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In the Galleries: Censorship of "The Sex Side of Life"

By Alicia Dietrich

Photo of Mary Ware Dennett from New York Journal American collection.
Photo of Mary Ware Dennett from New York Journal American collection.

In 1919 Mary Ware Dennett (1872–1947) published The Sex Side of Life, a sex-education pamphlet for young people that she originally wrote for her sons. The U.S. Post Office declared the pamphlet obscene in April 1922, and Dennett struggled on her own to get the ruling reversed, all the while continuing to distribute The Sex Side of Life through the mail.

In 1928, in consultation with attorney Morris Ernst, Dennett agreed that it was time to test The Sex Side of Life in court.  The trial came sooner than anticipated when the Justice Department indicted Dennett for mailing the pamphlet to “Mrs. Carl A. Miles” in Virginia. A jury convicted Dennett of distributing obscene material, and the judge fined her $3,000, which Dennett refused to pay. Newspapers and magazines across the country expressed outrage at the jury’s decision. Dennett became a cause célèbre and received a contract from Vanguard Press to write about her experiences.

Dennett’s conviction was overturned on appeal in 1930. In his decision, Judge Augustus Hand wrote: “The defendant’s discussion of the phenomena of sex is written with sincerity of feeling… Any incidental tendency to arouse sex impulses which such a pamphlet may perhaps have, is apart from and subordinate to its main effect.”

A copy of the pamphlet, as well as correspondence documenting its censorship, is on display in Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored through January 22.

Cover of 'The Sex Side of Life' by Mary Ware Dennet.
Cover of 'The Sex Side of Life' by Mary Ware Dennet.

Old Inspires the New

By Jennifer Tisdale

Austin-based Lakes Were Rivers, a group of 11 artists working in photography and video, recently collaborated with the Ransom Center to pair works of its artists with images from the Center’s photography collection, resulting in (Re)Collection, an exhibition in conjunction with the East Austin Studio Tour.

Each artist selected an image from the Ransom’s Center photography collections to be scanned and printed as an 8×10 reproduction. In the exhibition, these collection images are paired with a representative work made by members of Lakes Were Rivers, generating a complex and varied dialogue about the traditions and potential of photography as a medium.

Re(Collection) is on view this Saturday and Sunday, November 19 and 20, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 1319 Rosewood Avenue. Members of Lakes Were Rivers will serve as gallery attendants and will be available to discuss the show with visitors.

Some of the pairings appear below.

Adam Schreiber. Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled, 1999. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Adam Schreiber. Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled, 1999. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Paul Louis Marie Fabre-Domergue. Octopus Vulgaris, 1899. La photographique des animaux aquatques. Harry Ransom Center.
Paul Louis Marie Fabre-Domergue. Octopus Vulgaris, 1899. La photographique des animaux aquatques. Harry Ransom Center.

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Ben Ruggiero. Windows as Viewed #71: Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange 1936. Window etching cyanotype contact print. Harry Ransom Center. November 11, 2011.
Ben Ruggiero. Windows as Viewed #71: Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange 1936. Window etching cyanotype contact print. Harry Ransom Center. November 11, 2011.
Dorothea Lange. Destitute peapickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children. February 1936. Harry Ransom Center.
Dorothea Lange. Destitute peapickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children. February 1936. Harry Ransom Center.

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Jessica Mallios. Motif. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Jessica Mallios. Motif. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Philip H. Delamotte. Colossal head of Bavaria. Photographic Views of the Progress of the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. London: Crystal Palace Company, 1855. Harry Ransom Center.
Philip H. Delamotte. Colossal head of Bavaria. Photographic Views of the Progress of the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. London: Crystal Palace Company, 1855. Harry Ransom Center.

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Mike Osborne. Wendover, Utah. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Mike Osborne. Wendover, Utah. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Francis Frith. The Pyramids of Dahshoor?Lower Egypt, Thebes, and the Pyramids?1862 (ca.). Harry Ransom Center.
Francis Frith. The Pyramids of Dahshoor?Lower Egypt, Thebes, and the Pyramids?1862 (ca.). Harry Ransom Center.

