Navigate / search

In the Galleries: Ogden Nash’s padlocked collection of poetry

One of Ogden Nash's copies of  'Hard Lines' with padlock and chain. Photo by Pete Smith.
One of Ogden Nash's copies of 'Hard Lines' with padlock and chain. Photo by Pete Smith.

“All of these books are worse than opium… I would rather have a child of mine use opium than read these books,” declared Senator Reed Smoot of Utah in March 1930, speaking from behind a desk towering with “smutty” books like Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Robert Burns’s poetry.

In 1929, Senator Smoot and Representative Willis Hawley of Oregon introduced a tariff bill to Congress that included a section restricting the importation of obscene materials, which inspired the widely repeated news headline “Smoot Smites Smut.” Senator Bronson Cutting of New Mexico led a protest against the proposed ban on obscene literature, and the House approved an amendment that removed books from the list of obscene materials.

But the battle wasn’t over. When the full bill reached the Senate in March 1930, Smoot brought book censorship back into the spotlight. After much debate, the Senate returned books to the list of obscene materials with the exception of “classics” and works of “established literary and scientific merit.” The Smoot-Hawley Tariff became law on June 17, 1930.

In response to the controversy, poet Ogden Nash penned “Invocation” and submitted it to The New Yorker, his first published contribution to the magazine, in January 1930.

The first verse reads:

Senator Smoot (Republican, Ut.)
Is planning a ban on smut.
Oh rooti-ti-toot for Smoot of Ut.
And his reverend occiput.
Smite, Smoot, smite for Ut.,
Grit your molars and do your dut.,
Gird up your l__ns,
Smite h_p and th_gh,
We’ll all be Kansas
By and by.

“Invocation” appeared in Nash’s collection Hard Lines. As a publicity stunt, Simon and Schuster sent out advance copies with a chain, padlock, and key attached.

One of Nash’s copies of Hard Lines appears in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored, on display through January 22. Nash intended to send this copy to book critic Alexander Woollcott. The inside front cover of the book includes the beginning of an inscription to Woollcott, but Nash misspelled Woollcott’s name (he forgot the second “l”) and inscribed the book to himself instead:

“For Ogden Nash with the very best wishes of the author. This is one of several advance copies equipped with lock and chain for attention-catching which were sent to current celebrities in hope of eliciting favorable comment. I started to mis-spell Alexander Woollcott’s name in this one, so kept it for myself. Woollcott didn’t like the one he got, even though I spelled his name right.*

*It sold nearly 40,000 copies in spite of him.”

In the Galleries: Censorship of "The Sex Side of Life"

Photo of Mary Ware Dennett from New York Journal American collection.
Photo of Mary Ware Dennett from New York Journal American collection.

In 1919 Mary Ware Dennett (1872–1947) published The Sex Side of Life, a sex-education pamphlet for young people that she originally wrote for her sons. The U.S. Post Office declared the pamphlet obscene in April 1922, and Dennett struggled on her own to get the ruling reversed, all the while continuing to distribute The Sex Side of Life through the mail.

In 1928, in consultation with attorney Morris Ernst, Dennett agreed that it was time to test The Sex Side of Life in court.  The trial came sooner than anticipated when the Justice Department indicted Dennett for mailing the pamphlet to “Mrs. Carl A. Miles” in Virginia. A jury convicted Dennett of distributing obscene material, and the judge fined her $3,000, which Dennett refused to pay. Newspapers and magazines across the country expressed outrage at the jury’s decision. Dennett became a cause célèbre and received a contract from Vanguard Press to write about her experiences.

Dennett’s conviction was overturned on appeal in 1930. In his decision, Judge Augustus Hand wrote: “The defendant’s discussion of the phenomena of sex is written with sincerity of feeling… Any incidental tendency to arouse sex impulses which such a pamphlet may perhaps have, is apart from and subordinate to its main effect.”

A copy of the pamphlet, as well as correspondence documenting its censorship, is on display in Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored through January 22.

Cover of 'The Sex Side of Life' by Mary Ware Dennet.
Cover of 'The Sex Side of Life' by Mary Ware Dennet.

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

University of Texas alumnus Kevin Kautzman portrays John Sumner in 'Censorship Then and Now.' Students in Kathryn Dawson’s 'Applications in Museum Settings' class at The University of Texas at Austin studied performance as a way to bring museum exhibitions to life, including creating characters based on the Center’s exhibition 'Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored.' Photo by Pete Smith.
University of Texas alumnus Kevin Kautzman portrays John Sumner in 'Censorship Then and Now.' Students in Kathryn Dawson’s 'Applications in Museum Settings' class at The University of Texas at Austin studied performance as a way to bring museum exhibitions to life, including creating characters based on the Center’s exhibition 'Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored.' Photo by Pete Smith.
University of Texas at Austin undergraduate student Rachel Panella argues her point as Upton Sinclair in 'Censorship Then and Now,' a performance for area high school students. Photo by Pete Smith.
University of Texas at Austin undergraduate student Rachel Panella argues her point as Upton Sinclair in 'Censorship Then and Now,' a performance for area high school students. Photo by Pete Smith.
As part of their ongoing training at the Ransom Center, volunteers examine Leigh Hunt’s collection of famous people’s hair, including John Keats and John Milton. Photo by Pete Smith.
As part of their ongoing training at the Ransom Center, volunteers examine Leigh Hunt’s collection of famous people’s hair, including John Keats and John Milton. Photo by Pete Smith.

