On April 27, 1953, the U.S. Senate established the Senate Special Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. Partly in response to public concern and partly as a political stage in an approaching election year, the committee was created in an attempt to determine the causes of youthful criminal activity. The investigation eventually got around to looking at the effect comic books had on this behavior, if any.
The subcommitte met in
room 110 of the Foley Square on April 21, 1954. On the first day of the
hearing, the damning, anecdotal-filled testimony of Dr. Fredric Wertham
and William Gaines disastrous appearance before the committee garnered
all the headlines. The first witness the next day was a representative
of the Child Study Association. But it wasn't Josette Frank, the person
who had written more and spoken more in defense of comics who was
invited to testify. It was the executive director, Gunnar Dybwad.
Dybwad was a well-respected sociologist and child-welfare expert who
had taken over as director of the CSAA in 1951, several years after most
of their comics research had been completed and published. Upon being
sworn in, Dybwad reads a prepared statement to the committee
outlining his organization's viewpoint on the subject of comic books,
emphasizing that their concern had been aimed at providing guidance to
parents regarding comic book reading, rather than how comics related to
juvenile delinquency specifically.
Frank's name comes up
almost immediately when Dybwad mentions that she first wrote about comic
strips in a book back in 1937. This experience was one of the reasons
why she was invited by,"one of the large publishers of comics magazines," to be a consultant for them in 1941.
"I would like to say parenthetically, Miss Frank is only part time on our staff," Dybwad was quick to add.
While under questioning by Herbert
Wilson Beaser, associate chief counsel for the committee, Dybwad offers
into evidence the several studies conducted by the CSAA over the years.
He is careful to state that the current opinion of the CSAA regarding
"crime comics" was different than it was back when these studies were
Dybwad takes pains to point out that the CSAA was of the opinion,"that the problems of comics had called for both sociological and physicological [sic] research and for concerted community action."
"As I pointed out to you, neither one was our function, and it is
regrettable that no effective action has been forthcoming from other
This call for "community action" seemed to
carry a more ominous connotation than the gentler community "influence"
Frank had suggested in 1949. If it wasn't apparent at the beginning, it
was now. Dybwad was trying to put as much distance between the CSAA and
its past comics research as possible.
Frank and Sidonie Gruenberg are brought up again in regards to several "favorable" articles they had written about comics.
"If you want to really be fair about the matter," asked Senator Estes Kefauver,"and follow up your
testimony here today as to the kind of comics that we are investigating
here, the playing baseball with heads, violent murder, cutting off
people's heads with an ax, why not get out a report about these instead
of just the favorable ones?
Dybwad replies that Frank had
written some criticisms in her 1949 report, which then led Kefauver to
dig deeper into Frank's relationship with the CSAA.
"Miss Frank is no longer on the staff?", asks Kefauver.
"Oh yes; she is a part-time employee of our organization," replies Dybwad.
Kefauver wants more. "Who heads up your staff? Who writes the reports?
"In this particular field this would be Miss Frank," says Dybwad,"because she is the educational associate of our children's book committee."
us stay with this for a minute," Kefauver presses on,"In other words, this supervising,
reading comics and giving the position of the Child Study Association of
America as to what effect they have upon children,that is in charge of
Miss Frank; is that correct?"
Dybwad's answers that while Frank does indeed head
the staff, the reports are based upon the work of the entire book
committee and not her alone. Kefauver doesn't seem satisfied with this
answer and he tries to tie the reports to Frank herself. Dybwad
reiterates that the reports were the work of the whole book committee.
Kefauver is having none of this and gets to the point of his
"Anyway, Miss Frank is the head of the staff that handles the comics and places evaluation on them?"
"That is right," Dybwad agrees.
Kefauver briefly changes direction. He asks Dybwad about Dr. Lauretta
Bender. Dybwad replies with her credentials and mentions that she was
one of the people consulted when putting together the studies. Kefauver
loses his patience.
"Well, we are beating around
the bush about this," says the senator, "In the child-study format here
you have, and let me read a little part of this which you put out to the
Kefauver then quotes a paragraph form one CSAA publication listing Frank's bona fides, naming her as an educational consultant with the CSAA, but leaving out something else.
