December 30 - Masks at Balls Banned

Posted on December 30, 2017

Even though ballroom dance is fairly popular these days - maybe partly thanks to shows like "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance," I don't really think about modern-day people going to "balls." But a ball is just a formal dance party.

And - if you go to a dance party in fancy dress and a mask, you've just got to call it a masquerade ball, right?

In the British colonies and then the young United States, masquerade balls were becoming popular. (Masquerades had been increasingly popular in Europe for a while.) But, just as in Europe, there was also an anti-masquerade movement.

What's wrong with wearing beautiful clothes and masks, in order to have fun and dance the night away?

Well, the anti-mask folks pointed out that, when people are anonymous (their true names aren't known), they more often act badly. They feel more shielded in any wrong-doing. 

I'm not necessarily talking about murder - although a Swedish king WAS murdered at a masquerade ball in the late 1700s - but more along the lines of flirting with someone else's spouse or getting drunk.

Anyway, with the Puritan influence over New England, including Boston, Massachusetts, some people wanted to outlaw the wearing of masks at balls. And on this date in 1809, Boston passed such a law.

In 1849, the law was extended. It wasn't just masks at balls that was illegal - it was ANY "public assembly, at which the company wears masks, or other disguises, and to which admission is obtained upon payment of money..." I guess that means no costume parties at Halloween time? No trick-or-treating? I mean, most mask-wearing festivities are probably private, not public, and money doesn't change hands - but still, I am pretty horrified by this law!

Of course, that was back in the past. Masks and "disguises" are legal now, even in Boston.

But - shockingly - the law wasn't actually repealed until 1963. I was actually alive during part of the time that the no-masks policy was the law of the land in Boston!

(I bet it was rarely enforced.)

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