Photo Friday

By Kelsey McKinney

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

University of Texas alumnus Kevin Kautzman portrays John Sumner in 'Censorship Then and Now.' Students in Kathryn Dawson’s 'Applications in Museum Settings' class at The University of Texas at Austin studied performance as a way to bring museum exhibitions to life, including creating characters based on the Center’s exhibition 'Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored.' Photo by Pete Smith.
University of Texas alumnus Kevin Kautzman portrays John Sumner in 'Censorship Then and Now.' Students in Kathryn Dawson’s 'Applications in Museum Settings' class at The University of Texas at Austin studied performance as a way to bring museum exhibitions to life, including creating characters based on the Center’s exhibition 'Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored.' Photo by Pete Smith.
University of Texas at Austin undergraduate student Rachel Panella argues her point as Upton Sinclair in 'Censorship Then and Now,' a performance for area high school students. Photo by Pete Smith.
University of Texas at Austin undergraduate student Rachel Panella argues her point as Upton Sinclair in 'Censorship Then and Now,' a performance for area high school students. Photo by Pete Smith.
As part of their ongoing training at the Ransom Center, volunteers examine Leigh Hunt’s collection of famous people’s hair, including John Keats and John Milton. Photo by Pete Smith.
As part of their ongoing training at the Ransom Center, volunteers examine Leigh Hunt’s collection of famous people’s hair, including John Keats and John Milton. Photo by Pete Smith.

Canadian makes semi-annual pilgrimage to the Ransom Center's galleries

By Alicia Dietrich

Alain Dame visited the exhibition 'Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century' in May. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Alain Dame visited the exhibition 'Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century' in May. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.

Alain Dame may very well be the Ransom Center’s biggest fan.

The letter carrier from Quebec, Canada, visits the Center about twice a year and spends days (yes, days) in the galleries exploring the exhibitions. In a scenario that exhibition curators can usually only dream about, he takes the time to read every label and studies each item in the exhibition.

Dame first visited the Ransom Center in 1999. At that time, the Center had no gallery space of its own and often mounted small exhibitions in what was essentially a hallway on the fourth floor of the Flawn Academic Center. Dame’s first visit was for an exhibition on Oscar Wilde, and he remembers seeing another exhibition on photographer Eliot Elisofon.

But when the Center completed a renovation and added a gallery space in 2003, it was able to mount in-depth shows drawn from its collections. One of the first exhibitions in the new galleries was Make It New: The Rise of Modernism, and it made quite an impression on Dame: “It was so good,” he said. “It’s my favorite of all time.”

An item from the Arthur Conan Doyle collection caught his eye in the Make it New exhibition because he found it so moving.

“He [Doyle] was into a lot of esoteric things because of his son’s death in the war. He drew the night, and he was so angry that his son died that he was making holes, piercing the paper with his pen. That was a touching one.”

While Dame has an interest in modernism and James Joyce—one he shares with Ransom Center Director and Joyce scholar Thomas F. Staley—his interests range far and wide. He remembers a letter from J. D. Salinger in which the famously reclusive writer thanks a female correspondent for recommending Ovaltine because it helped him sleep.

“I love arts in general,” he said.”I’m crazy about arts.”

And that love is apparent when speaking with him on the topic of the humanities. He speaks knowledgably and eloquently about writers and artists from Joyce, Salinger, and Doyle to Igor Stravinsky, Don DeLillo, and David Foster Wallace.

Dame was here again last week to view Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored and The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920-1925.

Some of his other favorite exhibitions have included On the Road with the Beats from spring 2008 and The Persian Sensation: “The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám” in the West from spring 2009.

Win a signed copy of a Don DeLillo's "White Noise"

By Alicia Dietrich

'The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories' by Don DeLillo
'The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories' by Don DeLillo

Author Don DeLillo, whose archive resides at the Ransom Center, has released his first collection of short stories today. The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, published by Scribner, includes pieces written between 1979 and 2011.

To celebrate the publication of the book, the Ransom Center will give away 2 signed copies of DeLillo’s novel White Noise (1985). Email hrcgiveaway@gmail.com with “DeLillo” in the subject line by midnight CST tonight to be entered in a drawing for the book. [Update: Winners have been chosen and notified. Congrats to Angela A and Annie S!]

