Congress Investigates: The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency Investigates Comic Books in the 1950s
On April 27, 1953, the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate created a Special Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency to investigate the causes of juvenile delinquency and to propose measures in response. The subcommittee examined several factors influencing young people, but it drew the most attention when it investigated the allegation that comic books contributed to the rise in juvenile crime.
Investigating is one of Congress’s most important responsibilities. Investigations can expose wrongdoing, provide oversight, and inspire legislation to protect the public from future abuses. As historical evidence, congressional investigations provide insight into the major public concerns of an era and show how Congress represented the public by studying these issues.
In this lesson, students will learn about 1950s fears of juvenile delinquency and Congress’s power to investigate by reviewing evidence considered by the subcommittee and analyzing a summary of the investigation.
What does the Senate investigation of comic books demonstrate about 1950s America and Congress’s power to investigate?
Recommended Grade Level:
Civics, U.S. History, Government
- Distribute Worksheet 1, the Background Summary of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency’s 1954 Investigation of Comic Books, to each student. Instruct the students to work individually to read Worksheet 1 and answer the questions at the end of the worksheet.
- Divide the class into 3 groups. Distribute Worksheet 2, Testimony Introduced in the Subcommittee, to the first group; distribute Worksheet 3, Documents in Subcommittee Evidence, to the second group; and Worksheet 4, Correspondence Sent to the Committee, to the third group.
- Instruct each group to work collaboratively to analyze the excerpts and document(s) in their worksheet. They should answer the questions at the end of their worksheet and record their responses.
- Instruct each group to share the evidence they analyzed and their answers on their worksheet with the whole class.
- Instruct all of the students to answer the reflection questions on Worksheet 5. Instruct the students to share their responses in a whole-class discussion of the guiding question.
Featured Primary Source Documents:
Testimony Introduced in the Subcommittee (April 21, 1954)
- Excerpt from the Testimony of Dr. Frederic Wertham, MD, Medical Expert on Children
- Excerpt from the Testimony of William Gaines, Publisher of Entertaining Comics
- Excerpt from the Testimony of Richard Clendenen, Executive Director, United States Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency
Documents in Subcommittee Evidence
- Comic book covers:
- Vault of Horror, February–March,1954
- Fight Against Crime, May, 1954
- Panic, May, 1954
- Comic book plot summaries compiled by subcommittee staff
Correspondence Sent to the Committee
- Letter from Eugenia Genovar, November 24, 1953
- Letter from Bob Stewart, June 12, 1964
- Letter from Robert Merdian, June 22, 1954
- Letter from Brian Mulholland, September 28, 1954
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