In 1898 Marie Manning, a columnist for William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal, began writing “Dear Beatrice Fairfax,” the world’s first column offering advice to the lovelorn. The Fort Worth Telegram and its successor, the Star-Telegram, ran the syndicated column from 1903 to 1922. Through the years the column went through changes of title and format but retained the level-headed perspective that would later be carried on by “Dear Abby” and “Ask Ann Landers.”
The letters written by advice seekers and the replies given by Beatrice Fairfax reveal social conventions, fashions, and other aspects of everyday life in the early twentieth century.
For example, on December 13, 1914, Beatrice reminds readers of the dangers of flirting when “Steady Reader” expresses his frustration because he has not been introduced to a certain young lady he rides a streetcar with. Beatrice warns women about “villains” and “rogues and mountebanks” and cautions women never to let a man speak to them without an introduction by a “sponsor.” A man will only lose respect for a girl who would let a stranger speak to her.
In 1915 flirting wasn’t just unwise in Fort Worth–it was against the law. City ordinance No. 486 made “flirting” or “mashing” a misdemeanor.