The Anti-Flirt Club of the 1920s

Nobody likes being confronted on the street, catcalled, or corralled into paying attention to someone that they have no interest in. Sadly, street harassment, which disproportionately affects women, is nothing new. It also doesn’t appear to be vanishing anytime soon. But, for a brief moment in history, Anti-Flirt Club led an effort to criminalize this behavior in an attempt to protect women and girls in cities like Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York. 

The Anti-Flirt Club led the charge to inform women of an increasingly annoying, if not downright dangerous, problem of men relentlessly hitting on women. 

The answer? Don’t Flirt.

10 women sitting and standing on the porch of the Anti-Flirt Club House.
The Washington-based chapter of the Anti-Flirt club (Library of Congress). Image Source: The Atlantic

Drive-by Flirting 

The Anti-Flirt Club was formed in the 1920s in Washington, D.C. Women were sick and tired of being rolled up on by strange men when they were just trying to walk down the street. 

The Anti-Flirt Club’s mission centered around a specific type of harassment born out of the automobile boom of the 1920s: Drive-by flirting. 

According to an article published in the Washington Post on February 28, 1923, titled: “10 Girls Start War on Auto Invitation,” the heart of the problem was that “too many motorists are taking advantage of the precedent established during the war by offering to take young lady pedestrians in their cars, Miss Helen Brown […] declared yesterday.”

According to Brown, who was the secretary of the Anti-Flirt Club, these motorists were responsible for the bulk of the harassment because they were mobile, empowered and pretty much everywhere. 

Comic strip from 1900’s of old man trying to lure young woman into his convertible. 
With automobiles widely available, creepy men took “flirting” on the road, the central concern of the Anti-Flirt Club in DC. Image Source: Ebay

The Anti-Flirt Club Rules

As with any movement that hopes to make an impact, you need rules. The Anti-Flirt Club’s philosophy was that “flirting” should essentially be criminalized. The rules were as follows

  1. Don’t flirt; those who flirt in haste oft repent in leisure. 
  2. Don’t accept rides from flirting motorists—they don’t all invite you in to save you a walk.
  3. Don’t use your eyes for ogling—they were made for worthier purposes.
  4. Don’t go out with men you don’t know—they may be married, and you may be in for a hair-pulling match.
  5. Don’t wink—a flutter of one eye may cause a tear in the other.
  6. Don’t smile at flirtatious strangers—save them for people you know. 
  7. Don’t annex all the men you can get—by flirting with many you may lose out on the one. 
  8. Don’t fall for the slick, dandified cake eater—the unpolished gold of a real man is worth more than the gloss of a lounge lizard.
  9. Don’t let elderly men with an eye to a flirtation pat you on the shoulder and take a fatherly interest in you. Those are usually the kind who want to forget they are fathers.
  10. Don’t ignore the man you are sure of while you flirt with another. When you return to the first one you may find him gone.
President Alice Reighly led the first ever Anti-Flirt Club in 1920’s Washington D.C. Image Source: Wikipedia 

With the Club’s orders public, President Alice Reighly and co. organized the first (and last) Anti-Flirt Week. This movement was far from revolutionary, but there were other Anti-Flirt Clubs that sprouted up in Chicago and New York. These groups tended to focus on “mashers” – or aggressive male flirts – who approached women on the street. 

“Jail the Flirt” 

Surprisingly, the New York iteration of the Anti-Flirt Club was formed by men, including George Carroll, a “theatrical man” and James Madison, a “broker.” 

Their slogan: “Jail the Flirt.”

This attempt to incarcerate mashers and “lounge lizards,” (well-dressed men who troll bars and clubs), didn’t exactly materialize. While some flirters were arrested, it’s unclear how long they were detained or what specific law they were actually breaking. 

By the 1930s, the “Anti-Flirt” movement faded away. Unfortunately, the mashers, lounge lizards, and all-around creeps, are still going strong. 

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