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So they went out, to parks and dance halls, saloons and restaurants, nickelodeons and penny arcades—to the streets themselves, teeming centers of working-class social life—where they could have a good time and meet men on their own. The term “date” originated as slang referring to a woman’s date book, and showed up in print in 1896, in “Stories of the Streets and Town,” a column that offered middle-class readers a taste of working-class life.
Artie, a young clerk, confronts a girlfriend who’s been giving him the slip: “I s’pose the other boy’s fillin’ all my dates? A later column reports Artie’s admiring observation that a certain girl’s date book was so full she had to keep it “on the Double Entry System.”Not surprisingly, these new female freedoms came with a catch.
Six months into their relationship, she discovered that he was seeing half a dozen other women, one of whom he’d been stringing along for two years.In “All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation” (Simon & Schuster), the journalist Rebecca Traister describes the attempts of one establishment, the Trowmart Inn, in Greenwich Village, to address this problem.Unlike most boarding houses for working women, the Trowmart didn’t impose a curfew, and actively encouraged male visitors. had they a proper place in which to entertain their admirers, would develop into happy, excellent wives and still happier mothers.”What the Trowmart founder had in mind was “calling,” the respectable mode of courtship that had been practiced during the nineteenth century and into the twentieth by the aspirational middle class.The pursuit of leisure cost more than most single working-class women (paid a fraction of what men were) could readily afford.Weigel quotes a 1915 report by a New York social worker: “The acceptance on the part of the girl of almost any invitation needs little explanation, when one realizes that she often goes pleasureless unless she accepts ‘free treats.’ ” To have fun, a woman had to let a man pay for her and suffer the resultant damage to her reputation.