Daters were “Charity Girls”—“Charity Cunts,” in a dictionary of sexual terms published in 1916—so called because they gave themselves away for free. If women went out, they were seen as akin to whores, who at least got cash for their trouble—a distinction that was lost on the police, who regularly arrested female daters for prostitution.On the other hand, if women stayed in they couldn’t bump into eligible bachelors.
But John, with his flair for saccharine cuteness and his insistence on treating his conquests like romantic-comedy heroines, didn’t like just to play or cheat, and he certainly didn’t like any of his girlfriends to suspect that they didn’t have his full attention. According to Moira Weigel, the author of “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), most people are not like John in this respect.
The first is that though dating is passed off as a leisure activity, it really is a lot of work, particularly for women.
It requires physical effort—all that primping, exercising, shopping, and grooming—as well as sizable investments of time, money, and emotion.
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.