The “New Woman” was emerging into public places—either alone or in groups. She was independent, brave and self-reliant. It was the dawn of a new era. In 1893, Kodak Girls were traveling the world alone and starting businesses with their small cameras in hand. All were exploring their new freedoms. Unfortunately this sometimes came with unwanted advances from men that ranged from annoying “mashers” to dangerous sexual harassers. Concurrently, hairstyles increased in volume and fashionable hats grew larger with the unfortunate inclusion of feathers. Larger hats required increasingly longer, more dangerous Victorian Hatpins to hold them in place. Women soon learned that a well-placed hatpin could also keep a man in his place.
Accounts of Dangerous Victorian Hatpins became routine in newspapers from the 1880s, well into the 1920s. Initially, the stories mostly portrayed the hatpin-wielding women as heroines rather than maniacs. Yes, there was room for humor from proper Victorian ladies taking safety issues into their own hands. But these women were generally respected in the press—if not feared.
Even Theodore Roosevelt weighed in after witnessing a group of women armed with Dangerous Victorian Hatpins when he spoke to a crowd in Manhattan, Kansas on September 30, 1900. According to History.com, after seeing the women clear a crowd of men blocking their view, he said, “No man, however courageous he may be, likes to face a resolute woman with a hatpin in her hand.” He was said to have “appreciated heartily this exhibition of strenuous life” from the women. (Check Roosevelt’s treasury of sound bites here.)
Many of the accounts of women wielding Dangerous Victorian Hatpins were local blurbs like these.
Los Angeles Herald, Volume 37, Number 184, 3 April 1910
One Chicago woman put two “mashers” to flight with a hatpin. The “masher” is a low-down, cowardly cumberer of the earth, and any woman with courage and a hatpin can prove it.
News Of The Day Concerning Chicago (March 21, 1916)
Mrs. Wm. Schultz, 433 N. State, fought masher with hatpin. He tried to put a chloroform rag over her nose.
News travelled fast. The Associated Press was founded in May 1846 to share the cost of transmitting news of the Mexican-American War. As the telegraph became increasingly efficient from the mid-1800s, news stories spread quickly across the nation. One of these was the story of Leoti Blaker who became the equivalent of a social media celebrity.
New York World, Wednesday, May 27, 1908
Stuck Hatpin Into A Masher
Kansas Girl Gave an Elderly Exponent of the “Goo-Goo Eye” a Hard Jab in a Fifth Avenue Coach.
Not a Carrie “Nationite”. But She Believes in Reforming the Gotham Ogler, Who, to Her Mind, Is a Greater Evil Even than the Kansas Hobo
A blue-eyed girl, a hatpin, a Fifth Avenue stage and a well-dressed man of fifty were the constituents of a short but absorbing drama to-day which resulted in a new method of exterminating the masher evil being introduced. The blue-eyed girl was Miss Leoti Blaker and she ran a hatpin into the masher’s arm with such violence that the occupants of the coach were thrown into confusion by the screams of the elderly stickee.
Miss Blaker comes from Kansas and has only been in New York a few days…
“If New York women will tolerate mashing, Kansas girls will not,” said Miss Blaker indignantly to an Evening World reporter afterward. “I got on the Fifth Avenue coach at Twenty-third Street and sat down next to an elderly looking man in the corner. I didn’t pay any attention to him but finally his actions became so annoying that I could scarcely stand it.”
…She Drew Her Hatpin
“I became so enraged that I didn’t know what to do. At last I reached up and took a hatpin from my hat. I slid it around so that I could give him a good dig, and ran that hatpin into him with all the force I possessed. Of course, all the time I was looking calmly in front of me, so that when he let out a terrible scream of pain no one in the coach had any idea what had happened.”…
“He was such a nice looking old gentleman I was sorry to hurt him, but it seems that the benevolent looking old men are the worst mashers here in New York. Why, he was dressed perfectly lovely and didn’t look a bit flirtatious.
“I’ve heard about Broadway mashers and ‘L’; mashers, but I didn’t know Fifth Avenue had a particular brand of its own. Out in Oskaloosa a man would be tarred and feathered for daring to insult a woman by such persistent actions.
She says the hatpin as a weapon of defense is without equal, and as a masher exterminator has met with such unqualified success that she recommends it to all Gotham girls who are annoyed by the attentions of evil-minded men.
..She doesn’t see why women should not take the initiative in righting the wrongs of their sex even if they have to resort to sharp and pointed methods. “
Over the years, hatpins grew in length, often clocking in at twelve inches. More and more incidents of hatpin peril were reported. This included everything from women dueling with hatpins to accidental scratches on crowded coaches to deaths from infected wounds. Many cities both in the United States and Europe were considering regulation of hatpins.
One of the first cities to pass legislation was Chicago, where it was a misdemeanor to carry a concealed firearm. In March of 1910 Mayor Fred Busse signed an ordinance that had been drafted by the Chicago City Council. It restricted the length of hatpins to nine inches. Violation would result in arrest and a fine of $50. Other cities followed suit.
Fortunately, for the birds of the world, the use of large feathers and entire birds as decoration on hats declined in the early part of the 1900s. Both hats and hairstyles became more streamlined as women became more athletic. Dangerous Victorian Hatpins eventually faded.
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