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But how much worse would it be if the very act of it landed you in jail?According to “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a sprawling new history by Moira Weigel, the first female daters faced exactly that — mistaken, in their quest for love, for prostitutes.As with concepts like the “teenager” and “middle-class,” dating is an historically recent invention, spurred by an influx of women into the big cities seeking work around the turn of the 20th Century.The word “date” was coined — inadvertently, it seems — by George Ade, a columnist for the Chicago Record, in 1896.In a column about “working class lives,” he told of a clerk named Artie whose girlfriend was losing interest in him and beginning to see other men socially.When Artie confronts his fading love, he says, “I s’pose the other boy’s fillin’ all my dates?
” But when these single women, stripped from their dependency on fathers and husbands, began to be courted in public, police, politicians, and civic leaders were alarmed.
“In the eyes of the authorities,” Weigel writes, “women who let men buy them food and drinks or gifts and entrance tickets looked like whores, and making a date seemed the same as turning a trick.” After centuries of women’s fortunes being dictated by the men around them, the notion of women on their own gave much of society pause.
In Chicago, single women were known as “women adrift.” These circumstances gave birth to dating rituals and other unfortunate traditions that still remain — or, at least, still cause confusion as mores change — today.
When women first hit the workforce, writes Weigel, “the belief remained widespread they were working not to support themselves but only to supplement the earnings of fathers or husbands.” As such, “employers used this misconception as an excuse to pay women far less than they paid men.
In 1900, the average female worker earned less than half of what a man would earn in the same position.” If you’ve ever wondered how it developed that men were expected to treat their dates, that’s how.
“‘If I had to buy all my meals I’d never get along,’ a young woman living in a boardinghouse in Hell’s Kitchen told a social worker in 1915.” But as these women were courted in public, efforts were undertaken to curb what authorities viewed as a potential public menace.