Mashers versus Suffragettes with hatpins, umbrellas and Jiu Jitsu
September 7, 2016 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Prized by antique collectors today, hatpins were commonplace, and for a time even controversial. They ranged in size between 6 and 12 inches long depending on the size of the hat they needed to secure to a woman’s head. And in 1903, they became the primary defense against mashers, men who made unwanted advances on women in public. By 1909, the hatpin was considered an international threat (previously), as hatpins were used by women in a wide range of disputes and fights, including women strikers who used"old-fashioned hat pins" to attack non-strikers. Hat pins were often preferred masher deterrents, but not the only tool utilized by women in the early 1900s. posted by filthy light thief (32 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, women with hatpins were considered threats: not so much the 'mashers' (aka, the guys assaulting those women), who were all too often let off with some sort of boys-will-be-boys/she dressed provocatively! response.
posted by easily confused at 8:16 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I favorited this for future use against dopes that insist that once upon a time before [whatever flavor of feminism the dopes dislike], women liked being approached by strange men on the street.
posted by LindsayIrene at 8:36 AM on September 7, 2016 [8 favorites]

As background music for this topic: Never Go Walking Out Without Your Hatpin performed by Elsa Lanchester.
posted by dannyboybell at 8:38 AM on September 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

I have one of my grandmother's hatpins; it's at least 10 inches long, and deadly sharp. Every time I need to move, it takes me a good bit of time to figure out how to pack it safely.

Grandma was a badass.
posted by allthinky at 8:56 AM on September 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

Made me think of Jet Li in the French movie Kiss of the Dragon.

His martial arts specialty in the movie was basically hat-pin-fu.
posted by eye of newt at 9:10 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite things about golden-era Looney Tunes from the 1950s is the way you get glimpses of even earlier 20th-century culture in little asides; I first heard the term "masher" in Hare Do (relevant scene starts at 3:25) where Bugs Bunny (dressed as a little old lady) tells a movie theater usher that Elmer Fudd is being a nuisance. I didn't know the word but instantly understood it from context. I'm not sure I've ever actually encountered it anywhere else until this post!
posted by usonian at 9:16 AM on September 7, 2016 [10 favorites]

Brass knuckles are illegal in my state (so I unfortunately can't bring my dad's back home with me next time I visit), which is a thing I know because I don't wear a hat.
posted by phunniemee at 9:26 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Edith Garrud really needs an action movie.

In 1913, the Asquith government instituted the so-called Cat and Mouse Act whereby Suffragette leaders on hunger strikes could legally be released from jail in order to recover their health and then re-arrested on the original charge. The WSPU responded by establishing a thirty-member, all-woman protection unit referred to as "the Bodyguard", the "Jiujitsuffragettes" and the "Amazons", to protect fugitive suffragettes from re-arrest. Edith Garrud became the trainer of the Bodyguard and taught them jujutsu and the use of Indian clubs as defensive weapons. Their lessons took place in a succession of secret locations to avoid the attention of the police. The Bodyguard fought a number of well-publicised hand-to-hand combats with police officers who were attempting to arrest their leaders.

I imagine PC Plod thinking this was going to be an easy job, just arrest some ladies. No bother. They've never even seen jujitsu before...
posted by adept256 at 9:35 AM on September 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

My great grandmother was apparently quite the hatpin stab artist and had several stories she took great delight in telling in her old age about stabbing handsy dudes on transit. And then reminding her granddaughters to always wear hatpins!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:36 AM on September 7, 2016 [10 favorites]

Nowadays you have the Tiger Lady "self-defense claw" which is advertised endlessly on the Sirius Progress channel. Slightly less stylish than a hatpin.

I also probably first heard "masher" via Looney Tunes (pretty sure early cartoons had quite a few hat-pin jokes as well).
posted by emjaybee at 9:40 AM on September 7, 2016

usonian: I associate the word "masher" with childhood memories of a cartoon character (perhaps Bugs-Bunny-in-drag) saying "You masher! You cad!" while whacking somebody repeatedly (possibly with an umbrella?) -- so I think they might have used the bit more than once. :)
posted by edheil at 9:41 AM on September 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Headphones pin?
posted by scruss at 9:51 AM on September 7, 2016

God, I just realized I did most of a story about Omaha hatpins and never published it. Where the heck did I put it?

