Saturday, November 1, 2014
Middleborough has always been a conservative town. Its ban on public swearing in 2012 achieved fairly widespread notoriety, but was not the first action of its kind. One hundred years ago, in a similar act aimed at maintaining a semblance of decorum among its residents, Middleborough police were tasked with ensuring that the slits in women's skirts did not exceed what was considered proper - 15 inches to be exact. At the time, the action attracted the attention of Chicago's The Day Book which published the following notice on January 19, 1914.
Such is the decree of those intelligent guardians of propriety, the police. Any longer breach in the skirt is considered a breach of the peace - at least in the puritanical minds of the good people of Middleboro, Mass.
Chief of Police [Harry] Swift of more-than-moral Middleboro has shown that fifteen inches is the very ultimate maximum of leg that can be decently shown. And so he has turned loose on the streets the "slit-skirt censors" - a detachment of patrolmen armed with two-foot rules instead of clubs.
But the rule is, in fact, unnecessary, for each censor has so delicate a sense of decency that he can tell at once, and infallibly, by the tingle of shame which passes over him that when he sees it, that a certain slit skirt is revealing a sixteenth of an inch more of limb than the first fifteen inches which alone can be gazed upon with perfect propriety.
It's not quite clear just how far the measure progressed or how long it lasted. The Boston Globe in February 1914 reported that the story had reached as far as the west coast where Chief Swift was the subject of at least one cartoon and news clipping.
The Day Book (Chicago), January 19, 1914, p. 9.
Boston Globe, "Middleboro Fame Reaches the Pacific", February 8, 1914, p. 16.
"See What's Here - A Slit-Skirt Censor" from The Day Book(Chicago), January 19, 1914, p. 9
Representative woman's walking suit from 1913 featuring a decorously-buttoned slitted skirt. Women in Middleborough showing an inappropriate amount of leg were subject to being cited for indecency.