While British women were being imprisoned for demanding the vote, the fair sex in Western Australia was subject to an even more sinister form of control. We refer, of course, to the notorious anti-hatpin crusade of 1912-13.
It all started in March 1912 in Melbourne, when the Australian Women’s National League resolved to start the crusade. If you were to believe the press (although we never do) numerous people were being blinded by the awful hatpins, and even one case of death where the pin pierced the brain of an innocent man walking by.
Sydney responded immediately with a ban on unprotected hatpins, with a fine of £10 for each offence. By May, Boulder had drafted similar laws. After Perth outlawed these dangerous weapons in August, one Perth drapery firm sold thousands of hatpin protectors in a single week.
And Perth City Council wasn’t joking, officers were appointed to walk the streets and take down the names of offenders for prosecution. In one day in February 1913, forty indignant women were charged with having broken the most serious of all laws.
These Perth women were indignant, claiming that the council was oppressing their freedom to dress as they wished. Sometimes they claimed they didn’t know about the law, which led (male) newspaper journalists to bemoan that the feminine members of the community limit their newspaper reading to the births, deaths, and marriages column and social notes.
A huge sweep was undertaken by Inspector White on 27 March 1913, when seventeen ladies were dragged before the magistrate for having worn unprotected hatpins on Hay and Barrack streets.
One of the ladies successfully argued that her pin was too short to protrude from the edge of her hat, even though the good Inspector White gave evidence to the contrary.
Another defendant, Eliza Tuxford, explained that the protector had fallen off her hatpin, so was fined only five shillings. The remaining fifteen were each ordered to pay ten shillings, and warned to never endanger the lives of the public again.
Most Australian cities dropped the laws quickly after this, leading to the end of this oppression. But Inspector White was determined to press on regardless. He was still bringing cases in 1919, leading to allegations he was on a bonus scheme for increasing the council’s revenue. But that could never be true, could it? Like parking inspectors today, he worked for love, not to aid budget lines.