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By 1909, the hatpin was considered an international threat
May 8, 2014 8:02 AM   Subscribe

In March 1910, Chicago’s city council ran with that idea, debating an ordinance that would ban hatpins longer than nine inches; any woman caught in violation would be arrested and fined $50. The proceedings were packed with curious spectators, men and women, and acrimonious from the start. “If women care to wear carrots and roosters on their heads, that is a matter for their own concern, but when it comes to wearing swords they must be stopped,” a supporter said. Cries of “Bravo!” from the men; hisses from the women. Nan Davis, there to represent several women’s clubs, asked for permission to address the committee. “If the men of Chicago want to take the hatpins away from us, let them make the streets safe,” she said. “No man has a right to tell me how I shall dress and what I shall wear.”

Brief history of Hatpins 1400 As far back as the Middle Ages in Britain and Europe, pins were used as a device to securely hold the wimples and veils that proper ladies used to cover their hair in place. These small pins and wires were used for hundreds of years.

How many fake hatpins are on the market today? An incredible number, to be sure. The chance of buying a fake or married hatpin is great whether you are buying on eBay, or at an antique show/shop. We are presented with new models each day. The ratio on eBay is probably 10% authentic, 90% fake, among those claiming to be real. Hatpins are easier to make than most antique or collectible items. All things being equal, a hatpin is worth more than a button, ring, brooch, fob, charm, earring, locket, pendant, etc. Hatpin manufacturing is a lucrative pastime. A well-made fake can easily bring $300, and I have seen fakes sell for over $1000 on eBay. Even poorly made types sometimes bring $50.

Some beautiful antique hat pins some as long as 13"

Hatpins as Self Defense Weapon for Women "Really, Captain Jinks, I don't see why women should not bear arms as well as men."
"It isn't necessary. Every woman has two or three hatpins."
- Caption from a May 1900 cartoon from the newspaper "The Evening Democrat".
posted by JujuB (50 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
“If the men of Chicago want to take the hatpins away from us, let them make the streets safe,” she said. “No man has a right to tell me how I shall dress and what I shall wear.”
Plus ça change...
posted by Gordafarin at 8:07 AM on May 8 [15 favorites]


When I started riding the El to work as a young girl in Chicago, my grandmother advised me to carry a hatpin for self-defense against gropers.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:11 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]


Neat post. Reminded me of this story from The Moth about a type of wrestling fan called a "Hatpin Mary", who would jab at the bad guys as they approached through the crowd.

My mother-in-law says that when she was young, no girl or woman would dare go to the movies alone in Montreal without a hat pin.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:14 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


“If women care to wear carrots and roosters on their heads, that is a matter for their own concern, but when it comes to wearing swords they must be stopped,”

That's a lost opportunity right there.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:14 AM on May 8 [6 favorites]


Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish: " “If women care to wear carrots and roosters on their heads, that is a matter for their own concern, but when it comes to wearing swords they must be stopped,”

That's a lost opportunity right there.
"

Iris needs to transport a carrot, a rooster and a wolf to the post office box to mail for an ebay order. unfortunately, if she carries them all at once, the rooster will eat the carrot, and the wolf, the rooster. Figure out a way she can carry them on her head so that all products will arrive at the post office safely.
posted by symbioid at 8:18 AM on May 8 [35 favorites]


Does she have a sword?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:23 AM on May 8 [4 favorites]


My grandmother was a milliner in the 30's and 40's, thankfully, I inherited two of her hatpins. I will never quite think of them the same way again. It really never occurred to me that they might be used as weapons (though I have stabbed myself with them more times than I can count).
posted by Sophie1 at 8:23 AM on May 8


She has a hatpin/sword, but is not allowed to harm the creatures or vegetable.
posted by symbioid at 8:25 AM on May 8


What's interesting, and maybe obvious, is that there was at least some level of social acceptability with regard to a woman's using a hat pin to defend herself from a lech on the street. But now, as evolved as we are, we're just supposed to laugh them off, or roll our eyes, or consider it a compliment.

Stabbing the cat-callers is no longer an option. Strange that it was one back when women were less 'liberated' and had far fewer rights as citizens.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:30 AM on May 8 [13 favorites]


“If women care to wear carrots and roosters on their heads, that is a matter for their own concern, but when it comes to wearing swords they must be stopped,”

Today, of course, they would simply wear guns on their heads and no one would dare to argue that they shouldn't.
posted by Naberius at 8:30 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]


My grandmother LOVED to tell stories about how her mother, who used to ride the streetcar by herself as a young woman (1900s, 1910s, round about), would jab her hat pins into grabby guys. My grandmother always approved of hat-pin-requiring hats if one was going to be at a large festival or something, so you had a long stabby pin handy in crowds.

