There are many episodes in history that tell about the efforts which were put forth to try to censor the movies or at least increase their moral value. The Women's Christian Temperance Movement is one group that worked hard to protect the values that they felt were important and were being overshadowed by the movie industry and the images that it was portraying. In an editorial in the Union Signal in 1906 the group criticized the "sensational aspects of movies which undermined the traditional values. Crime is made interesting, romantic, exciting -everything but criminal. Deformities of the human frame are made laughable." (Parker, 74) Although the group felt that realistic portrayal of crime, alcohol, and violence were good if used to teach youth the dangers of these, they were in support of federal regulation because motion pictures industry was getting too strong.
The WCTU did attempt to regulate children's access to films. They became involved with investigations of "doubtful" movies and then filed complaints with local authorities. The group also worked at federal movie censorship through lobbying US congressmen and senators. Their work with the government paid off when in 1914 the first federal movie censorship law, the Smith-Hughes Picture Censorship Bill, created the Federal Motion Picture Commission as part of the Bureau of Education. The duty of the Commission was to "censor all films, endorsing the good and condemning those which come under the specifications of what is 'obscene, indecent, immoral, inhuman, or those that depict a bull-fight, or a prize-fight, or that will corrupt or impair the morals of children or incite to crime.' " (Parker, 81)
Then in 1915 the Supreme Court had a ruling stating that movie censorship was not in violation of the 1st or 14th Amendment because movies were not art but profit generating and therefore open to regulation. The movie industry was beginning to see the need to act in order to keep from losing all of its creative abilities because of strict government control. In 1922 Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America hired former postmaster general, Will Hays, to "oversee upgrading of morals in movies in reaction to continued uprising by citizens for national censorship". (Parker, 82) The members of the WCTU did not see that they were doing anything wrong to the movie industry, but were doing what they had to do for the sake of society, especially the children. The members understood that not all children were being properly guided in their movie attendance as they said, "we were acting as 'surrogate parents' to help those neglected children who needed to be protected from harmful films." (Parker, 85)
Created by Wendy Simons
Last updated December 3, 1998