"Why do you not say here that Josette Frank, in addition to being with
Child Study Association,is also the consultant on the children's
reading, or consultant on the editorial advisory board of Superman,
D.C., National Comics, and is paid by the comics-book industry?"
Dybwad responds with some urgency.
"Wait a minute, sir. Please don't say that she is paid by the
comic-book industry. This is not so. She is paid by a particular
comic-book publisher. I want to put this on the record very strenuously
which is quite a difference.
When I work for the
Schlitz Brewing Co., I don't work for the beverage industry, I work for
one particular company and I may have my good reasons why I work for
Schlitz and not for Ballantine."
Despite Dybwad's colorful example. Kefauver is not so easily dissuaded.
"I know, but you are giving her credentials here," Kefauver notes,
You are giving her good credentials, but you do not say to the parents
that are reading this and want to be guided by her that she is also paid
by a leading comic-book publisher. Why do you not give both sides of
Dybwad had an answer for this, too.
"The assumption is that there are both sides to it. Miss Frank has also been a consultant to innumerable book publishers."
This was a fact. Frank had, for example, suggested to an author the
inclusion of minority characters in a story and encouraged the
publication of book about the labor movement to another.
Kefauver also tries to paint Gruenberg the same partisan brush as Frank
by citing her lack of condemnation of objectionable comics. He then
mentions that Gruenberg, too, had a connection to the comics industry.
Dybwad points out that her association (with Fawcett) had been years
before and again, she was employed by just that one publisher and not
the industry as a whole.
Kefauver isn't satisfied with Dybwad's answer.
"Here are two principal people you are using through a find-sounding
association, which undoubtedly some good people are members of, feeling
they can do some good. Two people you are using in the comic-book field
who evaluate comic books, crime and horror books, turn out to be paid or
to have been paid by publishers of comic books themselves. Is that not
When Dybwad agrees with Kefauver's statement, the senator drives his point home.
you think that is fair,then that is all I want to know about your
association. I think it is traveling under false colors. I think you
ought to at least give the fact that these people are paid or have been
paid by comic-book publishers.
I do not think it is a
fair evaluation to leave to parents of children these rather favorable
appraisals of horror and comic books written by someone who has been
paid by the publishers without you even divulging the fact."
Kefauver then reads a portion of Wertham's recent book, SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT,
that commented on the connections of Frank, Gruenberg, Bender and
others to comics publishers. Kefauver concludes that while he doesn't
question the personal integrity of Dybwad,"the opinion of the Child Study Association in the comic book field will have little weight with me."
Senator Thomas Hennings starts a line of questioning about the
contributors to the CSAA. Even though Dybwad agrees to make such a list
available to the committee, Hennings doesn't seem satisfied. He implies
that the fact that such a list isn't already available means something
"You do not feel, the, sir," asks Hennings, "that your organization is what might be called a front for the publishers of these crime magazines?
Hennings implication touched on a very sensitive area. Everyone in the
hearing room was well aware that the term "front" was frequently applied
to a seemingly innocuous organization that hid its benefactors or a
shadowy purpose. In the zeitgeist of the Fifties, this suggested the
Communists and Dybwad was surely incensed by Hennings use of the word.
Not surprisingly, Kefauver agreed with Hennings.
"So my own observation is that in the field of comics the people you rely upon, three people," Kefauver observed,
"and the only ones here I have seen that you base your study on, are
Mrs. Gruenberg, who has been in the pay of comic publications; Dr.
Bender on the pay of the advisory board, and being paid by one; Miss
Josette Frank, who is either being paid or has been paid by the comic
So far as I can see, your comic book section of
your child study group is certainly colored by the fact that these
people are not working primarily for you. They are working for the comic
Kefauver goes on to say that, "this part of your study is a fraud and a deceit to the public and the public ought to know about it."
Dybwad's tried to respond by reminding Kefauver about his earlier
statement about the findings of the CSAA coming from the work of its
Comic Book Committee and not any one person.
But Kefauver was
having none of it. Since all these favorable comics studies were
conducted by the CSAA in the past, he asked, "Why do you not get out a study for 1954, and talk about these books?
My conclusion is that you are not doing this for the reason that
your people, and perhaps your association, too, are being paid by the
industry itself and that you do not want to criticize, very much,
anyway, the crime book industry."