Recommended Reading: Books from the "Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored" exhibition

The Ransom Center’s current exhibition Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored reveals the rarely seen “machinery” of censorship in the United States between the two world wars.  See the Center’s recommended reading list of historically banned books, and visit the exhibition to learn more about these and many other books caught up in the complex world of American censorship. See which book was considered so obscene prosecutors “assiduously avoided using its title in public discussions of the case.”

In the Galleries: Propaganda poster protesting Nazi book burnings

This 1942 poster reminded Americans of the widespread 1933 Nazi book burnings and presented books as playing a fundamental role in the fight against tyranny.
This 1942 poster reminded Americans of the widespread 1933 Nazi book burnings and presented books as playing a fundamental role in the fight against tyranny.

On May 10, 1933, a series of coordinated book burnings took place across Germany. In the academic sphere, the German Students Association’s staged burnings were an attempt to eliminate “un-German” works from university libraries. Addressing the students gathered in Berlin, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels encouraged them to “clean up the debris of the past.” Ultimately more than 25,000 books were burned, including works by Heinrich Heine, Thomas Mann, and Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, and Helen Keller.

The 1933 Nazi-sponsored book burnings in Germany prompted a swift and very public response in the United States. On the day of the burnings, more than 100,000 marchers took to the streets of New York City in protest. American newspapers covered the story extensively, and citizens soon watched the burnings firsthand via newsreel footage in theaters throughout the United States.

In the aftermath, the Brooklyn Jewish Center created a Library of Nazi Banned Books, and the New York Public Library hosted an exhibition of banned books. The book burnings took on greater significance in 1942 as the United States, at war with Germany, pointed to the book burnings as evidence of the Nazi government’s tyranny.

The poster can be seen in the current exhibition Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored, on display through January 22.

In the Galleries: Henry Miller’s "Tropic of Cancer"

Henry Miller's 'Tropic of Cancer' (1934) was banned in the United States for 30 years. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Henry Miller's 'Tropic of Cancer' (1934) was banned in the United States for 30 years. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.

Upon its publication in 1934, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer was deemed obscene by the United States Customs Department and was not legally available in the United States. Editions like this one, published in Japan, were smuggled into the U.S. to satisfy demand. Miller had been seeking an American publisher since 1934 and had hoped to defend Tropic of Cancer in court as early as 1936. Local district attorneys, however, were not persuaded, and over 50 cases against the novel were brought to various state and local courts. The ban on Miller’s work was finally lifted in 1964 after a Florida case made its way to the U. S. Supreme Court, which ruled that Tropic of Cancer may be legally sold and distributed throughout the United States.

Miller’s novel and articles relating to his work are on view in the exhibition Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored through January 22.

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Guests at the “Uncensored” opening party sign a mock Greenwich Village Bookshop Door.  Photo by Pete Smith.
Guests at the “Uncensored” opening party sign a mock Greenwich Village Bookshop Door. Photo by Pete Smith.
Sanctuary Printshop creates souvenir screen printed T-shirts and totebags at the “Uncensored” opening. Photo by Pete Smith.
Sanctuary Printshop creates souvenir screen printed T-shirts and totebags at the “Uncensored” opening. Photo by Pete Smith.
Guests at the “Uncensored” opening party sport “censoring” sunglasses in conjunction with the "Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored" exhibition. Photo by Pete Smith.
Guests at the “Uncensored” opening party sport “censoring” sunglasses in conjunction with the "Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored" exhibition. Photo by Pete Smith.
A student visits the  "Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored" exhibition. Photo by Pete Smith.
A student visits the "Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored" exhibition. Photo by Pete Smith.
David Garza, Superintendent for Flynn Construction, oversees the installation of the air handler for the new acetate film storage vault at the Ransom Center. The completed vault will house acetate film and negatives at a constant temperature of 38 degrees F and 35 percent relative humidity. Photo by Pete Smith.
David Garza, Superintendent for Flynn Construction, oversees the installation of the air handler for the new acetate film storage vault at the Ransom Center. The completed vault will house acetate film and negatives at a constant temperature of 38 degrees F and 35 percent relative humidity. Photo by Pete Smith.

Slideshow: Installation of door from Frank Shay’s Greenwich Village bookshop

The two exhibitions The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920-1925 and Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored are now open at the Ransom Center. In the image gallery below, staff members install the bookshop door in the galleries on Friday.

 

Please click on the thumbnails below to view full-size images.