Recommended Reading: Books from the "Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored" exhibition

By Kelsey McKinney

The Ransom Center’s current exhibition Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored reveals the rarely seen “machinery” of censorship in the United States between the two world wars.  See the Center’s recommended reading list of historically banned books, and visit the exhibition to learn more about these and many other books caught up in the complex world of American censorship. See which book was considered so obscene prosecutors “assiduously avoided using its title in public discussions of the case.”

"Lisztomania" hits Austin

By Elana Estrin

Print of Franz Liszt, 1841.
Print of Franz Liszt, 1841.

Long before Beatlemania, mid-nineteenth-century European audiences went wild for Franz Liszt, the Hungarian pianist/composer with shoulder-length hair. Women fought over his broken piano strings and collected his coffee dregs in glass vials. One woman retrieved Liszt’s discarded cigar stump from a gutter and encased it in a diamond-studded locket monogrammed “F.L.” To describe this phenomenon, German poet Heinrich Heine coined the term “Lisztomania.”

Liszt took the classical music world by storm. Considered the best pianist of all time by his contemporaries, Liszt essentially created the piano recital. He was the first pianist to emerge onstage from the wings, he introduced the custom of performing in profile because he didn’t want the piano to block his face, and his unmatched technique and virtuosic piano compositions pushed the boundaries of what the piano could do.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Liszt’s birth and the 100th anniversary of the Austin Symphony Orchestra. On November 18 and 19, the Austin Symphony celebrates both birthdays when Anton Nel performs Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major, S. 125 with the Austin Symphony.

Signed photo of Franz Liszt, not dated.
Signed photo of Franz Liszt, not dated.

Liszt is well represented in the Ransom Center’s collections. The musicians collection contains photos of Liszt, one of which Liszt autographed; two collections hold notebooks, manuscripts, and other materials for two Liszt biographies; and the Carlton Lake collection includes a signed manuscript of Liszt’s Gaudeamus igitur and 150 letters between Liszt and his daughters, Blandine and Cosima.

In these letters, spanning from 1850 to 1862, Liszt comes across as a caring but demanding father. It is clear that his daughters’ musical education is a priority. In an 1854 letter addressed to both daughters, Liszt tells Blandine and Cosima to make the most of the approaching winter, when the only teacher around will be their piano teacher:

“How goes it with your piano strumming? Do you practice? Is M. Seghers giving you regular lessons?… Music being the universal language, and even to a certain extent able to dispense with ideas, it is by no means my intention to end your studies with M. Seghers. But try to learn yourselves what even the best teachers cannot convey through lessons; and, until the day when I try to shape your talents to my liking, I kiss you most tenderly.”

Liszt also discusses the difficulty of navigating his relationships with other composers. In an 1858 letter to Blandine, Liszt writes about German composer and conductor Richard Wagner, who later married Cosima and with whom Liszt had a notoriously tumultuous relationship:

“With his immense genius which becomes more and more indisputable through all the foolish disputes he has to embark on, he unfortunately can’t manage to rid himself of the most trying domestic vexations, not to mention all the disappointments of his fantastic expectations. In this way he resembles those lofty mountains, radiant at their peaks, but shrouded in fog up to their shoulders…Tell me something of him in your next letter, for I love him with all my heart and admire him as Germany’s finest génie-artiste.”

While living in Rome in 1862, Liszt tells Blandine that he’s a little annoyed with French composer Charles Gounod:

“You know what sincere esteem and liking I have always had for the talent of Gounod, and how affectionate our personal relations were. Well! Can you believe that he spent more than six weeks in Rome without taking the trouble to come and see me, and that we didn’t once see one another?”

Through these letters, we catch a glimpse of Liszt’s life as a rock-star pianist, at its height in the 1840s. But Liszt’s letters from the 1850s reveal that he cherished solitude and was tiring of public life. On May 4, 1858, Liszt wrote to Blandine about his visit with Cosima in Berlin:

“The wholly public life (less and less to my taste) that I had been obliged to lead these last two months made me feel all the more, by contrast, the charm and intimacy of her affection.”

On July 19, 1862, Liszt sent his last letter to Blandine, who died two months later at the age of 26 following childbirth: “The fact is, I am comfortable only in my own company and in that of the very small number of those I love with whom I feel at one in thought and feeling.”

Selected items related to Liszt will be on display in the Ransom Center lobby from Tuesday, November 15 through Sunday, November 27.