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.

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

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

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

More in The Sexes

Just In