There have definitely been times on public transit in Chicago that I wished I had a nice 4" long hatpin. Not to maim, just to sting.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:31 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]


Neat. I've recently been re-reading the Witches series of Discworld books, in which Granjy Weatherwax's hatpins feature as implements of magical (and mundane) defense and/or destruction on several occasions. Neat to hear some of the real-world historical context behind the idea!

One of my favorite things about Pratchett's books is that reading them gives one a bit of an informal education in folklore and folk history. As is so often the case, the real-world inspiration is at least as interesting as the fantasy story in which it is referenced.
posted by Scientist at 8:34 AM on May 8 [6 favorites]


Suffragettes gonna make you suffer until there's suffrage. Also, no groping.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:43 AM on May 8 [5 favorites]


That Smithsonian magazine story leans just a little too hard on the "OMG we must disarm this monstrous regiment of women!" angle. If you look at actual contemporary coverage of the issue from the turn of the century the concern about the long hatpins was that they protruded from the wearers' hats and that in a crowded streetcar they were a menace to the people standing nearby. An ordinance to limit the length of hatpins to no more than nine inches is hardly designed to "disarm" women who want to use their hatpins to discourage "mashers." It's designed to prevent women walking into a crowded public space with an unprotected spike protuding from their heads.
posted by yoink at 8:44 AM on May 8 [4 favorites]


Sumptuary laws frequently have some sort of "logical" justification, but they always also have an aspect of regulating the conduct of the lawmakers' so-called inferiors. Emphasis on inferiors.
posted by immlass at 9:19 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Sumptuary laws frequently have some sort of "logical" justification, but they always also have an aspect of regulating the conduct of the lawmakers' so-called inferiors.

"As aspect," yes--my argument was that the linked article was one-sided, not that there's nothing at all to say for the side it's taking. I'm not sure that regulating the carrying of weapons is best defined simply as a "sumptuary law," however; is opposition to concealed-carry laws offensive to you because it is "regulating the conduct of the lawmakers' so-called inferiors"? What about (a more directly comparable case) the many laws around the world regulating the carrying of sword-sticks (usually male accoutrements, not female)? There are, in fact, perfectly reasonable objections to be made to someone walking around with a 12-inch pin protruding from the brim of their hat.
posted by yoink at 9:25 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Hatpins! Monster LOVE hatpins!

The antique hatpins blog is bookmarked for much later drooling. I’ve inherited two of my great-grandmother’s, which I’ve used in costumes: one trimmed with a tiny nautilus shell and the other with a black glass bead. The pins are heavy, 8” long, and much-bent and worn! (The black-beaded one makes me think of Granny Weatherwax, Scientist.)

For costuming shows, I usually use these 6" nickel-plated, safety-tipped dealies. They do the job, although sometimes you have to use two, especially with a fine-haired actor. They're cheap enough to replace when (not if) they get lost, and they can be trimmed or not. (If unpinning the hat is part of the action I have to go looking for something more substantial, of course.) I remember one production of HMS Pinafore where lost hatpins was such an issue that I had to collect them and reissue them every night.

Yes, I could use elastic or other cheats, and I do if I have to. But a lot of the work I do isn't for traditional twenty-feet-away-and-under-special-lighting theater, so I've gotten in the hatpin habit.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:29 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]


If you look at actual contemporary coverage of the issue from the turn of the century the concern about the long hatpins was that they protruded from the wearers' hats and that in a crowded streetcar they were a menace to the people standing nearby.

That's a fun challenge! As a professional historian, I am curious to see what results.

From Grand Rapids Press, January 2, 1909: War on The Hatpin

Berlin, January 2. ... Numbers of serious injuries were caused by these dangerous implements protruding from the huge hats of fashionable ladies.

From Tampa Tribune, January 2, 1909: Good Morning, Judge


Lillie Douglas fought and cursed Patrolman Jones while he was conveying her to a "box," and tried to stab him with a hatpin, $25.

State Times Advocate, January 8, 1909:

A negro woman on Bayou Vidal was being beaten the other night by a negro man. She pulled her hatpin and drove it into her assailant, whereupon he plunged into the bayou and died.