Dybwad cites the
relatively benign nature of the comics published by Frank's employer,
National Comics (DC). In an attempt to illustrate his point, he enters
the company's editorial code into evidence. He concludes by noting that
Frank's name appears in every DC comic, so that the fact she is a
consultant is hardly a secret arrangement.
Hennings wants to
know about the fees given to the various comics consultants and whether
these fees are turned over to the CSAA. Dybwad says that they were not.
Since Frank was was only a part-time CSAA employee, she performed her
work for DC on her own time.
After some back-and-forth
regarding the ownership of DC, Dybwad gets to make a point about
something that was obviously bothering him. Throughout his questioning,
it was repeatedly mentioned that the CSAA comic book surveys were
currently being distributed by the organization. As Dybwad pointed out
more than once, this was untrue. And he knew the source of this
"I said that most carelessly Mr. Wertham in his book implied that they were being distributed," Dybwad says, while denying Dr.Wertham of his title.
"Mr. Wertham," claimed Dybwad, "takes stuff out of context" and his book, SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, "has not one documented reference of our material". He goes on to call the book, "an entirely unscientific study which is a mockery of research". Considering the respect that Wertham and his book were given in the hearing the previous day, it can be assumed that Dybwad's comments fell on deaf ears.
In an apparently planned move, Dybwad mentions that it just so happens
that on that day, April 22, 1954, Frank's latest book, YOUR CHILDREN'S READING TODAY, was being published. He reads a section of the book wherein Frank takes"irresponsible" comic book publishers to task.
"There is no more excuse for licentious publishing in this field than any other," writes Frank, "and it is perhaps either more unconscionable here because it is more available than any other reading matter." But she stops short of calling for any action other than self-regulation by the industry and parental guidance.
As his testimony is drawing to a close, Dybwad reminds the senators that, "Children today read comics, read them in tremendous numbers, millions of them who never get in trouble."
Although he warns against censorship of comic books, Dybwad finishes
with a statement at odds with Frank's earlier recommendations, but
certain to please all of his inquisitors.
"But we have
felt that community action should be forthcoming, civic action, action
through the trade associations, and so on.
feel so today. We still hope that out of this committee's work some new
avenues of approach will come which will put a definite stop to the
publication and availability of these comics.
say further that that will be a distinct contribution, not just in
general to children's welfare, but I would say more specifically that
this would be a contribution to the broad approach to delinquency
Dybwad and the CSAA's board of directors were worried. So much so, that
on May 10th, they met and approved a supplementary statement to send to
the Senate subcommittee and to release to the press.
The statement began with the assurance that the CSAA, "heartily endorses the subcommittee's objectives" and then went on to explain the relationships that Gruenberg and Frank had with comic publishers.
Gruenberg's 10-month tenure with Fawcett establishing editorial
criteria is briefly covered. Frank's employment by National (DC) gets
much more detail.
"In 1941, National Comics Publications
asked the association to help them to improve their publications and
keep them safe for young readers. The board of directors gave this
request serious consideration. It then agreed that Miss Josette Frank
should accept the major responsibility for working with this publisher.
As a part-time member of the association's staff, the board felt that
she should be free to make her own arrangements as to fee.
The board also decided that the association, working through its total
staff, and with the children's book committee, should assume a
supervisory relationship to this project. For this service, the
association has received $50 monthly.
The results of
this service have justified the board's decision. Miss Frank, in
consultation with others, has helped National Comics Publications to
improve the quality of their comics. She has helped also to eliminate
undesirable advertising in magazines produced by this company." 2
While the statement goes on to laud the "numerous awards"
and recognition DC had received for their public service features, it
is the financial information that the subcommittee took most interest
in. An addendum to the CSAA statement from a subcommitte investigator
revealed that Fawcett Publications had contributed $1,500 to the
organization in the mid-1940s, while DC had given $2,500 in the five
year period from 1947 to 1952. 3
Reactions to Dybwad's appearance before the subcommittee were swift and generally not positive.
One ominous attack the following week came from a source not usually
concerned with children's reading as the virulently anti-Communist
newsletter, COUNTERATTACK, turned their unwanted gaze upon the Child Study Association.
"The Child Study Assn was accused of deceiving the public last week because in reports it published on comic books it did not note
that some of its experts were in the pay of the comic-book publishers.
