New York Society for the Suppression of Vice

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New York Society for the Suppression of Vice
AbbreviationNYSSV or SSV
FoundedMay 1873 (1873-05)
FounderAnthony Comstock
Dissolved1950 (1950)

The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (NYSSV or SSV) was an institution dedicated to supervising the morality 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 newsstands, commonly found on city sidewalks and in transportation terminals, which sold the popular newspapers and periodicals of the day.


The May 2023 cover of THE TRUTH SEEKER, World's Oldest Freethought Publication. Founded by D.M. Bennett in 1873, THE TRUTH SEEKER has alerted Americans about the Comstock Act for a century and a half.

The NYSSV was founded by Anthony Comstock and his supporters in the Young Men's Christian Association. In May 1873, the NYSSV was chartered by the New York state legislature,[1][2] which granted its agents the powers of search, seizure, and arrest, and awarded the society half of all fines levied in resulting cases.[3]

Later that year, The New York Times said that the Society's efforts would be in vain because "widely read newspapers can flaunt criminal advertisements, or prurient or sensuous descriptions and accounts of the proceedings of the divorce courts, and other nastiness, before their readers, not only unpunished, but with the moral support of the oftentimes respectable and religious families that patronize them."[4] The New York Daily Herald complimented the Society for suppressing obscene literature that causes "destruction of the corner stone of our societal system" and has "tainted and poisoned" the minds of children.[5]

After Comstock's death in 1915, he was succeeded by John S. Sumner.[6][7] In 1947, the organization's name was changed to the Society to Maintain Public Decency because the former name no longer described the society's work.[8][9]

After Sumner's retirement in 1950, the organization was dissolved.

Actions pursued[edit]


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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bills Passed". Buffalo Morning Express. May 7, 1873. p. 1.
  2. ^ "Legislative Record". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York). May 13, 1873. p. 4.
  3. ^ Encyclopedia of Censorship. New York: Facts on File, 2005. Page 522.
  4. ^ "A Hint to Preachers". The New York Times. December 28, 1873. p. 4.
  5. ^ "Obscene Literature". New York Daily Herald. November 1, 1874. p. 10.
  6. ^ "John Summer to Continue Anthony Comstock's Work". Buffalo Evening News. October 4, 1915. p. 15.
  7. ^ Kreymborg, Alfred, Troubador, 1925, chapter 12, page 79 of the 1957, Sagamore Press paperback.
  8. ^ "Vice Suppression Society Tones Down Its Name". United Press International. Dunkirk Evening Observer (Dunkirk, New York). July 28, 1947. p. 2.
  9. ^ "New Name Chosen by Sumner Group". The New York Times. July 3, 1947.
  10. ^ "The Sapho Affair". American Experience. Retrieved 2011-03-19.
  11. ^ Dawn B. Sova (August 2006). Literature suppressed on sexual grounds. Infobase Publishing. pp. 108–109. ISBN 978-0-8160-6272-0. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
  12. ^ "Vice Society Assails Book," New York Times, August 21, 1916.
  13. ^ "Vice Society Head Hissed By Women," New York Times, November 18, 1916.
  14. ^ Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 by George Chauncey Basic Books (May 18, 1995) ISBN 0-465-02621-4
  15. ^ "Banning Jurgen". James Branch Cabell: Literary Life and Legacy. September 2021. Retrieved September 11, 2021.
  16. ^ Bill Morgan and Nancy Joyce Peters, (2006). Howl on trial: the battle for free expression. City Lights Books, ISBN 0-87286-479-0 (p. 9).
  17. ^ Ellis, Douglas. Uncovered: The Hidden Art of the Girlie Pulps. Adventure House, 2003. ISBN 1-886937-74-5.
  18. ^ "Magazine Sales Attacked in Court," New York Times, May 30, 1925.
  19. ^ "Graphic Publisher Is Haled to Court," New York Times, February 5, 1927.
  20. ^ "Seize 3,000 Books as 'Indecent' Writing," New York Times, October 5, 1929.
  21. ^ Locke, John; editor. Gang Pulp. Off-Trail Publications, 2008. ISBN 978-1-935031-00-0.
  22. ^ "Sumner Must Pay $500 for False Arrest Of Bookseller Over Pictures on Nudism", The New York Times. April 16, 1936. Page 6.
  23. ^ "Bookseller Fined $200". The New York Times. May 13, 1933.
  24. ^ "Sumner Defeated in Fight on a Book," New York Times, May 24, 1933.
  25. ^ "11,744 New Magazines Seized as Indecent," New York Times, October 10, 1934.
  26. ^ "Tully Book 'Indecent,' " New York Times, August 17, 1935.
  27. ^ "Suit Seeks to Ban Novel by Farrell" New York Times, January 15, 1937.
  28. ^ "Many Shops Halt Seized Book Sale" New York Times, July 10, 1946.
  29. ^ " 'Hecate' Obscene; Publisher Is Fined" New York Times, November 28, 1946.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gertzman, Jay A. Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920–1940, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8122-1798-5