American Women in the 1900s Called Street Harassers ‘Mashers’ and Stabbed Them With Hatpins

These are the turn-of-the-century women who fought back when men tried to grab them

Hatpin attack
A newspaper report of Leoti Blaker, who stabbed a man with a hatpin when he would not leave her alone. SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN AMERICAN PUBLIC PLACES, 1880-1930, Kerry Seagrave/GOOGLE.COM

In recent years, a conversation about catcalling and other forms of street harassment has grown heated online. But those who tire of unsolicited comments in public have been making their displeasure known for a long time, reports Laura Donovan for ATTN:. In the late early 1900s women were stabbing mouthy men with their hatpins. And that wasn’t the worst fate to befall so-called "mashers."

Donovan draws from a book published last year Beware the Masher: Sexual Harassment in American Public Places, 1880-1930, by Kerry Segrave. The term "masher" arose from an exchange between two comedians in the 1880s. But it later changed to take on similar connotations to the "dandy," the "swell," and other terms that indicated a supposedly charming young man. Seagrave continues:

A brief piece in September 1904 observed that Webster’s dictionary defined a masher as "one who, or that which mashes; a charmer of women." Against that article gave a definition from a "distinguished" judge [unnamed] in a Western state: "Any man who accosts on the street a woman whom he does not know and to whom he had no right to speak; any man who stands on the street corners and ogles women as the pass by; any man who makes grimaces at women."

Thus, the word masher appeared in the story of Kansas native Leoti Blaker, who, in 1903, needed to discourage a man who kept inching closer to her on a New York City stagecoach. Donovan writes:

When he curled his arm around her back, she stabbed him in the arm with her hatpin, maintaining a calm expression all the while. She did not react as the man screamed in pain, and he exited the stagecoach at the next stop.

“I didn't pay attention to him, but finally his actions became so annoying that I could scarcely stand it," Blaker told a reporter afterward. "I became so enraged [when he touched me] that I didn't know what to do." She concluded with "If New York women will tolerate mashing, Kansas girls will not." 

Five years later, a woman named Marguerite LeBlanc stabbed a man who put his arm around her on the street with her hatpin. A notorious masher, E.L. Dickson, came to the wrong end of a hatpin in 1910 when he grabbed the arm of Martha Taylor in a cinema in Los Angeles. Taylor only threatened to jab him, apparently, but he was arrested.

Hatpins, used to hold hats onto women’s heads, were readily deployed by women of the time, though Segrave also relates stories of women who responded with umbrellas, a toy revolver, a slab of stone laying on the ground and even a cowhide whip. Fists also worked. Today, women have taken to publicly shaming men who would be harassers by posting cellphone pictures and videos online. In each era, the instrument closest to hand, whether smartphone or hatpin, may work on an individual man, but has yet to stop catcalling entirely.

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