In What they are saying by Brian Forschner0 Comments

Women and Crime Prevention

Did women invent the modern concept of crime prevention? Well, in 1900, the era of Jack the Strangler, they were the most vulnerable and, as women have done historically, took the matter into their own hands. In 1900 there was massive industrialization in cities like Dayton, Ohio, which alone had over 1000 factories. Years earlier, no woman would be found on the street unaccompanied, much less younger women and teenage girls. Women who had previously walked the streets alone were called, not surprisingly, “street walkers.” Now they were working in factories, three shifts a day, getting paid in cash, taking the trolleys back and forth to work from unlit and unpoliced trolley suburbs. Now, with discretionary money in their purses, they were also promenading on the downtown streets on weekends showing the fruits of their labors, such as hats, parasols, jewelry, dresses, and, the latest New York fashions and hairdos. They were also seen walking arm-in-arm with other women, laughing, “carrying on” in bars, and drinking highballs. Taking advantage of the situation were insufferable gents who would flirt, whistle, nudge, make lewd comments, and, in general, act crude. All of these behaviors carried a veiled threat of sexual assault. These gents were referred to as mashers. Marissa Fessenden cites a western judge who gave the best definition of a masher. “Any man who accosts on the street a woman whom he does not know and to whom he has no right to speak; any man who stands on the street corners and ogles women as they pass by; any man who makes grimaces at women.” More about mashers in a later blog. Groups such as the Women’s Christian Association, forerunner of the YWCA were preaching women’s safety and protection across the U.S. They recommended more police protection, lighting, self defense courses, boxes of pepper in one’s purse and on bedside tables, hat pins, Jiu Jitsu, etc. And so, in a word, yes. Women did “invent” the concept of crime prevention! Here are some examples.

A 1906 Dayton Daily News editorial emphasized the importance of prevention.

The following ad encouraged woment to take Jiu Jitsu courses.

A Chicago newspaper and the Dayton Daily News suggested that umbrellas or parasols could be weapons just as effective as pistols as seen in these 1906 cartoons.

The WCA emphasized that using one’s voice was a potent defense as seen in this Dayton Daily News Article in 1907.

As would be expected, the male leaders of the community suggested the formation of task forces to study the issue in 1909. The task force never got off the ground.


Another crime prevention method was the hatpin. Were the victims of Jack the Strangler armed with a hatpins? Really? Were hatpins weapons? What were mashing ordinances?Who was seeking anti-hatpin legislation? More to follow.

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