Saturday, December 02, 2006

From the Naturist Chronicles: TIME Reports on New York Nudists in 1935

Monday, Jan. 14, 1935
Legal Nudism

A high New York State court, peering through a knothole in a legal fence, decided fortnight ago that Nudist Vincent Burke was not guilty of "indecent exposure and openly outraging public decency" when he gave a nudist party in an uptown Manhattan gymnasium. Believing that the court approved the contention of all high-minded nudists that their cult is a matter of Health, Mr. Burke put his head through the legal knothole and crowed: "The court has declared Nudism is legal in New York State and inasmuch as the laws in all the other States are patterned closely after the New York State law, this decision will undoubtedly serve as a model and precedent for the rest of the States" (TIME, Jan. 7).

The crowing reached the alert ears of Alfred Emanuel Smith on the 32nd floor of the Empire State Building. As chairman of the advisory committee of the Legion of Decency which is making cinema companies toe the mark (TIME, June 11, et seq.), Mr. Smith called for a copy of the law Mr. Burke considered so exemplary. It read: "A person who willfully and lewdly exposes his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place or in any other place where others are present, or procures another so to expose himself is guilty of a misdemeanor."

Exclaimed pious Catholic Smith: "The present penal law is not adequate to prevent public mingling and exhibitions of naked men and women. If such action is not an offense against public decency, this league will ask the Legislature to speedily remedy this defect in the law and make it so. It seems to us inconsistent to take a stand for decency on the screen and ignore this latest challenge to the enforcement of decency in reality, We cannot overlook indecency in the substance while condemning it in the shadow."

Thereupon the four-time Governor of New York proposed a new law which he expected the New York Legislature to pass and other State Legislatures to imitate. The Smith proposal: "A person who in any place willfully exposes his person . . . in the presence of two or more persons of the opposite sex whose persons ... are similarly exposed, or who aids or abets any such act, or who procures another so to expose his person ... or who as owner, manager, lessee, director, promoter or agent, or in any other capacity, hires, leases or permits the land, building or premises of which he is the owner, lessee or tenant, or over which he has control, to be used for any such purposes, is guilty of a misdemeanor."

At this moment the Rev. Dr. Ilsley Boone, onetime minister of a Dutch Reformed church at Oakland, N. J.. stepped forward. Dr. Boone is executive secretary of the International Nudist Conference which publishes an illustrated "health" magazine called The Nudist.*

While the ear of the nation was attuned to Nudism, Dr. Boone tried to fill it with rebuttal against Mr. Smith and with arguments for Nudism. Cried he: "There is more social danger to our young folks in a quart of gin than in three miles of State-censored movie film. There is a striking inconsistency between the removal of prohibition from liquor [for which Mr. Smith fought] and the placing of prohibition upon a movement which by actual results, has everywhere been hailed as a blessing and in no instances has been cited as the source of immorality or illicit relations, or disruptive of conjugal happiness."

In what amounted to a notably bold editorial in the lay press, the New York Herald Tribune declared:

"In this controversy it is much easier to go part way with Dr. Boone than it is to go anywhere at all with the League of Decency. . . . The exhibitionists among these folk who would go through the world as they came into it are a trifling minority. ... All testimony goes to show that the great majority of these latter-day Edenites take their antics in the altogether solemnly, if not sadly. ... All nonnudist reporters on the life at a nudist camp find it insufferably dull. They are diverted by nothing about it so much as the quiet but firm sway of the proprieties over groups that affect to live like nymphs and fauns. The truth of the matter seems to be that the average nudist is a puritan. . . . He notes with triumph that he experiences no wicked reactions to visions that are allegedly wicked. This indulgence may seem thoroughly absurd; but when the League of Decency sets out to have it pronounced immoral, is it not simply compounding an absurdity?"

*Circulation, 50,000. Last week buyers of Dr. Boone's The Nudist from Manhattan newsstands were obliged to secure the February issue clandestinely. Charged with obscenity, the publishers had to limit circulation until New York courts decide whether The Nudist's modestly retouched pictures of naked men, women and children violate the law. Complained Dr. Boone last week: "We might tone down the illustrations. We do not desire to break the law. But we feel we should have the right and the privilege to publish unless it can be proved that Nudism is provocative of immorality."


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