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The Roaring Twenties: D.C. Commissioners Ban ‘Shocking’ Movies in 1921

In 1921, the D.C. Commissioners issued a ban on movies that "shock the ordinary sensibilities" with a fine of $5-$45 for the first offense and revocation of the theater's permit for the second. Read more about the Roaring Twenties in D.C.!
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headline - April 8th, 1921
headline – April 8th, 1921

We’re not exactly talking about pornography (there was a time when D.C. had plenty of that). This is a headline that we came across from April 8th, 1921, the beginning of the Roaring Twenties.

An article was published in the Washington Times mentioning that the D.C. Commissioners would revoke theater permits for proprietors who revoked the new ban twice.

Moving pictures which “shock the ordinary sensibilities” are barred in the District of Columbia by new regulations approved by the District Commissioners, effective one month from today.

Five restrictions are placed upon moving pictures in the new regulations. The restrictions bar the following type of movies:

“In which sex relations are shown or, depicted in a manner tending to the corruption of morals.

“Or which are based upon ‘white slavery,’ or procurement of women.

“Which depict nude persons, except children, or persons as nearly so as to shock ordinary sensibilities.

“Which show undue demonstrations of passionate love or scenes of vice.

“Which use titles and sub-titles containing salacious suggestions, or use in connection therewith advertising matter, photographs or lithographs of this character.”

The Commissioners provide a fine of from $5 to $45 for the first offense in violation of these regulations. On second offense the movie theater’s permit is revoked.

The new regulations were recommended by Frank H. Stephens, District Corporation Counsel, who declared that the moving picture men approved them.

A recommendation of Dr. Lucious Clark, secretary of the Federation of Churches, and Charles McMahon, of the National Catholic Welfare Council, that the new regulation provide against the exhibition of films ridiculing or deprecating any religion or minister, was turned down.

It’s probably safe to say, that most moving pictures today will break every one of these rules.

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