Many people visit Virginia because of its rich historical heritage. What many visitors do not realize is that, like many states, there are laws on the books that could easily be broken by an unsuspecting person. These laws were written when life was much more simple and every detail of life was regulated by the law.
Several laws are interesting, yet amusing but serve to give us insight into the life of early America. Early America needed the laws of the land to be specific. Having come from a very British structure to starting out in the wilderness, people needed to be told what to do in order to protect loss of life. For many, it was necessary and for others it was a source of frustration. Laws were written about home life and about societal restraints and societal expectations.
Some examples of these laws included, “A man must not kiss a girl unless he is willing to kiss one of her parents if requested to.” It could have said that he would be shot. This type of law protected the young ladies from being handled incorrectly in polite society. Another interesting law wanted gay men to properly identify themselves. It stated that, “Gay men, by law, must wear a pink flower on their left sleeve.” Although one may find this strange, this behavior was not readily accepted back then by the majority. Today, it is also still a source of much debate.
Some other laws included a few that were quite obvious such as: “It is against the law to build a house on major highways without planning permission. Men are not permitted to wear their underwear on top of their regular clothes. Norfolk: No woman may go in public without wearing a corset. Norton: It’s against the law to tickle a girl. (Not sure about old age pensioners)” Why would a man want to wear his underwear outside of his clothes? Why would a man go out of his way to tickle a young lady? Well, you might have a good answer for that one. These laws were obviously written to help to keep society decent. Some of these laws worked back then and some are still very much needed today.
The last, group of laws, are up for speculation, but once again, were written from the standpoint of what was going on in that society. For instance they state, “The statute of the Virginia code: To prohibit corrupt practices or bribery by any person other than candidates. Norfolk: a man may face 60 days in jail for patting a woman’s derriere.
Dayton: a person of color may not be outside or within city limits after 7:00pm.
Culpepper: No one may wash a mule on the sidewalk.” Why couldn’t the men keep their hands to themselves without the law having to tell them? Do we still have this problem today? Maybe we need to activate this law. Also, the law about colored people is queer until you realize that it was probably for their protection. Think about it. Back then, if the colored person was a servant, he might have had something bad happen to him while out late at night. Back then, there were only so many street lights. You could not be protected while walking about in the dark by yourself.
In conclusion, many laws were written and placed on the books in Virginia. No one has rescinded these laws. For instance, an unsuspecting man could be thrown in jail for touching a woman’s bottom. Many travelers on busy, packed subways could be arrested because of their straying hands. Consequently, strange laws in a historical city can surprise many visitors. Thankfully for some, those strange laws are not being used. If they were, Virginia would have to build more prisons. All thanks go out to the state of Virginia, for keeping those strange laws well-hidden.
If you happen to leave Virginia and visit Washington remember this law which is not so strange. “A woman must never tell her husband that he is ugly.”
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