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February 6, 1911: Duluth adopts entertainment censorship ordinance

On this day in Duluth in 1911, the Duluth’s City Council unanimous passed a theatrical and moving picture ordinance. Essentially, as originally drafted the ordinance allowed for any two citizens to sign an affidavit stating that they had seen a play or movie and considered it indecent; once the affidavit was filed, a theatre manager had six hours to remove or replace the show. Written by E. M. Morgan of the Women’s Council and proposed by First Ward Alderman Watson S. Moore, the ordinance created some drama in the city council chambers of city hall, with a group of theatre managers led by C. A. Marshall of the Lyceum and attorney C. E. Adams arguing against elements of the ordinance and members of the Women’s Council as well as several ministers arguing to retain the original language. In one open meeting, Adams pointed out that Duluth had had a law against allowing indecent or immoral performances on the books for the previous 19 years, and it had not once been enforced. Adams also thought that the ordinance was reactionary: he believed the Women’s Council was inspired to action by two teenagers who had recently held up the McKay Hotel and shot a police officer; the perpetrators were “said to have been largely influenced by lurid moving picture.” Morgan rejected Adam’s claims, saying the ordinance was “drawn to cover indecent and immoral plays and not especially motion picture shows.” In the end a compromise was made: Five citizens’ signatures were needed on the affidavit, and the theatre manager had between 6 and 48 hours to replace the show.

ALSO ON THIS DAY in 1920: Fifteen Duluth police officers were reinstated after being fired for drinking on the job; read about it here.