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Guide to the Gay and Lesbian Pulp Fiction Collection MSS.116


Fales Library and Special Collections

Collection processed by Collection processed by Theresa Smalec; revised finding aid written by Anna Björnsson McCormick

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on July 01, 2022
Description is in English.

Historical Note

In the late 19th century pulp magazines, booklets created with wood pulp paper, rose to prominence in the United States as an inexpensive way to print and distribute written works. Pulp magazines, also referred to as "pulp fiction," were often works of genre fiction and were known for sensational and lurid storylines. Pulp magazines were popular throughout the first half of the 20th century, and by the 1940s and 1950s many pulp publications were dedicated to gay and lesbian erotica. These stories were often written pseudonymously and the publishers used false names and addresses to evade the anti-vice Comstock laws which prohibited using the U.S. Postal Service to distribute anything sexual in nature or "obscene."

Into the 1960s and 1970s pulp magazines were replaced with other formats such as paperback books and digest-style magazines. During the same time many anti-obscenity laws were contested in the judicial system and heard by the United States Supreme Court. In the 1958 case One, Inc. v. Olesen, the Court ruled that "pro-homosexual writing" was protected free speech.  Roth v. United States and  Albers v. California were heard concurrently in 1957 and the Supreme Court narrowed the definition for obscenity but still held that obscenity was not protected free speech. In the 1966 case  Memoirs v. Massachusetts the Court affirmed that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment but again narrowed the definition of what qualified as obscene. The Court heard  Miller v. California in 1973 and found that no government body could "adequately distinguish obscene material unprotected by the First Amendment from protected expression," which fully protected the publication and distribution of erotic fiction as free speech. The culmination of these cases made it possible for gay and lesbian erotica to be published and distributed freely.