“Worse than Opium”: “Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored” at the Harry Ransom Center

“All these books are worse than opium… I would rather have a child of mine use opium than read these books.”
—Senator Reed Smoot, Congressional Record, March 17, 1930


Learn which books were “worse than opium” in the Harry Ransom Center‘s exhibition Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored. Focusing on the interwar years, the exhibition reveals the rarely-seen “machinery” of American censorship from 1918 to 1941. Writers, reformers, agents, attorneys, and publishers battled publicly over obscenity and freedom of expression. Ulysses, All Quiet on the Western Front, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and The Grapes of Wrath came under fire from would-be censors alongside classics like The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales.

The exhibition communicates how the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, the New England Watch and Ward Society, the Post Office Department, and the Customs Bureau irrevocably altered the American literary landscape.

Highlights include Mother Goose rhymes, a Ulysses survey sent in the 1930s to public libraries, including the Austin Public Library, and the seals used by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and the New England Watch and Ward Society.

Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored is on view at the Ransom Center through January 22.

The Gutenberg Bible and First Photograph are on permanent display.

The galleries are open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours on Thursday until 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays.

Docent-led tours are offered Tuesdays at noon, Saturdays at 2 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.

The Ransom Center is located at 21st and Guadalupe Streets. Admission is free. Your donation supports the Ransom Center’s exhibitions and public programs.