Seattle Daily Times, January 10, 1909: Successful Women Practitioners in the New York Criminal Courts

"The case was that of a woman whose name I have forgotten, but who was known to the police as 'Hatpin Jenny,' because of a playful little trick she had of using a hatpin as a weapon under the influence of alcoholic stimulants."

Flint Journal, January 12, 1909: At the Playhouses, "Girls"

.. The play deals with three pretty bachelor girls living in a studio in New York, who have taken a hatpin oath to always remain man hater.

It's just five stories from a few days in January, and there certainly is at least one story about hatpins causing accidents, but most of these stories are about hatpins as offensive weapons, so that was obviously a significant concern as well.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:29 AM on May 8 [8 favorites]


.. The play deals with three pretty bachelor girls living in a studio in New York, who have taken a hatpin oath to always remain man hater.

This sounds like the best play ever. Assuming the play ends with them keeping their and staying man haters, of course.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:35 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Bunny Ultramod, you might try looking at stories related to attempts to regulate the hatpins. I'm not at all sure what relevance you think a "hatpin oath"--for example--has to anything at all.

The Chicago ordinance, for example, didn't even end up regulating the length of the hatpin a woman could carry on her person. It regulated how far the hatpin's end could protrude from the brim of the hat. It's simply not true to suggest that it was some kind of attempt to "disarm" women.
posted by yoink at 9:43 AM on May 8


Bunny Ultramod, you might try looking at stories related to attempts to regulate the hatpins. I'm not at all sure what relevance you think a "hatpin oath"--for example--has to anything at all.

You know, if you're going to tell me to read contemporary accounts about hatpins, I would appreciate if you didn't move the goalposts when I do so. You made a claim, and now you're saying, well, in these specific instances, if you look in this specific place, that claim is true.

What is true is as I dig through contemporary news accounts, I repeatedly find stories about women using hatpins as weapons of violence, mostly against men, which is exactly what the Smithsonian article claims. I am not finding a preponderance of stories that suggest the primary issue is accidental stabbing on streetcars, which is what you claim.

However the Chicago law was written, here are the actual headline out of Chicago from 1909:

-- Brave Barbara Stack. Put Chicago Footpads to Flight with a Mere Hatpin
-- Guests of Chicago Hotel See Hatpin Duel When Love Rendezvous is Interrupted
-- Hatpin Ordinance Passed. Chicago, March 22.--It is Now a Wear Young Swords
-- Chicago Has Women Bandits Attack Old Man with Hatpin and Penknife Wound and Rob Him
-- Hatpin Supplanted As Weapon Of Defense "Alice Roosevelt Cane" Serves Chicago Woman to Beat Off
-- Did A Hatpin Enter His Brain? Belief That A Chicago Murder Was Committed With This
-- Hatpin Jabs of Plucky Woman Put to Flight Two Chicago Footpads
-- Robber Dies Of Hatpin Wound Chicago Highwayman Succumbs to Injury Inflicted by Six-foot Woman
-- Bested By Fair Foes. Indignant Chicago Woman Avenges Her Husband by Hatpin Methods
-- The Deadly Hatpin. In The Hands of a Chicago Girl It Foils Two Robbers
-- Two Women Fight Deadly Hatpin Duel Chicago, June 29

In Chicago, I have literally yet to find a story about an accidental streetcar injury from 1909.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:52 AM on May 8 [19 favorites]


.. The play deals with three pretty bachelor girls living in a studio in New York, who have taken a hatpin oath to always remain man hater.

But then the French ambassador and his two handsome staffers show up to discuss the the cession of Aquitaine, but all the hotels are full so they camp out in Central Park across from the building where the girls live. So the pretty bachelor girls disguise themselves as Muscovites to go check it out, and things just get weirder from there. Also, there are hatpins.
posted by Naberius at 9:57 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Ah! The ancestral mother of FemDefense!

FemDefense is more of a conceptual prototype/instant conversation starter than actual product. As a conversation starter, it can't be beat!
posted by vitabellosi at 10:12 AM on May 8


This is fascinating.
posted by postcommunism at 10:14 AM on May 8


.. The play deals with three pretty bachelor girls living in a studio in New York, who have taken a hatpin oath to always remain man hater.

I really wanted the oath to be that they would always remain "man hatters."
posted by vitabellosi at 10:35 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]


In Chicago, I have literally yet to find a story about an accidental streetcar injury from 1909.