Ah, here it is, for those interested in additional, if incomplete, information about a regional hatpin panic:

Smithsonian Magazine recently did an article about a 1909 law in Chicago that addressed women’s hatpins. Ostensibly, the law existed to address occasional hatpin mishaps, when the pointed accoutrement might accidentally stab a stranger on the streetcar or during a frenzied Christmas shopping rush.

In fact, it seems likely that the law was more concerned with the hatpin as an actual weapon, as, at the time, women had gotten into an unwelcome habit of stabbing other people with the things. Women went before Chicago’s aldermen to argue that the hatpin was their only weapon of defense.

As goes Chicago, so goeth the world; the Windy City gave us skyscrapers, ferris wheels, and zippers, and we have duly noted their innovations and followed.

I thought I might look into the world of hatpin mayhem from Omaha from around the time. Now, in 1909 it was possible to travel by train from Chicago to Omaha in a half a day, but culture travels unexpectedly slowly – just as it took four years after George Ferris built is his wheel for one to be erected at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition, so it took time for Omahans to get in on the hairpin panic.

In fact, the World-Herald doesn’t address the subject until March 6, 1910, when the editorialized, saying “It is a confusing situation. The argument in favor of a long hat pin that it is a weapon of defense is undeniable true. But then, hatpins that were not so long have figured prominently in defense of womankind in days gone by.” At that point, Omaha men seemed irritated by the increasingly sword-like protuberances from women’s hair, but, as the World-Herald put it, “Most men would permit a hat pin to pass unmolested clear through their right ear in a crowded street car, and suffer in silence rather than object to the eccentricities of the gentle sex.”

But one does not raise the subject simply to let it drop, and so a deluge of hatpin stories followed. The paper began reprinting in earnest national stories about hatpin woundings, such as one about actress Eva Tanguay stabbing a stagehand and then throwing $200 for his medical expenses, crying “Take it and let me go – it is near my dinner time!” I cannot condone the violence, but I cannot but help but be charmed by it.

The paper wasn’t quite so charmed. “The insistence on the desirability of the hatpin as a weapon gives to the emaciated woman question a sinister and threatening aspect,” the moaned in March. Later in the month, the publication offered its own neologism: Hatpinophobia.

However, there hasn’t been many stories of local stabbings – or any, that I could find. Sure, there were rumors of an eye poked out by an errant streetcar hatpin in Brussels, but where was the local angle? There seems to have been discussion of a hatpin law locally, but it was dropped, as explained by one Chairman Funkhouser: “… the matter is too deep and complicated for use to trifle with.”

One gets the sense that Omaha women, noticing that the local men were starting to panic about the subject of hatpins, might have started to suspect that a hatpin stabbing here or there might not be such a bad thing. There was, as an example, a domestic with a name that sounds taken from Mad Magazine: Rose Flasnick. whose paramour took up with another woman and who decided to get a little stabby as a result. On May 2, 1910, she plunged her hatpin into her boyfriend. “The probing process was well under way when Officer Harry Woodridge drifted along and called for a new deal,” the World-Herald reported. And then: “Rose dragged out the hairpin dropping with gore, and the gentleman in the case lamed up the highway as if a thousand vindictive demons were on his path.” The paper notes that the judge in the case was considering an ordinance regulating hatpins and concealed weapons.

Flasnik, in the meanwhile, claimed that while she did pull her hatpin in self-defense, she never stabbed anyone with it, merely hitting her rival “with a right-hand belt to the jaw which put her down and out.”

The very next day, May 3, the World-Herlad offered a divorce story from Council Bluffs, in which a fellow named Jesse Edwards claimed that his wife stabbed him in the eye with a hatpin while he was intoxicated. “Edwards said that he could not stand that kind of home life,” the paper reported,” and was forced to leave her.”

Inspired, a local humorist named George Fitch wrote a poem demanding men rise up against various indignities, including the hatpin, published in the paper on May 15:

When bosses treat you with disdain,
When dentists revel in your pain,
When lovely woman rustles by
And jabs a hatpin in your eye
Without a murmur or a sigh –

Another poet, this time anonymous, penned “Relics of the Summer” for the World-Herald in October, writing:

.. And there was Dell’s keen hatpin which had made
A puncture deep in my poor shoulder blade.

