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“In the early 1900s, vice commissions across the country sent police and undercover investigators to check out spots where people went to make dates,” Weigel writes.“As early as 1905, private investigators hired by a group of Progressive do-gooders in New York City were taking notes on what we can now recognize as the dating avant-garde.” She recalls the report of one such special agent, staked out at the Strand Hotel in Midtown, who noted that the women he was spying on did not seem like prostitutes, per se, but were concerning nonetheless.“As the years passed, the vice squad had to accept it,” she writes. They saw them as romantic.” While dating finally became acceptable, it wasn’t exactly liberating for women.If the American Dream for men was to work hard and become a success, the equivalent for women was to get a good job and marry your rich boss.

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.” 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.“By making herself up, a woman showed that she valued her femininity and was willing to spend time and money on her appearance.” Two other now-familiar concepts also sprung up around this time.Previously, people sought to be known by traits that emphasized morality, such as “character” and “virtue.” The concept of “personality” — which places emphasis on surface traits — had been regarded in the negative, referenced in terms of “personality disorders.” “Starting around 1920, however,” Weigel writes, “experts began to grant that healthy individuals had personalities, too.” The concept began popping up in romance literature and articles about dating, in the sense that, “personality was like ‘painting’ — a way a woman could make herself up in order to appeal to men.” “In the context of dating, to have a ‘good personality’ or to simply ‘have personality’ meant to have charisma,” Weigel writes.

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