February 20, 2006

"Illegal pornography ... much of it like today's Calvin Klein underwear ads ."

An obituary for Joel Dorius:
[H]is life [as an English professor at Smith College], in Northampton, Mass., crashed on Sept. 2, 1960, when three state troopers, a local police officer and a United States postal inspector raided the home of a colleague, Newton Arvin, 60, and found boxes of "beefcake" magazines and pictures of men — illegal pornography then, but much of it like today's Calvin Klein underwear ads — and diaries detailing 20 years of his closeted gay life.

Under interrogation, Mr. Arvin — a professor of American literature at Smith, winner of the 1951 National Book Award for his biography of Herman Melville, a friend of the critics Edmund Wilson and Malcolm Crowley and a former lover of Truman Capote — named names, including those of Mr. Dorius and Edward Spofford, both untenured Smith professors. Their homes were raided, too — Mr. Dorius was away at the time — and more materials deemed pornographic were found.

The raids were part of a crackdown on obscenity in the mails by President Eisenhower's postmaster general, Arthur E. Summerfield, whose ban on "Lady Chatterley's Lover" was overturned by the courts. The authorities raided warehouses, seized publications and then went after people on the mailing lists....

All three, and four other men named by Mr. Arvin, were charged with possessing pornography, and Mr. Arvin was charged with being lewd and lascivious. Under pressure by the prosecution, Mr. Arvin testified against the others and received a one-year suspended sentence. He suffered a breakdown, committed himself to a mental hospital and died in 1963.

Mr. Dorius and Mr. Spofford, under a quirk of Massachusetts law, accepted the court's guilty verdict, without presentation of evidence, to preserve their right to appeal. In 1963, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned the convictions of all three professors, ruling that search warrants for the raids were unconstitutional because they had failed to define obscene materials.
Dorius lost his job at Smith, which, just four years ago, made the small gesture of naming a small scholarship after him and Spofford. Dorius, died at age 87, without an apology from the college.


Dave said...

Isn't Smith known as a progressive school?

Aspasia M. said...

Isn't Smith known as a progressive school?

Smith is one of the Seven Sister colleges, along w/ Vassar, ect. They were among the first U.S. colleges to provide a great liberal arts college education to young women when women couldn't get into the Ivys.

The definition of what is progressive is subject to change.

My grandmother, who grew up in Oak Park, Il. When one of my friends was admitted to University of Chicago, she was quite concerned, exclaiming "Isn't that a radical school!" As Chicago was the home of Allan Bloom, at the time, I thought that was pretty funny. I guess it all just depends on your perspective.