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The New England Watch and Ward Society$
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P. C. Kemeny

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190844394

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190844394.001.0001

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The Demise of Protestant Moral Reform Politics

The Demise of Protestant Moral Reform Politics

(p.229) 8 The Demise of Protestant Moral Reform Politics
The New England Watch and Ward Society

P. C. Kemeny

Oxford University Press

In the 1920s the Watch and Ward Society suddenly and dramatically lost its role as custodian of morally acceptable literature. In the early 1920s the organization enjoyed a string of victories, including the disbarment of the Suffolk Country (Boston) district attorney. A series of controversies in the second half of the decade, however, led to its demise. These controversies began with the Watch and Ward Society’s arrest of H. L. Mencken in the spring of 1926 for selling a banned issue of the American Mercury and continued with the suppression of such popular works as Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry and Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and the conviction of a well-respected Cambridge bookdealer and his assistant for selling D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. These controversies helped galvanize a coalition of avant-garde writers, their publishers, and civil libertarians who succeeded in discrediting the Watch and Ward Society and revising Massachusetts’s obscenity law.

Keywords:   New England Watch and Ward Society, H. L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry, Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy, D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, censorship and civil libertarians, modernism

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