Monday, March 28, 2016

Hatpins and Cursing

At the library we are continuously looking to make our resources more available to the public. In the past we digitized a number of public documents from our collection as well as all of Massachusetts’ Acts and Resolves. Currently we are in the process of digitizing Massachusetts’ Legislative Documents – all filed bills from the late 1700s, and have already put a number of them online for anyone to search through.

Digitization is a long process, including scanning of the material, creating and editing metadata, and uploading these files so that they are searchable and findable. During the process of editing the metadata, I came across a number of bills that today may have seemed slightly ludicrous. Of course, not all bills become law, but many of these bills seemed to reflect the time that they were filed.

For example, there was a lot of debate about hatpins at the turn of the 20th century, when they were quite fashionable for women to wear with oversized hats and long hair. Massachusetts passed an act in 1913 regulating the use of hatpins, making it unlawful for any person to wear a hatpin in public longer than one half inch. This was an issue all over the country, as women were using the pins as weapons against those harassing them and some saw the hatpins as a symbol of female empowerment at a time when women’s rights were at the center of politics. In 1943, with hatpins being out of fashion, a bill was filed and passed to repeal the hatpin law. Luckily, hatpins have not been a problem since.

There are other bills that today would seem difficult to handle or for police to enforce. In 1936, a bill was filed in the house, “prohibiting the use of obscene or sacrilegious language and swearing at theatrical exhibitions or entertainments”. Perhaps even harder to believe, a bill was filed in 1956, “prohibiting profane, obscene, impure language or slanderous statements directed at participant of sporting event.” When I read this bill, I found it very quaint that the legislatures of 1957 tried to get New England sports fans under control. But it turns out this bill came up again in 1957 and actually passed into law in 1963. In fact, it is still law today. Many people (including myself) may owe a fine of $50 after a visit to The Boston Garden or Fenway Park.

There are many more bills and acts worth looking into, including the intent of a bill filed in 1937, “making it unnecessary for women twenty years of age or over to give their exact age in order to be listed as residents of any city or town or permitted to Vote therein.” While we only have some of the legislative documents from 1913 to the 1980s and early 1990s currently online, we are working to make all of them eventually available!

Stephanie Turnbull
Reference Librarian