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The Pen and the Pin

What do a pin and a pen have in common? Let’s explore that question today on IWD.

March 8, 2021 is International Women’s Day. Its purpose is to “celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness about women’s equality, lobby for accelerated gender parity, and fundraise for female-focused charities. This year’s theme is “Choose to Challenge.”

In this blog post, I implore you to choose to challenge your outlook on women, safety, and alliance. Perhaps the pen and the sword (or pin) are equally mighty.

On May 28, 1903, a Kansas tourist in the Big Apple boarded a stagecoach. She soon became the target of a man seemingly accidentally and then purposefully touching her. In a desperate act to maintain her personal privacy and safety, she removed her foot long hat pin and stabbed it into the offensive man’s arm. He screamed and hopped off the coach at the next stop. In the words of the woman, Leoti Blaker: “I’ve heard about Broadway mashers and ‘L’ mashers, but I didn’t know Fifth Avenue had a particular brand of its own…. If New York women will tolerate mashing, Kansas girls will not.”

“Masher” was a slang term of the time referring to a predatory man. Throughout the country, mashers became acquainted with hatpins as self-defense weapons as stories spread of the unique and easy access women had to them. In St. Louis, Missouri, a school teacher fought off her masher by swiping at his face with a hat pin. In New Your, two women were arrested for making “anarchistic” speeches. This led to an uproar in which one hundred women who worked in factories attacked police officers with hatpins.

In 1909 the hatpin was dubbed an “international threat.” In Chicago in March 1910, hatpins longer than nine inches were made illegal. A woman in violation would be subject to arrest and a fifty dollar fine.

Nan Davis was outspoken in court proceedings regarding this new law. “If the men of Chicago want to take hat pins away from us, let them make the streets safe.” She added, “No man has a right to tell me how I shall dress and what I shall wear.”

The hat pin self-defense method was lauded by suffragists who used these incidents as conversation starters about a woman’s right to appear in public safely.

During this era of the women’s rights movement, the pen played its part alongside the pin. The Women Writers’ Suffrage League was a group in the United Kingdom that began in 1908 . Membership was open to all authors who supported the suffragist movement. Its mission was: "to obtain the Parliamentary Franchise for women on the same terms as it is, or may be, granted to men. Its methods are the methods proper to writers – the use of the pen.” They sought to influence political and social changes through literature. The organization disbanded in 1919 after women were granted the right to vote.

After women gained the right to vote in the United States, and World War I began, fashion changed. Hatpins were no longer in fashion, and the hubbub subsided. But then a new shocking rebellion grew as flappers shook up society with their new clothing choices.

In today’s society, we are more aware of gender and class issues. Mashers, however, still roam among us. We must ask ourselves, is the pen mightier than the pin? I believe, and hope with all my heart, that it is.

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