The hatpin was a weapon in decline 1912. This is likely because the fashion industry took steps to create hats that required no pins. Further, cities began to pass ordinances requiring that hatpins be “muzzled” – Kansas City, as an example, banned unmuzzled hatpins in December.

Nonetheless, there was still violence afoot. In June, a woman named Mrs. Anton Lepinweiz chased a peddler away with a few jabs of her hatpin. In June, a madwoman attempted to attack Dr. George Tilden with a hatpin when he was visiting the country hospital. The superintendent’s alert daughter disarmed the madwoman before she could commit any violence.

Hatpin stories continued unabated the next year, although few were local. There was a Chicago story of a holdup man named John Niemetz, who was hatpinned to death when he was stabbed in the ear after going after an especially ferocious target. There was a San Francisco woman, Vivian Lyons, who repeatedly slashed her wrists with a hatpin as part of a suicide pact. An article published in September claimed that London policemen where issued Roman soldier-like shields to defend against hat pin attacks from suffragettes.

But Omaha still had infrequent hatpin violence, as with Mrs. Lou Jennings, apparently the landlady of grocer Max Firsht, who argued in November about a mortgage. Firsht kicked at Jennings, who then responded with her hatpin.
posted by maxsparber at 9:53 AM on September 7, 2016 [15 favorites]

I wonder if criticizing someone for stabbing people counts as a "tone argument"
posted by thelonius at 9:56 AM on September 7, 2016

As much as I'd love to believe there are hats that require no pins, that hasn't been my experience. It took me ages and ages to acquire my first pins, and even longer to actually try wearing one--the thought of poking holes in my hats is revolting--but I eventually caved. I've found two pins (one on each side) do a better job of anchoring the hat than one pin, unfortunately my pins don't match at all, so I fell a bit silly wearing them together. I still haven't worked up the nerve to try pinning my really good felt winter hats, but maybe one of these days I will.

As to whether my pins could be quickly and successfully used as weapons, I sadly have to say they can't. Mine have the stickpin plug stoppers and I tend to use them, so before I pulled one out to use on a masher, I'd have to yank the end off and secure it in such a way as not to lose it, all of which would cost me precious seconds during an attack/self-defence episode.
posted by sardonyx at 10:06 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

A family friend told me that 60 years later she and her peers would use their stiletto heels a similar way into the insteps of gropers.
posted by brujita at 10:10 AM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I kept a very large safety pin tucked inside either sleeve at all times when I rode the trains, because you can't always raise your arms. Someone sticks his hand in your crotch and then you STAB! hard and rip down.
posted by jfwlucy at 10:26 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

My circular knitting needles have been deployed in a similar prodding fashion on the tube in the past.
posted by halcyonday at 10:42 AM on September 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

In my family, the story is of a female relative about to travel alone on a train in the late nineteenth century. Before she left, her father gave her a gift: a small revolver with a masonic symbol on the handle. In case of handsy fellas, she was to first show the offender the handle, which alone should be enough to scare him off. Only if that didn't work was she to use the business end.

[Yes, I know this is probably a story in everyone's family, just like everyone has a Cherokee princess ancestor.]
posted by pleasant_confusion at 10:46 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I clearly remember reading that, at one point, women's long clothing pins were banned in ancient Greece for similar reasons, but I can't find a reference to back it up.
posted by heatherlogan at 10:48 AM on September 7, 2016

My wife tells of the case study she was assigned in law school about a little old lady who resisted a mugger with a hatpin. Took his eye out. He sued, and won. Proportional defense, you see.
posted by BWA at 12:16 PM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yes, my mum recalled her mother in law advising her to always carry a hat pin, dear. This was in New Zealand in the very early 60s. No doubt Nana was recalling advice from her childhood, since she was born around 1905.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:23 PM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

heatherlogan: I clearly remember reading that, at one point, women's long clothing pins were banned in ancient Greece for similar reasons, but I can't find a reference to back it up.

The Wikipedia article on clothing in ancient Greece notes that "Large pins, called peronai, were worn at the shoulders, facing down, to hold the chiton [a simple tunic garment of lighter linen that was worn by both genders and all ages] or peplos [a square piece of cloth that was originally worn over the chiton] in place." Additionally, this Gale Sudent Resources in Context webpage notes that peronai were also called fibulae in Latin, and identified them as "safety pins" that "sometimes took the form of elaborate brooches."

