Banned in Boston

This phrase ‘Banned in Boston’ was used from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century, to describe a book, drawing, artwork, play, song, or movie which had been prohibited from distribution or exhibition in the city of Boston, Massachusetts. Boston officials had wide authority to ban works featuring “objectionable” content, and often banned works with sexual content or foul language.

During the late 1800s, there was a ‘moral crusader’ named Anthony Comstock who started a campaign to suppress anything considered ‘vice’. He had great support for this campaign in Boston among the socially prominent and influential officials. This was to prevent even anything that was deemed ‘obscene’ from being delivered by the U. S. Postal System.

Boston’s city officials took it upon themselves to ban anything that they found to be salacious, inappropriate, or offensive. As it turned out many plays, books, etc ‘banned in Boston’, the commercial distributors were often pleased when their works were banned — it gave them more appeal elsewhere.

In the early 20th century the term “banned in Boston” became code for books and plays that were juicy, maybe a bit raunchy, but totally legal. These books and other works, however, would likely not make it past the New England Watch and Ward Society, the watchdog for Boston then.

This continued into the 20th century and even into the 1950s and 60s. By the late 1960s, the organization New England Watch and Ward Society was changed to New England Citizens Crime Commission and made its main emphasis against gambling and drugs and less on media.

Here are a few examples of banned in Boston items: ‘Leaves of Grass’ by Walt Whitman in 1881; a play ‘Desire Under the Elms’ by Eugene O’Neill in 1926; ‘The Sun Also Rises’ by Ernest Hemingway in 1927; ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ by D. H. Lawrence in 1929; ‘God’s Little Acre’ by Erskine Caldwell in 1933; and ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ a song by the Everly Brothers in 1957.

Even the Roman Catholic Church banned the original recording by Jimmy Boyd, recorded on July 15, 1952, when he was 13 years old, of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. The reason given by the church was “on the grounds that it mixed kissing with Christmas.” Jimmy Boyd met with the Archdiocese and explain the song. Afterward the ban was lifted.

Photo: Record cover of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by Jimmy Boyd.

Related Blogs:

‘Boston Marriage’

Port of Boston Immigrates

1900—The Ugly Laws

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