Sen ESTES KEFAUVER made this accusation before the Senate subcommitte
Investigating Juvenile Delinquency.
Sen KEFAUVER pointed out that Mrs SIDONIE MATSNER GRUENBERG was
formerly an adviser for Fawcett Publications and that Dr LAURETTA BENDER
and Miss JOSETTE FRANK are now on the advisory editorial board of
National Comics Publications.
JOSETTE FRANK was billed by the Jefferson School of
Social Science, the Communist Party's top open school in the U S, as one
of the speakers at its book fair held in Nov. 1948.
Mrs GRUENBERG, also billed as a speaker by the Jefferson School (in 1946), has a much more impressive record." 4
animosity toward Communism following WWII, the Child Study Association
maintain a close relationship to the Jefferson School. Founded as a
Marxist learning institution in 1944, several staff members of the CSAA
taught there, including Gruenberg. For her part,
Frank participated in the annual book fairs, speaking on such subjects
as "Social Realism in Books for Older Children". These acts were enough for the anonymous author of the article to write that the CSAA's "minimizing" of the "crime and horror book problem" led him to conclude that, "it is apparent that
some of the assn's and publishers' advisers make an interesting study in
"political" delinquency for the parents they have been advising about
The virtually concurrent publication of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT and the Senate hearings made for some convenient commentary. Book reviewer Wolcott Gibbs in the May 8th NEW YORKER
magazine, took the occasion of his review of Wertham's book to lash out
not only at comic books, but at groups he said opposed legislation
limiting sales of comic books in the state of New York. Dybwad took
exception to this statement in a private letter to Miraim Coffin dated June 9, 1954.
"May I say unequivocally that it is an absolute and deliberate
falsehood to state that the Child Study Association of America took
action to stop legislation in the New York State Assembly designed to
curb the sale of the new type of vicious horror and crime comics. While I
have been the executive director of the Child Study Association only
recently, I have searched our files; I have searched the minutes of our
Board; I have interrogated the members of our Board, as well as our
staff, and there is nothing on record here at the Association to the
effect that we took action as described in Mr. Gibb's article, nor can
anyone remember that such action even was contemplated by us."
Dybwad was frustrated that his protest to the editorial staff of the NEW YORKER went nowhere. He was angered as well by the reception he received when he appeared before the Senate subcommittee.
"Senator Kefauver, for reasons best known to him, chose to ignore the
statement I read in his presence, and suddenly attacked us in the most
vicious and slanderous form (including, for instance, specifically an
attack on the integrity of our Board of Directors, describing them as a
"front"), refusing to let me answer his attacks, and then leaving the
hearing room "to go to another appointment"."
Not mentioned and likely of less concern to Dybwad, was the constant
scrutiny and attack upon the character of Josette Frank.
Frank, however, continued to appear in forums and discussions of "the comics problem".
In a September 22th memo to Dybwad, Frank gives her impressions of a
juvenile delinquency meeting she attended. It also gives some insight
into her personal views.
"I found most of the material at
this meeting very stereotyped. The three religious presentations were
what one would have had expected--a plea for more spiritual education in
the home. There was considerable applause whenever anyone spoke of the
money-earning aspect of the mass media. It seems to be very
reprehensible to make money! Yet I am sure all of the speakers would
have been horrified at any suggestion that the state take over the
entertainment field on a non-profit basis.
For me, the
only bright note in the session was Dr. Charles Glock's presentation of
the findings or rather the lack of findings of social research in this
field. He quoted the Wolfe-Fiske study with which we are familiar and
mentioned several attempts to study the affects of the mass media on
children, none of which were conclusive. While conceding that each of us
must use his own judgment in relation to his own children, Glock
pleaded that no legislation could be based on current prejudices without
more knowledge at hand. The audience practically tore him limb from
limb. They were not interested in information but in action, no matter
Contrary to Dybwad's statements to the
subcommittee and to the public at large, Frank still seemed to favor
parental guidance of comic book reading over a governmental crackdown on
With the handwriting on the wall, the collective attention of the
comic book industry took notice and formed a self-regulating
organization to assuage their critics and hopefully stave off any
On September 16, 1954, the newly-formed
Comics Magazine Association of America announced retiring magistrate
Charles F. Murphy would take over as the administrator of their Comics
Code Authority and its code of ethics at the beginning of October.