I then tried to search for ancient Greek bans on peronai but had no luck.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:52 PM on September 7, 2016

There is some hat pin weaponry in Betty Smith's novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which is set in the time period 1900-1918. When Katie Rommely manages to entice her erstwhile friend Hilda's beau Johnny Nolan, Hilda tries to attack Katie with her "evil-looking hat pin". Johnny steps in between them and gets a scratch down his cheek. Later when Katie and Johnny's teenaged daughter Francie complains that a man grabbed her rear end on the train, Katie tells her to keep a pin (though I seem to remember it was just a pin, not a hat pin) in her pocket and jab the next man who tried such a thing.
posted by orange swan at 4:09 PM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

And Sissy, her sexually promiscuous aunt, tells her that once she turns menopausal she'll sigh over the days when men wanted to grab her on the train. :\
posted by mynameisluka at 5:05 PM on September 7, 2016

Yes, I remembered that when I wrote about the rest of it. Aunt Sissy was missing a screw or two. And I do not mean the kind of screw she had plenty of.
posted by orange swan at 5:15 PM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've seen many vintage and antique hatpin collections come up at auction (and they never go cheap!), and they are usually comprised of individually unique (for the group) hatpins - especially the ones on the fancy side. You sometimes see ones that are thematically similar (same material, decoration, etc, but arranged in different configurations), but most collections do not seem like they were filled with matched pairs.

This strikes me as odd because I, too, need 2 pins to keep a modern hat on, and you know our modern hats are lighter with all the innovations in material and technology since then. They had to use 2 (or more!) hatpins - especially if you were planning on pulling one out at will in self-defense if necessary.

Any matched hatpins in these auctioned collections are usually the simplest hatpins (they must have sold a lot of hatpins with a single "pearl" on the end), or hatpins from the era of mass production (often pressed metal) or modern ones.
posted by julen at 8:08 PM on September 7, 2016

Sissy settled down once she had kids to whom to give her unconditional love.
posted by brujita at 3:44 AM on September 8, 2016

I think the reason those long Edwardian hatpins usually are one-offs is because of the hats and hairstyles they were worn with. If your hair is piled on top of your head with a massive picture hat on top of that, one long hatpin is enough to go through the whole thing and hold it in place. If your hair is loose/short and the hat is smaller, you need multiple attachment points. This is why midcentury hats generally have a couple of short matching hatpins or a pair of small combs on elastic sewn inside the hat.
posted by nonasuch at 9:39 AM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

A few centuries early, but this reminds me of something Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:
Sunday 18 August 1667

[...] I walked towards White Hall, but, being wearied, turned into St. Dunstan's Church, where I heard an able sermon of the minister of the place; and stood by a pretty modest maid, whom I did labour to take by the hand and the body; but she would not, but got further and further from me; and at last I could perceive her to take pins out of her pocket to prick me if I should touch her again-- which seeing I did forbear, and was glad I did spy her design.
These would likely not have been hatpins, but the kind of pins Restoration women wore to hold their clothing together and their stomachers on: good strong sharp pins made of brass or silver wire. Still, as a historical precedent I thought it was worth citing.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:52 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Alas, when I was high school, hat pins were no more. BUT I often had biology probes (long needles with wooden handles) in my book satchel. In the language lab, I was constantly groped by a boy who was not deterred by me slapping his hands away. No one could see over the cubicles. In desperation, I spiked his hand with my biology probe and the hands never groped ME again.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:53 PM on September 8, 2016

Yes!! From the Histories of Herodotus, book 5 [via],

[Following on from an attempted raid by the Athenians on Aegina]:

"Only one Athenian returned home to Attica safe and sound…Actually that one man did not survive long either, but perished in the following way. After he had returned to Athens he reported the disaster, and when the wives of the men who had served with him against Aegina heard of it, they became outraged that of all the men, he alone had come back safely. They took hold of him on all sides and, as they all asked him where their own husbands were, they stabbed him with the pins of their cloaks; and so that is how he too died. To the Athenians, what the women had done seemed an even more terrible disaster than the loss of the army. They could find no other penalty to impose upon the women except to make them change their style of dress to the Ionian fashion. Prior to this, the Athenian women had worn Dorian clothing, which most resembles the Corinthian style, but now they changed to wearing a linen tunic, so that they would have no pins to use."
posted by heatherlogan at 5:40 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

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