“Mandating Morality:” The Comstock Act and Obscenity Cases in the National Archives

Today’s post comes from Kris Jarosik, education specialist at the National Archives at Chicago, working alongside Ang Reidell, education specialist at the National Archives at Philadelphia.

There was a time when the U.S. government seized photos and pamphlets and confiscated contraception sent through the mail. Thousands were charged with breaking federal law and over 500 cases were prosecuted in Chicago alone during a forty-year span.  The 1872 Comstock Act prohibited sending “obscene” materials—including birth control information or products—through the mail.

Photograph of Miss Flossy Lee
“Miss Flossy Lee” from the 1891 case U.S. v. Dunton

Learn more about the men and women who pushed back against the restrictive 1872 Comstock legislation in our upcoming webinar and public program at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

“Mandating Morality:” The Comstock Act and Obscenity Cases in the National Archives will take place next Thursday, May 9 from 1:00–3:00 PM (EST).

In this program, hosted by National Archives Education Specialist Ang Reidell, Dr. Jennifer Janofsky and Villanova University Public History graduate students will offer a glance into some fascinating and little-known records in the National Archives, and the intriguing stories they hold.  The Villanova graduate students worked with the National Archives education team throughout the country to conduct this groundbreaking research.

Please join us for this free, engaging and thought-provoking program about the changing meaning of obscenity and what can happen when laws mandating morality are passed.

  • In person in Kirby Auditorium, on the 2nd floor of the National Constitution Center
  • Online
    • Sign in 5 minutes prior to start time, limited space is available.
    • Enter as a guest by typing your name.
    • There will be a viewing pane for the presentation and a live chat for questions and discussion.
    • If you experience any technical difficulties the day of the program, e-mail hta@constitutioncenter.org.

The image from this post is: “Miss Flossy Lee,” U.S. v. Dunton, 1891; Case Files, compiled 1866-1909; Textual Records from the Department of Justice; Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Judicial District of Maine; Records of U.S. Attorneys, Record Group 118; National Archives at Boston, Waltham, MA.


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