Physical Culture

On October 5, 1905, Anthony Comstock raided the offices of The Physical Culture Publishing Company and arrested its founder and owner, Bernarr Macfadden.

Physical Culture

The charge was spreading pornography via the posters for a “Mammoth Physical Culture Exhibition” to be held at Madison Square Garden. The posters showed the winners of the physique competitions at the previous year’s show, i.e., “the women prize winners, ten or twelve young women in white union suits with sashes around their waists” and another with Al Treloar, the men’s winner, wearing a leopard-skin loincloth and sandals.

Comstock Physical Culture

The posters’ printer was also arrested, and 12,000 of the posters were confiscated. The local press reported, “The offending posters are in the archives of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. The archives occupy room No. 1008 of the society’s suite, the portals of which are barred and double-bolted within and without. In it is a collection of pictured and printed wickedness of sufficient voltage and horsepower to shock into insensibility the entire population. It has taken the society thirty-three years to bring the collection together. There are no visiting hours for the archives. None is permitted to enter the mysterious apartment except accredited officers of the organization, and these only for purposes of study and reflection.”

The ensuing furor over the seizure whetted public curiosity to such an extent that extra police units had to be called out on opening night to handle 20,000 spectators, 5,000 of whom had to be turned away.

When the case came to trial, Comstock said, “I am here to protect womanhood and to prevent the exhibition of union suits.” The judge replied, “Never mind about the womanhood. Let us get down to the question at issue.”

At a later hearing, Macfadden agreed to plead guilty and his sentence was suspended.


Thanks to “Beauty Lithos in Court Today: Comstock Had ‘Em Locked Up Meanwhile in Vice Society’s Special Pornographical Frigidarium,” The Morning Telegraph, October 7, 1905


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