Today while reading through David Glassberg’s The Presence of the Past, I was distracted by his mention of a woman stabbing someone with a hatpin in a San Francisco crowd. ( I have never heard such a thing!)
This inspired me to google “hatpin stabbing,” which was remarkably fruitful. So I tweeted the Smithsonian (because we are so close…no)and then I proceeded to tweet and tweet and tweet the articles I found online (See A_Pirok on twitter). Today I am going to talk about hatpins, hatpin stabbings and a possible exhibit.
Hat Pins’ First Utility
Keeping Hats on Their Heads
I had to look up what hat pins were for, because I do not use them. I originally thought they were simply decorations for hats. They are pins, like bobby-pins are pins, they are made to keep a hat secured to someone’s head using their hair. The pin is poked through to the inside of the hat where it goes under a part of the woman’s hair and is then poked out of the hat and capped. It was a very useful tool for women when they wanted to keep a hat on their head. ( I wish I knew about these the many times I have struggled to keep a graduate cap on my head)
Hat Pins’ Second Utility
Freakin’ Stabbing People!
Here are some examples of the articles I found. (I added the bolding)
The Cornell Daily Sun, October 28th 1913
“HIGHWAY ROBBER STABBED WITH HATPIN, DIES
By The Associated Press. CHICAGO, Oct. 27.— John Niermetz, a highway robber, died of a hatpin wound here today. When Niermetz attacked Mrs. Josephine Karmuenlsk recently, the woman, who is six feet tall and weighs 200 pounds, stabbed him behind the ear with her hatpin. The wound incapacated Niermetz for flight and blood poisoning resulted.”
San Francisco Call, July 11 1906
WOMAN IN CROWDED CAR STABBED WITH HATPIN
Vicious Female Passenger Resents Jostling by Making Murderous Attack.
PORTLAND, . July 10.— A young woman named Fernell was the victim of a most painful assault on a crowded ca Just leaving The Oaks today. “With her escort she boarded the overcrowded, car at the exit of The Oaks and they squeezed their way Inside until they could get a safe foothold. The car was so packed that the standing passengers jostled back and forth against each .other. ‘Miss. Fernell happened to jostle into another .woman passenger directly in”, front of her and the latter flew into a rage. Quickly drawing a long pin from her hat she ueed it daggerlike, lunging blindly backward with it with such force that it was driven completely j through Miss – Fernell’s thigh, and could not be removed. The screams , of the injured woman threw the passengers into a panic. Several tried to seize the; flentfish passenger, but~she Jumped -from the car. –
San Francisco Call August 22 1903
STOCKMAN IS FATALLY STABBED WITH HATPIN
Angry Woman Thinks Small Boy’s Prank Was His Deed and Strikes Back.
KALAMAZOO. Mich., Aug. 21.— E. B. McArthur, a stockman from Saco, Mont., was stabbed in the stomach with a hat pin by an unknown woman on the street here to-day. He was passing along on the sidewalk in a large crowd when a small boy brushed a little feather duster In a woman’s face. The woman, thinking It was McArthur, grabbed her hat pm and jabbed it Into his stomach. McArthur cannot live. The Identity of tha woman is unknown
There are many more examples, just googled “hatpin stabbing”
There needs to be an exhibit about this! What a hugely meaningful tiny object. Not only does the hat pin represent an era of women’s fashion, as a weapon the hat pin represents women’s struggles living as second class citizens. This object can be used to talk about the dangers both real and imagined women faced (still face) in public/urban environments.
On one hand you have women using hat pins to ward of real predators, on the other you have them using them on people when they get frightened. This illustrates the emotional tension women felt and were told to beware of. The exhibit could talk about male gaze, the expectations of women’s purity and gentility and their need to protect themselves from the seemingly perverse male world, and the realty that women new to growing turn-of-the-last-century cities could be scooped of the street (and in many places across the globe still can be!). This would necessitate a display about “separate spheres,” “the angel of the house,” progressivism, women’s rights now and then! So much, all swirling around the hatpin.
It would also be interesting to see this object placed alongside a woman’s high heel shoe, a purse with a brick in it, a mannequin holding a handful of keys sticking out of the spaces between her fisted fingers, and key chain pepper spray, ect,ect and used to talk about the history of women’s self defense, abuse and the fear of the night women are taught to understand. It could be done in conduction with a Take-Back-The-Night rally!
I have many more questions like what class of women most used hat pins? Is the hat pin universal as both a fashion item and weapon?