On November 28, 1916, the City of Denton passed a mashing ordinance.
I ran across this while looking through some old Denton City Council minute books and was really surprised. Well, first I was confused because I didn’t know what mashing meant. I’d made a guess that was wrong (mashing=beer=prohibition), not to mention that guessing is too easy. So, I decided to look it up which is what you do when you work in a, um, library.
What is Mashing?
“Mashing,” also known as flirting, ogling, or petting is an older word that was used beginning around 1880. Nowadays, we call it sexual harassment. Back then it was a problem for women, just like now.
So yeah, it’s the same old story. I’ve come across quite a few good articles on the subject of “mashing” and “mashers” in the early twentieth century and the significance of society’s response towards protecting women and sometimes men, just like now.
As to the ordinance, I believe the enacting of a law came about in the early 1900s as the first newspaper accounts of cities passing a mashing ordinance start showing up around that time period (see Chronicling America, mashing ordinance).
Denton’s ordinance, Section 379 said: “It shall be unlawful for any male person in the City of Denton, Texas, to flirt with or ogle any female person unknown to him, or to utter, make or produce any sound intended or calculated to attract the attention of such female person, or to annoy or embarrass such person.”1
When you compare the other fines, the fine for mashing was pretty hefty. For instance, in 1935 it was $25.00 per instance, which using a CPI inflation calculator, comes to $327 for 2018. And here I would like to insert that I’m not “picking on” Mr. S. E. Lee, only using him to illustrate this. However, looking through the monthly reports there’s not a whole lot of men on the books (in Denton) who got fined for mashing, only a handful here and there – just enough to send a message.
There’s not anything mentioned in Denton after 1948 so we can assume it was eventually voted off; I just don’t know the when of it. This is the last article I ran across that had any mention of a mashing ordinance in the Denton newspaper.
Denton Record-Chronicle, 27 Sept. 1948, sec.1, p.1
Most of the information that I have used has come from newspaper articles; some on The Portal to Texas History, the Chronicling America project, and through the library’s subscription to Newspaper Archive. One author Kerry Segrave, a cultural historian, has written several books on the topic that looks quite promising. The library does not have any of her books, but a limited preview is available through Google Books. I have paged through, Beware the Masher: Sexual Harassment in American Public Places 1880-1930 which looks fascinating and will be on my list to borrow through the library’s Interlibrary Loan service in the future.
~Leslie Couture, Special Collections Department
1Denton, Texas, Municipal Code art. VI, § 379 (1941)