Also, if Billy Zane could come in and say "Its a history-off!" right now, and then Daniel Vosovic could say "it's a motherfucking history-off!" -- this would be my best metafilter day ever, Bunny Ultramod.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:42 AM on May 8 [8 favorites]


"I'll give you my hatpin when you pry it from my cold, dead manicured hands"
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 10:54 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]


It was true, as social worker Jane Addams lamented, that “never before in civilization have such numbers of young girls been suddenly released from the protection of the home and permitted to walk unattended upon city streets and to work under alien roofs.”

So just to be clear, before this time, in all rungs of social stratification, women were kept at home and supervised? I am having such a hard time wrapping my head around the idea.
posted by rebent at 10:59 AM on May 8


“If women care to wear carrots and roosters on their heads, that is a matter for their own concern, but when it comes to wearing swords they must be stopped,”

You could make a hell of an impromptu casserole with that kind of get-up.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:02 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


OK, any search I do on the term "hatpin oath" or "hat pin oath" only turns up references to the play Girls. I've put in an interlibrary loan request for a copy of the script, because that seems to be the only chance of satisfying my curiosity.

I'm imagining they either prick their fingers with the hatpin and do a "blood sisters" type of thing, or they all hold the pin at the same time, hand-over-hand, while swearing.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:06 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


You could make a hell of an impromptu casserole with that kind of get-up.

Mefi Meetup theme: Potluck hats.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:07 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]


What are the odds that the stage directions just say "they swear a hatpin oath" or some such?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:12 AM on May 8


So just to be clear, before this time, in all rungs of social stratification, women were kept at home and supervised? I am having such a hard time wrapping my head around the idea.

They definitely didn't roam the city streets alone (had a female companion or male escort) and were never alone in a room with the wrong person (sat in the parlor and socialized) lest SCANDAL occur.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:30 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Also, rebent, you might find this article interesting. The rising popularity of the automobile in the 20s led many to fear for women's virtue. (See the quote about cars being "houses of prostitution on wheels.")
posted by mudpuppie at 11:32 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


What are the odds that the stage directions just say "they swear a hatpin oath" or some such?

Pretty high, I should think. I'll have to make sure there are no hatpins nearby when reading.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:32 AM on May 8


Oops, I linked to the wrong article. This is the one I meant.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:33 AM on May 8


So just to be clear, before this time, in all rungs of social stratification, women were kept at home and supervised?

Yeah this is part of the irritating erasure of, actually, MOST WOMEN! Throughout the 19th century nearly half of women worked at jobs, largely outside the home (at least in England and wales, by the census). 'Ladies' were not unsupervised generally but this was not a big proportion of women. Addams is I suppose talking about working women as a phenomenon moving up the class ladder (the whole quote is here, making the context much clearer, along with some other great quotage on the Striving Girl On the Town in this era).
posted by Erasmouse at 11:40 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Today, of course, they would simply wear guns on their heads and no one would dare to argue that they shouldn't.

Actually, in Chicago they quite specifically have. Firearms are prohibited from public transit and a number of other locations (it is quite complicated). Effectively resulting in a law where the only people who are able to engage in concealed carry are automobile commuters as they are the only people who have portable gun storage lockers that would allow them to traverse the multitude of restrictions without becoming law breakers. I think of the current concealed carry situation in Chicago as being the Road Rage Shooting Incentive program.

So the people most likely to be victims of crime (the poor) are the ones who are effectively restricted from the putative means of defense.

I'm very pro-gun control being a Canadian and having lived in the UK but the ridiculously
transparent motivations of the conceal carry law in Chicago are offensive.
posted by srboisvert at 11:46 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


the whole quote is here, making the context much clearer

The whole (public domain) book from which the quote is taken is here, and makes for interesting reading.
posted by cjelli at 12:03 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


cjelli, will be tucking into that link later. It looks so interesting, thanks.
posted by JujuB at 12:19 PM on May 8


rebent: "So just to be clear, before this time, in all rungs of social stratification, women were kept at home and supervised? I am having such a hard time wrapping my head around the idea."

Young, unmarried women were moving from rural areas to cities by themselves in unprecedented numbers, to work for other people. (And also from other countries to the U.S.) These women were definitely attractive victims for the unscrupulous, as they were alone, not very streetwise, far from friends and protectors, and had very limited social support and limited options if something went wrong.

There were always SOME young women alone in cities, but most women (certainly most "respectable" women of any class) were someone's daughter, wife, sister, or mother, and had people who would miss her and belonged in a family or a household in that city. Late 19th/early 20th century urbanization, industrialization, education, and freedoms for women led to an unprecedented situation of young women who weren't embedded in a family that provided social and physical protections, living alone in an urban area.

