US History 111
The Criminally Obscene Women of Chicago
by Shirley J. Burton
* The popularity of so-called “hootchie cootchie” shows in Chicago, created a need to censor sexual exploits. * Anthony Comstock was charged with the task of enforcing the federal obscenity statute. He argued for government suppression of sexually explicit materials, feeling that it would threaten self-control and contribute to societies moral decay. * Ida Craddock believed that sexuality could be better controlled through education. She would send out educational pamphlets and provide sexual counseling to her readers. * The use of the mail is what led to Ida Craddock and women like her to be prosecuted between 1973 and 1913 for being “criminally obscene”. * The federal obscenity law prohibited sending “obscene or lewd” materials through the mail. * Using the federal obscenity law of 1873, reformers hoped to confine sexuality to the standard of marital chastity for men and women. * Most obscenity prosecutions in Chicago court were not directed at the commerce in either sexually explicit publications or in contraceptives and abortifacients, but rather personal correspondence- “obscene” letters and post cards sent through the mail.
* One in five defendants like Ida Craddock were charged with mailing “obscene” books or pictures. * Obscenity prosecution was a serious matter likely to end in a criminal penalty. * Mail obscenity law was a middle-class crime that played a significant role in the late-nineteenth century efforts to keep sex tied to reproduction. * Woman violators were usually charged with offering contraceptives, abortifacients, or sex manuals by mail. * All defendants indicted for mailing blatantly titillating nude pictures or literature were male.
* The criminally obscene women of Chicago played a large part of the dynamic change of the recurring struggle between regulation and...