Between 1891 and 1897, Anthony Comstock waged a war against tights.
In May of 1891, Comstock prevailed upon N.Y. State Senator Charles T. Saxton of Wayne County to introduce a bill making it illegal to print or sell “any picture of or representation of a female either wholly or partially nude,” a bill aimed at pictures of women in tights in theatrical posters, in the Sunday papers, or in photograph cartes de visite.
In 1895, N.Y. Senator Joseph Mullin of Watertown, N.Y., introduced a bill “designed to deal a death blow to living pictures.” Assemblyman Danforth E. Ainsworth of Oswego County introduced the Mullin bill to the Assembly and a second bill, prepared by Anthony Comstock, which added a prohibition against women wearing tights on cigarette cards.
In April of 1895, the Wilbur Opera Company gave a performance in Rochester, N.Y., in which all of the women on stage wore trousers and the living picture models posed in bloomers. Senator Mullin was invited.
In January of 1896, Assemblyman Watson of Kings County introduced a bill which “emanated from Anthony Comstock” banning living pictures and Amazon marches, punishing the performer, her employer, anyone who took or published her pictures, and, the kicker, “anyone who sees her.” The New York Sun noted, “There is nothing in the measure to prevent a man from appearing on the stage nude, or partially nude, or in tights.”
The next month, Anthony Comstock was “about the legislative halls” in Albany, N.Y., seeking support for a bill prepared by him and introduced by Senator Mullin “to better protect public morals, defend the health and integrity of youth, prevent the degrading of women and girls, and to preserve the honor and respect of women.” The bill promised legal penalties for anyone who displayed their limbs or form in tights, “or in such a manner as to offend decency, shock modesty, or tend to corrupt the morals of the young.”
At an Albany committee hearing later that month, Dr. Edward B. Foote, Jr., of New York City testified in opposition to the bill. Comstock said that Foote and his father were always opposed to laws which sought to suppress vice, and added, “The father of Dr. Foote is now in prison for a violation of the United States laws in sending obscene pictures through the mails.”
This was typical. While Comstock had arrested Edward B. Foote, Sr., twenty years earlier, Foote had not been sent to prison, but rather fined $3,500. And by “obscenity,” the charges were that Foote had violated postal laws by mailing an educational pamphlet advocating the right of families to limit their size with contraception.
Edward Bond Foote, Jr., wrote his own pamphlet on contraceptive information, Borning Better Babies through Regulating Reproduction by Controlling Conception, and called upon the press to stand up to censorship:
“Although the Press has been timid and timeserving in its treatment of Comstock and his ignorant censorship, we have enough material at hand to fill more than one hundred pages with the indignant utterances of newspaper writers who have been appalled at the injustice inflicted under the laws instigated and used by Comstock.”
Foote, Jr., was a constant opponent to Comstock’s attempts at repressive legislation, and earned his lifelong enmity.
In March of 1896, the Mullin bill died in committee, as “too sweeping.” In January of 1897, Assemblyman James W. Husted of Westchester County received “another anti-tights bill” from Comstock. “The old provisions against the living pictures and the wearing of tights and the posing of thinly veiled female forms are retained.” However, on March 31, 1897, the press reported:
“Anthony Comstock of New York appeared before the Assembly Codes Committee yesterday afternoon on the Husted anti-nudity bill. He wanted it reported favorably. When told the committee was opposed to the measure he became very indignant and tried vainly to make a speech in its advocacy.”