its sales.
  • 1919: At its urging a police raid at the Everard Baths
    Everard Baths
    The Everard Baths or Everard Spa Turkish Bathhouse was a gay bathhouse at 28 West 28th Street in New York City that operated from 1888 to 1985...

     resulted in nine arrests.
  • 1920: After the magazine The Little Review
    The Little Review
    The Little Review, an American literary magazine founded by Margaret Anderson, published literary and art work from 1914 to 1929. With the help of Jane Heap and Ezra Pound, Anderson created a magazine that featured a wide variety of transatlantic modernists and cultivated many early examples of...

     serialized a passage of the book Ulysses
    Ulysses (novel)
    Ulysses is a novel by the Irish author James Joyce. It was first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920, and then published in its entirety by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, in Paris. One of the most important works of Modernist literature,...

     dealing with the main character masturbating, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, who objected to the book's content, took action to attempt to keep the book out of the United States. At a trial in 1921 the magazine was declared obscene and as a result Ulysses was banned in the United States.
  • 1920s and '30s: Prosecuted a long war against the so-called "girlie pulps," which featured titillating fiction, sometimes accompanied with nude photography.
  • 1925: Attacked as indecent the magazines Artists and Models and Art Lovers' Magazine.
  • 1927: Attacked publisher Bernarr Macfadden
    Bernarr Macfadden
    Bernarr Macfadden was an influential American proponent of physical culture, a combination of bodybuilding with nutritional and health theories...

    's newspaper, the New York Graphic
    New York Graphic
    The New York Evening Graphic was a tabloid newspaper published from 1924 to 1932 by Bernarr "Bodylove" Macfadden...

  • 1927: Shut down Mae West
    Mae West
    Mae West was an American actress, playwright, screenwriter and sex symbol whose entertainment career spanned seven decades....

    's first starring role on Broadway
    Broadway (New York City)
    Broadway is a prominent avenue in New York City, United States, which runs through the full length of the borough of Manhattan and continues northward through the Bronx borough before terminating in Westchester County, New York. It is the oldest north–south main thoroughfare in the city, dating to...

    , the play Sex
    Sex (play)
    Sex is a 1926 play, written by, and starring, Mae West. It was very popular for about a year before the New York Police Department raided West and her company in February of 1927...

    . West spent ten days in jail.
  • 1929: Seized 3,000 books from three book dealers; titles included Ulysses
    Ulysses (novel)
    Ulysses is a novel by the Irish author James Joyce. It was first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920, and then published in its entirety by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, in Paris. One of the most important works of Modernist literature,...

    , Lady Chatterley's Lover
    Lady Chatterley's Lover
    Lady Chatterley's Lover is a novel by D. H. Lawrence, first published in 1928. The first edition was printed privately in Florence, Italy with assistance from Pino Orioli; it could not be published openly in the United Kingdom until 1960...

    , and novels by Oscar Wilde
    Oscar Wilde
    Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s...

    , Frank Harris
    Frank Harris
    Frank Harris was a Irish-born, naturalized-American author, editor, journalist and publisher, who was friendly with many well-known figures of his day...

     and Clement Wood
    Clement Wood
    Clement Richardson Wood was an American writer.He mainly wrote poetry, but he also wrote Tom Sawyer Grows Up, a sequel to Twain's work....

  • 1930: Forced pulp
    Pulp magazine
    Pulp magazines , also collectively known as pulp fiction, refers to inexpensive fiction magazines published from 1896 through the 1950s. The typical pulp magazine was seven inches wide by ten inches high, half an inch thick, and 128 pages long...

     publisher Harold Hersey
    Harold Hersey
    Harold Brainerd Hersey was a pulp editor and publisher, and published several volumes of poetry. His pulp industry observations were published in hardback as Pulpwood Editor .-Early life:...

     to suppress the depiction of violence and lawlessness in his new line of gang pulps, which included Gangster Stories
    Gangster Stories
    Gangster Stories was a controversial pulp magazine of the early 1930s. It featured hardboiled crime fiction that glorified the gun-toting gangsters of the Prohibition era. It was published by Harold Hersey, as part of his Good Story Magazine Company pulp chain. The inaugural issue was dated...

     and Racketeer Stories.
  • 1932: Falsely arrested a bookseller for displaying a book on nudism in his store's window. John S. Sumner, secretary of the society, was ordered to pay the bookseller $500 in restitution.
  • 1933: Lost fight to have Erskine Caldwell
    Erskine Caldwell
    Erskine Preston Caldwell was an American author. His writings about poverty, racism and social problems in his native South like the novels Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre won him critical acclaim, but they also made him controversial among fellow Southerners of the time who felt he was...

    's novel God's Little Acre
    God's Little Acre
    God's Little Acre is a 1933 novel by Erskine Caldwell, which was made into a film of the same name in 1958.The novel was so controversial that the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice attempted to censor it, leading to the author's arrest and trial for obscenity...

     declared obscene.
  • 1934: Raided magazine "back-number" shops to confiscate four new magazines with the titles Real Boudoir Tales, Real Temptation Tales, Real Forbidden Sweets, and Real French Capers.
  • 1935: Charged that Jim Tully
    Jim Tully
    Jim Tully was a vagabond, pugilist, and American writer. His critical and commercial success in the 1920s and 30s may qualify him as the greatest long shot in American literature.Born near St...

    's novel Ladies in the Parlor was indecent and emphasized "dirt in the raw."
  • 1937: Attempted to block circulation of James T. Farrell
    James T. Farrell
    James Thomas Farrell was an American novelist. One of his most famous works was the Studs Lonigan trilogy, which was made into a film in 1960 and into a television miniseries in 1979...

    's novel A World I Never Made for using obscene language.
  • 1946: Charged Edmund Wilson
    Edmund Wilson
    Edmund Wilson was an American writer and literary and social critic and noted man of letters.-Early life:Wilson was born in Red Bank, New Jersey. His father, Edmund Wilson, Sr., was a lawyer and served as New Jersey Attorney General. Wilson attended The Hill School, a college preparatory...

    's Memoirs of Hecate County
    Memoirs of Hecate County
    Memoirs of Hecate County is a work of fiction by Edmund Wilson, first published in 1946, but banned in the United States until 1959, when it was reissued with minor revisions by the author....

     with obscenity.

See also

  • Comstock Law
    Comstock Law
    The Comstock Act, , enacted March 3, 1873, was a United States federal law which amended the Post Office Act and made it illegal to send any "obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious" materials through the mail, including contraceptive devices and information. In addition to banning contraceptives, this...

  • Vice
    Vice is a practice or a behavior or habit considered immoral, depraved, or degrading in the associated society. In more minor usage, vice can refer to a fault, a defect, an infirmity, or merely a bad habit. Synonyms for vice include fault, depravity, sin, iniquity, wickedness, and corruption...

  • Censorship
    thumb|[[Book burning]] following the [[1973 Chilean coup d'état|1973 coup]] that installed the [[Military government of Chile |Pinochet regime]] in Chile...

  • Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice
    Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice
    Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice is a 1919 fantasy book by James Branch Cabell – the eighth among some fifty-two books written by this author – which gained fame shortly after its publication.-The book and its reception:...

  • Book burning
    Book burning
    Book burning, biblioclasm or libricide is the practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, books or other written material and media. In modern times, other forms of media, such as phonograph records, video tapes, and CDs have also been ceremoniously burned, torched, or shredded...

Further Reading

Gertzman, Jay A. Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. ISBN 0812217985
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