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Books Behind Bars. The Rhode Island Commission to Encourage Morality in Youth, 1956-1964. Nice Happy Family. Working women in WWII and “Baby Boom” during and after war created an increasingly family and child centered culture.

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Books Behind Bars

The Rhode Island Commission to Encourage Morality in Youth, 1956-1964


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Nice Happy Family

  • Working women in WWII and “Baby Boom” during and after war created an increasingly family and child centered culture.

  • Well-known stereotypical image of “perfect family” created by movies and new media, television.

  • Emphasis on morality (usually cerntered around religion) and community.


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Add some Bad Influences…

  • Fears arose over seemingly new “teenage” culture, especially as it was depicted in movies and on television.

  • Seduction of the Innocent and other publications hypothesized that children were learning immoral behavior from the media, especially comic books, magazines, and film.

  • National and local government action, usually in the form of special commissions, investigated these claims.


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Players

  • Commission created by R.I. General Assembly in April of 1956

  • Five (later nine) member panel appointed by Governor Roberts

  • Charged “to educate, (…) to investigate, and recommend the prosecution of all violations” of sections of R.I.’s obscenity law.

  • Members would examine materials and vote on their ‘objectionable’ nature, sending out notices to local police and book sellers.


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Problems

  • Local newspaper, Providence Journal-Bulletin, attacked Commission extra-legal tactics

  • Civil libertarians and even a member of the Commission began to disagree with the ‘guide list’ method

  • Book distributors in RI & NY began a five year legal campaign that ended in 1963, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Commission’s activities and tactics were unconstitutional in the case Bantam Books, Inc. v. Sullivan.


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External Factors:

Opposition from local newspaper and individuals concerned with free speech

Lack of cooperation from subsequent government administrations

Changes in obscenity laws and legal decisions nationwide

Internal Factors:

Disagreements over tactics within Commission

Problems/weakness in implementation of “positive” programs to encourage youth

Personnel problems

Lack of focus and refusal to curb ‘blacklisting’ program

The Little Death


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Commission not well-known aspect of R.I. History

No substantial work has been done on the history of the Commission

Secondary work consisted of background on censorship and Cold War culture

Employed the use of available Commission records from R.I. state archives

Relevant local newspaper articles spanning nine years of Commission’s existence.

Peep Show


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