Devil in the White City chronicles Dr. H.H. Holmes, a serial killer in 1890s Chicago who specifically targeted exactly these women, because they were easy scam and easy to make disappear.

srboisvert: "I'm very pro-gun control being a Canadian and having lived in the UK but the ridiculously transparent motivations of the conceal carry law in Chicago are offensive."

Dude, we just had concealed carry forced on us by the Supreme Court like a year ago. The motivations of basically all the concealed carry laws in Illinois are "ban it as much as possible because we're still pretty pissed about the Supreme Court making us have it." Everywhere it's constitutional to ban it, it's banned, basically.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:24 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


What's interesting, and maybe obvious, is that there was at least some level of social acceptability with regard to a woman's using a hat pin to defend herself from a lech on the street. But now, as evolved as we are, we're just supposed to laugh them off, or roll our eyes, or consider it a compliment.

Yeah, this is one of the things I wish we still had. I'm not even sure when and where we lost it. Now I'm pretty sure if you stabbed a groper with a hatpin, you'd be pulled in for assault.
posted by corb at 3:52 PM on May 8


The seclusion of women in the industrial era was largely a bourgeois device.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:23 PM on May 8


The Hilda Johansson series has a 19th century working class woman who solves mysteries (as a maid and then married wife) which talks about the influx of young women into cities. Violence and constant awareness of the threat of violence to women is a strong background to the stories.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:14 PM on May 8


If you scroll down about halfway, you can see the monster hatpin made from a card catalog pull by my dear beau. My hair has now grown to the point where he'll need to make me a longer one soon!
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:14 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


I was doing clinical rotations at a local psychiatric hospital and wore my hair up using a hair fork similar to this one. My hair was slipping out of the twist, so I pulled it out to reposition it within my hair. The duty nurse ran over to me in a panic and said, "That could be used as a weapon, you can't wear that in here!" Needless to say, I felt like an idiot.
posted by JujuB at 8:04 PM on May 8


My mother, in 1960's New Zealand, was advised by her mother in law* to always carry a hat pin, dear. Probably the last gasp of that folk tradition, I now realise. Considering mum was by that point experimenting with mini skirts and black nail polish, quite a thing.

*my nana was a proto-typical feminist who rode a grocer's tricycle to meetings of the League of Woman Voters in the 30s and 40s.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:22 PM on May 8


There is a musical called the Hatpin, which is based on a rather nasty piece of Australian hatpin-related history. Less self-defense hatpin violence and more avaricious hatpin child murder.
posted by misfish at 11:53 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Dude, we just had concealed carry forced on us by the Supreme Court like a year ago. The motivations of basically all the concealed carry laws in Illinois are "ban it as much as possible because we're still pretty pissed about the Supreme Court making us have it." Everywhere it's constitutional to ban it, it's banned, basically.

Of course. It is just another coincidence that the policy works out this way. Like all those other coincidences.
posted by srboisvert at 11:35 AM on May 9


srboisvert: "Of course. It is just another coincidence that the policy works out this way. Like all those other coincidences."

Concealed carry is still prohibited in Illinois everywhere it is constitutionally permissible to prohibit it. We were the last state in the country that prohibited concealed carry, the state did not want concealed carry; it was imposed by the Supreme Court. This is not a law that was made by Illinois (or Chicago) to target a particular population. Allowing people to carry guns in cars is, rather, a restriction that was lifted by the Supreme Court, against the will of the majority of state citizens. If it were constitutionally permissible to forbid people from carrying guns in cars on public roads or while walking down the sidewalk, those would be prohibited as well.

The "transparent motivations" of concealed carry law are entirely related to the NRA flexing its muscles and have nothing to do with the actual desires of the people of the state of Illinois.

Concealed Carry was struck down in September 2012; the law allowing it was passed in summer 2013, came into effect January 1 of this year, and the first people received their permits about March 1 of this year. With the law functioning for barely 60 days, I rather doubt there's any evidence yet of discriminatory effects of the law, and certainly there have not yet been any complaints to that effect either judicially or legislatively.

Not only are you incorrect about the motivations of the state of gun laws in Illinois, but there has simply been no time to see how "the policy works out" at all.

Also, an automobile trunk or glovebox is specifically not a "gun storage container" as per the statute (though you may carry guns in them in many cases).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:47 PM on May 9


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