Stop That Skirt-Chaser! The Movement to Outlaw Flirting in the 1920s

If the Anti-Flirt activists of the early 20th century had gotten their way, cheeky advances and drive-by flirting would today be things of the past.

anti flirt banner.jpg
The Washington-based chapter of the Anti-Flirt club (Library of Congress)

During the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, an abundance of articles offering familiar advice on amorous overtures suddenly materialize en masse. But there was a time when one of the holiday's most popular topics—flirting—was under attack in America.

anti-flirt club side.jpg

A Washington Post article from February 28, 1923, titled "10 Girls Start War on Auto Invitation," laid out the problem: "Too many motorists are taking advantage of the precedent established during the war by offering to take young lady pedestrians in their cars, Miss Helen Brown, 639 Longfellow Street, declared yesterday." Brown, the secretary of the nascent Anti-Flirt club, warned that these men "don't all tender their invitations to save the girls a walk," and while there were "other varieties of flirts," motorists were the absolute worst.

Brown, along with the president—a Miss Alice Reighly of 1400 Harvard Street—made their plan of action known. On March 4, 1923, the first-ever Anti-Flirt Week (and only since) would commence. The Post published the club's rules:

1. Don't flirt; those who flirt in haste oft repent in leisure.

2. Don't accept rides from flirting motorists—they don't all invite you in to save you a walk.

3. Don't use your eyes for ogling—they were made for worthier purposes.

4. Don't go out with men you don't know—they may be married, and you may be in for a hair-pulling match.

5. Don't wink—a flutter of one eye may cause a tear in the other.

6. Don't smile at flirtatious strangers—save them for people you know.

7. Don't annex all the men you can get—by flirting with many you may lose out on the one.

8. Don't fall for the slick, dandified cake eater—the unpolished gold of a real man is worth more than the gloss of lounge lizard.

9. Don't let elderly men with an eye to a flirtation pat you on the shoulder and take a fatherly interest in you. Those are usually the kind who want to forget they are fathers.

10. Don't ignore the man you are sure of while you flirt with another. When you return to the first one you may find him gone.

It seems there was a small, national movement underway, with chapters springing up in Manhattan, Chicago, and other cities. But unlike the female-led Washington, D.C.-based group, Manhattan's fledgling Anti-Flirt club was headed up by men, including "George Carroll, theatrical man, and James Madison, a broker." On November 21, 1922, a reporter for the New York Times summed up their concerns:

The five men forming the nucleus of the organization say that in New York's streets, especially in the theatrical districts, hordes of pests of the masher species are carrying their activities to a point where no woman is safe from approach and insult.

The association intends, through publicity, to educate public opinion to the point where a woman will consider it her duty to prosecute the masher who attempts to force his attentions upon her. The association intends to have its own counsel, who will aid in prosecuting all masher cases.

During those initial meetings at the Hotel Biltmore, the New York contingent settled on a slogan ("Jail the flirt") and an insignia (a lizard pierced by a hatpin). The term "lounge lizard" first appeared in the American vernacular in 1912, and while it most often referred to musicians who performed in lounges, the truncated label applied to well-dressed men who wooed women with their deceptive charm. Likewise, a "masher"—similar to a skirt chaser, wolf, or philanderer—was a man who made his amorous intentions known in an aggressive manner, maintaining brief relations with various women.

Presented by

Alexis Coe is a writer in San Francisco and a columnist for SF Weekly.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in The Sexes

Just In