National Organization for Decent Literature (NODL)
- Browse the MSVU Lesbian Pulp Fiction collection for titles that appeared in the NODL Newsletter list of disapproved books
The Catholic-run National Organization for Decent Literature (NODL) was one of many faith-based groups that advocated for restrictions on paperbacks. In the 1950s, NODL was active in both the U.S.A and in Canada. The organization published monthly lists of disapproved books that were distributed to city councils, professional associations and service groups such as the Knights of Columbus. Not surprisingly, lesbian pulp fiction titles like Ann Bannon’s Odd Girl Out and I am a Woman were on the NODL lists, but the group cast a wide net and also included mainstream literary works like Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.
Groups called "Decency Crusades" were organized in small communities across the United States and Canada. They combed newsstands for offending material listed in the NODL newsletter and persuaded vendors to remove the books under threat of boycott. Newsstand operators were particularly vulnerable to this type of local pressure. In 1952, Reverend Monsignor Lockary reported to Canada's Special Senate Committee on Salacious and Indecent Literature that more than 75% of the retailers approached agreed not to carry the titles listed in the NODL newsletter.
On page 13 of the Proceedings of the Special Senate Committee, Vincent Kelly, an Ottawa school principal recounted how the "Decency Crusades" functioned,
"Regarding the drive we have staged in Ottawa on salacious literature, as Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus I brought it up at an executive meeting on March 1st of last year, and the members were very interested and wanted to see something done about it. We felt that if we wanted to make any progress we had better secure the assistance of other similar organizations in the city. We went through the Catholic Action Society which embraces the Parent Teachers Organization, the Holy Name Society, the St. Vincent Society, and so on. There are many of them. We also wanted to embrace the Home and School Club which represents the public school children and their parents. We met with them and planned to more or less boycott—although we did not use that word because of the legal angle involved—stores that were selling salacious literature. We more or less formed a persuasion committee which would persuade people not to buy from these stores."
In 1958, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the use of the NODL Newsletter list of objectionable books by law enforcement agencies and pledged assistance to authors, publishers, and vendors. The NODL's influence waned in the 1960s and was disbanded in 1968, but it paved the way for other influential groups.
Citizens for Decent Literature
Charles Keating, who would later be indicted for major financial fraud in the 1980s Savings and Loans scandal, founded Citizens for Decent Literature (CDL) in 1956. CDL refrained from censorship lists and heavy-handed moralistic boycott campaigns. Instead, it used a pseudoscientific approach to condemn obscenity found in magazines and pulp paperbacks as a risk to healthy adolescent development. CDL continued to align homosexuality with pornography and perversion as clearly seen in the introduction to the public domain propaganda film Perversion for Profit.
"In the past few years, this obscenity traffic and salacious newsstand literature have become increasingly worse, not only in content but volume. [...] Through this material, today's youth can be stimulated to sexual activity for which he has no legitimate outlet. He is even enticed to enter the world of homosexuals, lesbians, sadists, masochists, and other sex deviants."
At time mark 15:07 Perversion for Profit condemns "the cheap pocketbook," and includes a passage from the crime novel Sex Jungle by Don Elliott (Robert Silverberg).
Adams, Mary Louise. "Youth, Corruptibility, and English-Canadian Postwar Campaigns against Indecency, 1948-1955." Journal of the History of Sexuality 6.1 (1995): 89-117.
O'Connor, Thomas F. "The National Organization for Decent Literature: A Phase in American Catholic Censorship." The Library Quarterly 65.4 (1995): 386-414.
Ryder, Bruce B. "Undercover Censorship: Exploring the History of the Regulation of Publications in Canada." Interpreting Censorship in Canada. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 1999.
Strub, Whitney. "Perversion for Profit: Citizens for Decent Literature and the Arousal of an Antiporn Public in the 1960s." Journal of the History of Sexuality (2006): 258-291.