Anthony Comstock, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, and the YMCA

The disruptions of the U.S. Civil War created great anxiety about the things that young men might have seen while away from the protective eyes of their families and churches. Learn more about Anthony Comstock's crusade, in partnership with the YMCA in Ne

Timeline

1865

Comstock is mustered out of the Army at the end of the Civil War, during which he had served in Florida as a delegate to the Christian Commission

1865

Federal Post Office law passed making it illegal to send any “obscene book, pamphlet, picture, print or other publication of a vulgar and indecent character” through the US mail

1866

Sermon by Rev. Stephen H. Tyng, Jr., preached the annual sermon, “Entreat the younger men as brethren,” detailing the kinds of vice and sin the YMCA could counteract

1866

Robert McBurney of the New York YMCA conducts a study of vice in New York City, published as A Memorandum Respecting New York as a Field for Moral and Christian Effort Among Young Men…

1866

Comstock moves to New York and joins the YMCA, later moving to Brooklyn

1867

Verranus Morse’s YMCA lecture on Amusements (published 1868)

1868

New York State law passed, “An Act for the suppression of the trade in and circulation of obscene literature, illustrations, advertisements, and articles of Indecent or immoral use, and obscene advertisements of patent medicines.”

1868

Comstock makes his first foray into anti-vice work, pursuing and having arrested the seller of the erotic materials that Comstock believed had led to a friend’s decline and death

1870

New York YMCA annual report notes that “Vice is assuming a bolder front in our community … ”

1871

Comstock begins campaigning to enforce the Sunday closing laws; described in annual report as “volunteer detective”

1871

New York YMCA annual report (1872) describes activities of the New York YMCA’s Committee for the Suppression of Vice

1872

Comstock requests funds from the New York YMCA; subsequently attends meeting of YMCA leaders at the home of Morris Jesup who had answered Comstock’s request for funds, providing him with $600

1872

In December, Comstock visits Washington D.C. to enlist support for a strengthened anti-obscenity law

1872

1865 federal post office law strengthened by adding postcards with scurrilous and defaming writing to the list of materials that could not be sent through the US mail

1873

In February, Comstock again traveled to Washington armed with a display of examples of the materials that he had confiscated in New York City while acting as the agent for the YMCA’s Committee for the Suppression of Vice

1873

Enactment of federal Comstock Law in March

1873

Comstock appointed as a special agent of the Post Office to oversee enforcement of the new law

1874

New York YMCA annual report of 1874 announces that an independent society had been formed (in 1873); also lists the obscene items seized and arrests made

1876

Comstock Act amended and strengthened with harsher penalties

Last Updated: Jul 9, 2021 11:58 AM