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New York State Once Introduced an Anti-Flirting Bill

The law aimed to crack down on public displays of affection of all kinds

Members of an anti-flirt club (Library of Congress)
smithsonian.com

Considering that the United States has been around for about 240 years, it’s no surprise that states have come up with all kinds of laws that to our eyes might seem a bit wacky. While some weird ones may still exist on the books today, for the most part they likely aren’t enforced all that heavily any more. That's a good thing for people who flirt in public in New York State, since technically, if you’re caught flirting in public anywhere in the state, you’re subject to being punished with a fine, Dean Balsamini reports for the New York Post.

While police often have better things to do than bug people who are making eyes at each other, the fight against public flirting was a big enough deal at the beginning of the 20th century that state lawmakers thought something had to be done.

On January 7, 1902, state assemblyman Francis G. ​Landon of Dutchess introduced a bill that would criminalize people who had drank too much and were trying too hard to get women to look their way. As the New York Morning Telegraph reported at the time, offenders could arrested and fined up to $500.

As the proposed bill stated:

Any person who is intoxicated in a public place, or who shall by any offensive or disorderly act or language, annoy or interfere with any person or persons in any place or with the passengers of any public stage, railroad car or ferryboat, or who shall disturb or offend the occupants of such conveyance by any disorderly act or language or display, although such conduct may not amount to an assault or battery, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

An assemblyman named William Bennett of the Twenty-first Assembly District of New York was at first wrongfully attributed as introducing the bill, The New York Times reported. But the following day, when the assembly opened, Bennett cleared up the issue, saying: "I am inclined to think that the circulation of the report that I introduced the bill was intended to injure my popularity in my district where flirting is regarded as a harmless pastime. I want to assure the bachelors in my district that I do not entertain the objections to this innocent amusement which have been attributed to me. There is no occasion for their excitement, at least so far as my position is concerned."

Landon was far from the only official at the time obsessed with clamping down on flirting. As Alexis Coe wrote for The Atlantic, there was a strong anti-flirting movement across the U.S. up through the 1920s. However, after a few decades being covered by the press, the legislative trend seemed to run its course—though many women who are ogled and whistled at on the street these days may wish it hadn’t.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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