Beginning later that month, Murphy and his staff of five reviewers began
blue-penciling out anything they deemed objectionable based upon the
Comics Code standards and the personal opinion of Murphy himself. By
December, they boasted they had removed, "5,500 lurid drawings and 126 "unsuitable" stories" from the comics they had reviewed.6
Such quick implementation of the Comics Code, however, didn't
immediately result in a cease fire. Dr. Wertham penned one more scathing
article a year after the Senate subcommittee hearings. Dramatically
titled, "It's Still Murder", the piece goes after the, "parents, educators, doctors, child psychologists, moral teachers, and religious leaders," who, in Wertham's belief, "permitted good children to be exposed to this kind of reading,". Including, apparently, the U.S. Senate itself.
"The Kefauver Senate Committee to investigate organized crime whitewashed the crime comic book industry," Wertham charged, "The
Hendrickson Senate Subcommittee on juvenile delinquency, although
admitting that many comic books "stress sadistic degeneracy," also
specifically rejects legislation." 7
And most emphatically, he goes after the Comics Code Authority.
"Seven months ago--more than half a year--it [the comic book industry] proclaimed that it was appointing a commissioner with full authority to apply a code of ethics," Wertham then asks, "Has anything resembling the vaunted clean-up actually taken place?" 8
Despite his continuing outrage, more and more people began seeing cracks in Wertham's crusade against comics.
In a review of Wertham's latest book, THE CIRCLE OF GUILT, social historian Albert Deutsch points out how the psychiatrist can't leave the topic of, "the menace of crime comic books", alone.
"Some of us have criticized Wertham's tendency to exaggerate the
comic-book evil out of all proportion, to the point of presenting it as
the one great cause of delinquency," writes Deutsch.
"This is, of course, arrant nonsense. To say that delinquency may result
from multiple factors by no means implies frustration or inaction; it
means that the problem must be tackled on many fronts...". 9
The enactment of the Comics Code also rendered unnecessary the need for
National's Editorial Advisory Board. Frank still spoke before
parent-teacher groups and the topic of comics was usually discussed, but
the controversy was waning. The editorial oversight of the Comics Code
Authority had had its desired effect.
"So successful has the [Comic Code]
Authority's work been that the Fall 1960 edition of the NODL
newsletter, official publication of the National Organization for Decent
Literature, declared it could find no comics which were "objectionable
By the end of the Fifties, with the furor largely subsided, the Comic Book Committee of the CSAA quietly went away.
Both Dr. Wertham and Josette Frank were appalled by the worst in comic books. Wertham could see nothing else, Frank saw that they could be much more. In the end, Wertham squandered all his credibility on an unswerving vendetta he tried to validate with skewed and faked research. He is remembered for his excesses and ultimately, damned by them.
Josette Frank left the comics behind, and turned her attention to a newer medium accused of many of the same sins--television. And she always had her children's books. That was her interest and where her legacy lay. She passed away on September 9, 1989 at the age of 96.
In 1997, Bankstreet College of Education re-named its Children's Book Award as the Josette Frank Award, given annually to the outstanding achievement in literature in which children are shown to grow emotionally and morally as they deal with difficulties in a
positive and realistic way.
1 All quotations to this point: U. S. Senate, Hearings Before the Subcommitte to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, pp. 119-145, (1954).
2 "Study Body Tells of Help to Comics", NEW YORK TIMES, May 19, 1954.
3 U. S. Senate, op. cit., pg. 136.
4 American Business Consultants, "Comic Adviser has a Not so Comical Background", COUNTERATTACK, (1954).
6 "Lurid Drawings Ruled Out in Crackdown on Comics", SCHENECTADY GAZETTE, Dec. 29, 1954.
7 Wertham, Fredric, "It's Still Murder", THE SATURDAY REVIEW, pg. 11, (April 9, 1955).
9 Deutsch, Albert, "What Makes a Boy Bad?", THE SATURDAY REVIEW, pg. 25, (Oct. 20,1956).
10 Tebbel, John, "Who Says the Comics are Dead?", THE SATURDAY REVIEW, pg. 44, (Dec. 10, 1960).