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Sat Sep 21, 2019, 09:30 PM

The 19th-Century Troll Who Hated Dirty Postcards and Sex Toys

In the 1870s, New York City was a haven for artists and radicals. But it was also the nursery for a new kind of moral activism. Led by Anthony Comstock, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice became a media sensation by targeting feminists in a culture war over obscenity and birth control. He then used his fame to lobby Congress for laws that arguably halted the progress of reproductive rights for almost a century. His tactics — a combination of media manipulation and ruthless legal strategies — are a precursor to those used by anti-feminists on social media and in Washington today.

Comstock started his career as a small-time crusader for Christian values. He moved to Brooklyn from Connecticut in the late 1860s and took a job working for a dry goods merchant, but he had bigger plans. When another clerk revealed that he was buying erotic literature at a bookstore nearby, Comstock took it upon himself to investigate. After buying some of the illicit materials, he went to the police and got the shopkeeper arrested for obscenity. Hailed in a few local papers as a hero, Comstock gained a taste for notoriety.

He joined the activist wing of the YMCA, inviting New York reporters along to his busts, where he worked with the police to shut down shops that did mail-order business in rubber dildos and “French postcards” featuring photographs of scantily clad women. Comstock gave speeches and wrote books about how the postal system had become a “putrid stream” of the “filthy productions of licentious minds.”

Supported by wealthy men including J. Pierpont Morgan and Samuel Colgate (yes, the founder of the soap and toothpaste company), Comstock became a full-time activist. But he remained mostly a local nuisance until he found a target famous enough to get him national attention. He decided to take down Victoria Woodhull, who was running for president in the 1872 election. She and her sister Tennessee Claflin had opened the first woman-run brokerage firm on Wall Street and ran a newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, dedicated to women’s suffrage, socialism and “free love,” a term she popularized to describe sex outside the strictures of marriage.


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Reply The 19th-Century Troll Who Hated Dirty Postcards and Sex Toys (Original post)
Zorro Sep 21 OP
Karadeniz Sep 21 #1
scarletwoman Sep 21 #2

Response to Zorro (Original post)

Sat Sep 21, 2019, 09:34 PM

1. How do the French say it...the more things change, the more they are the same.

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Response to Karadeniz (Reply #1)

Sat Sep 21, 2019, 10:46 PM

2. Plus a change, plus c'est la mme chose. nt

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