Reel News: Yesterday’s News Today — “Some Freak Bills”

Heaven forfend! Women on bicycles! In bloomers! (Illustration from Puck, June 19, 1895, Library of Congress) (https://www.loc.gov/resource/cph.3b49127/)

“A bill was presented to the legislature of one of the eastern states making it a criminal offense for women to wear bloomers for bicycle riding. Some years ago there was a hue and cry because women wore Mother Hubbard dresses on the streets. They could wear Mother Hubbard cloaks or jackets, but not dresses, and there was a great deal of wonderment at the difference.

“A bill forbidding the wearing of corsets was recently killed by the legislature of a western state. Among the absurdly funny bills that have been presented in committees was one to compel young people to marry or pay a fine; also one taxing bachelors. Another provided a pension for old maids the same to accumulate as a dowry. The object of this was to make it an object for some man to marry the young woman on account of the little cash she possessed.

“A crank wanted a bill passed making it a criminal offense for a bald-headed man in the front row of seats in a theater to wear a skull cap, and attempts at legislation on theater hats are too recent to need recalling. Lawmakers have struggled with proposed enactments forbidding hazing and yet students ‘haze’ whenever and wherever they will. Football has come in for some attention in law-making circles. Now it has been to limit the game, and again to compel the members to cut their hair. Some years ago a bill was placed in the hands of a member of congress, making it an offense punishable by fine and imprisonment for a woman to wear her hair shingled. Another crank tried to forbid the wearing of bangs. Shoes with very pointed toes came in for a similar attention, and high heels were not overlooked when this crazy work was in progress.

“A number of bills have been drafted which were evidently suggested by the blue laws. To forbid and punish flirting was the purpose of one effusion, and another sought to restrain young men and maidens from driving after nightfall, probably lest they flirt ‘unbeknownst’ to the Mrs. Grundys and Mr. Meddlesomes of their several communities.

“To authorize a committee to select a certain number of marriageable young women and provide marriage portions for them from money raised by taxing rich bachelors was a favorite idea of one happily married resident of a locality where there were a number of rich bachelors and pretty girls who could not, to all appearances, come to matrimonial terms.

O tempora o mores—“Our Darling Bangs Her Hair!” (Sheet music by Otto E. Hennig, 1881, Library of Congress)

A bit of legislation that would have been much commended if it had succeeded was a bill to prevent the sending of flowers to convicted felons. The number of women of unwholesome and mawkish sentiments who make a practice of sending bouquets to men who have murdered their wives has long been an occasion of disgust to sensible people. Beginning with the purest motives, that of offering spiritual consolation to prisoners under sentence of death, the practice of visiting condemned criminals has become, through misuse and a misconception of the proper intent and purpose of such visits, a reproach to the persons who are most nearly concerned, and a shame to the communities where such foolishness is indulged in.”

Lamar Register, June 26, 1897