“Since I was a child and my mother first taught me to love women, I have pondered over their needs, capacities and aspirations. As I grew older I added to my musings some study and observation.” – Preface, What Women Want
It’s easy for us to overlook today’s modern conveniences, even when it comes to voicing our disapproval. The Internet offers a fast and open forum for anyone to chide and admonish anything they want. More often than not, our reliance on the “Yelp Effect” is both a blessing and a curse – a life and prosperity, death and destruction bargain we’ve set out against ourselves in biblical fashion. Forgive us, Lord, for we have sinned with syntax errors.
Eighty years ago, the only way you could voice your opinion to the wider world outside of your home or office was through the newspaper. No edit button or page refresh. No Internet. No television pundits. Deep down, it was just pure old-fashioned trash talk in black and white – perhaps the purest kind.
One such incident occurred in February 1928 over a ten-minute Washington area radio broadcast. The program from well-known Feminist and actress Beatrice Forbes-Robertson Hale stirred a series of heated letters published in the Washington Post between supporters and naysayers over a period of several weeks.
The short talk by Ms. Hale came less than a decade after Women’s Suffrage. A woman’s place in society was elevated throughout the 1920s, both in attitude and in practice. To some, the concept was relatively fresh and untested. For her, it was a matter of principle. Her most popular work, What Women Want: An Interpretation of the Feminist Movement (1914), is a well-written treatise on the state of women in America. In the fourteen years between the publication of What Women Want and the 1928 news broadcast, Ms. Hale became an outspoken supporter for feminism and the family.
Ms. Forbes-Robertson Hale came on the air at 7:50pm for a brief segment called “Compassionate Marriage,” sandwiched between the Kitt Hour of Music and the W.B. & A. Quartet on WRC Radio (now ESPN’s 980 Sports Talk Radio). Although the exact details of her brief talk are not available, one can surmise the subject matter was a direct smack to Companionate Marriage, a 1927 book written by Colorado judge and social reformer Ben Lindsey. Companionate Marriage argued for couples to undergo a one-year trial marriage with the promise of no children in order to decide if they are compatible enough for married life. The book became a major motion picture featuring silent film starlet Betty Bronson in 1928.
Ms. Hale’s arguments against companionate marriage were short. Public response in the wake of the broadcast was a different story.
The Saturday edition of the Washington Post published three days later included a special section on the broadcast called “Radio Obscenity.” Two letters to the editor were chosen for publication. The first from “J.G. Alcorn” called for a stop to the type of “obscene talks” given by the feminist author and activist. The offended went on to demand the Radio Commission to censor such “filth” from the airwaves.
The second letter from an individual simply known as “H.L.W.” titled their entry “A Vile Radio Talk.” The author echoed similar sentiments of disgust. H.L.W., however, chose to go a bit further. The author penned a short tirade on what they felt was the true intention of marriage. It was not a defense of companionate marriage or the ideas of Judge Lindsey. The venomous prose that follows was directed to Ms. Hale’s personal feelings of matrimony:
“If we should follow the suggestions of this Englishwoman who spoke last night, every male will become a gorilla and every home will become a house of prostitution for children-as well as for grown ups. There will be no chastity in the home, and America will become the mecca of all the lewd and outcast people of Europe.”
The author dug deeper into their own blatant xenophobia, adding that such talk by Ms. Hale would make America “a nation of dope fiends and libertines.”
One week later, a concerned citizen came defended Hale’s short speech in another letter to the editor to the Post. Mrs. Clara Sidney Wiseman rebuked the two previous letter authors by name. She indicated “Alcorn” to be a male. In her letter, Wiseman defended the actions of Mrs. Hale and that of WRC for airing it. She admonished those who would rally against it, and called most of them hypocrites “living in darkness:”
She hailed the broadcast as “brilliantly and sincerely spoken and delivered in the simplest language.” Compassionate marriage was a right and a privilege in Progressive Era America. Women like Ms. Hale and Mrs. Wiseman simply wanted the world to see their point of view. She ended her defense by asking newspapers to publish her address in “civilized newspapers around the world,” thus implying the real brutes in question were conservatives of the old guard.
As smart as she was beautiful, Ms. Hale also weighed in on the matter in yet another letter. In the time between the broadcast and the first week of March, Hale received several news clippings in the mail about the incident. At the time, Ms. Hale lived in New York City. She wanted to set the record straight and defend herself to readers. Today, we call it a little something different: throwing shade.
She presented a few simple points of interest in her defense. For one, she was a native-born American citizen, not English. Her second response to Alcorn and H.L.W. are as “shade-worthy” as it gets in pre-depression America. Take notes, haters:
In the end, she had received “scores of letters” by individuals thanking her for her talk. Some letters even asked “the blessing of God on what (I) am trying to do.” No further information on the matter exists. She died in 1967.
Praise be, Based Hale.
Forbes-Robertson Hale, Beatrice. “Opposes Companionate Marriage.” The Washington Post, March 7, 1928.
Forbes-Robertson Hale, Beatrice. What Women Want: An Interpretation of The Feminist Movement. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1914.
“Mrs. Hale’s Talk on Compassionate Marriage is Defended; Children Should Be Enlightened at Home, Says Writer.” The Washington Post, February 19, 1928.
“Radio.” The Washington Post, February 8, 1928.
“Radio Obscenity.” The Washington Post, February 11, 1928.