“The Hatpin Peril” Terrorized Men in the Early 20th Century

In 1903, Leoti Blaker of Kansas was touring New York City, when she unknowingly made history. The young woman boarded a crowded stagecoach and managed to find an empty seat next to an elderly gentleman who was elegantly dressed. As the horse picked up speed and the stagecoach jumped, passengers were jostled and the man next to Leoti inched closer and closer. Before long, he was touching her — hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder. When he lifted his arm and draped it low across her back, Leoti had enough. She reached for her hatpin — nearly a foot long — and plunged it into the meat of the man’s arm. He let out a terrible scream and left the stagecoach at the next stop. Newspapers across the country began reporting similar incidents with “mashers” — period slang for predatory men. For the first time, women who fought back against harassers were regarded as heroes rather than comic characters. Society was transitioning, slowly but surely, from expecting and advocating female dependence on men to recognizing their desire and ability to defend themselves. Tales abounded of innocent men who fell victim to the “hatpin peril.” One example was a 19-year-old girl in Scranton, Penn., who playfully thrust her hatpin at her boyfriend and fatally pierced his heart. By 1909, the hatpin was considered an international threat, with the police chiefs in various cities considering measures to regulate their length. Chicago was the first to set in place an ordinance stating that any woman caught with a hatpin longer than nine inches would be arrested and fined $50. On the other side of the earth, in Sydney, Australia, 60 women went to jail rather than pay fines for wearing “murderous weapons” in their hats. The furor over hatpins subsided at the onset of World War I, and died entirely when bobbed hair and cloche (bell-shaped) hats came into fashion.