Source Documents
fredrick o'brien : surf fashions hawaii, 1922 

Fredrick O'Brien : Surf Fashions in Hawaii, 1922.
Fredrick O'Brien: The Wowser in the South Seas.
Nonsenseorship: Sundry observations concerning prohibitions, inhibitions and illegalities, .

Ed. by G. P. P.
Illustrated by Ralph Barton
 G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York.1922.

Hathi Trust$b113083


Facing Page 83
(Illustration by Ralph Barton)
Page 83
Fredekick O'Brien

All over the South Seas the censor has had his day.
From New Guinea to Easter Island, he has made his rules and enforced them.
Often he wrote glowing pages of prose and poetry about his accomplishments,
for reading in Europe and America.
He was usually sincere, and determined.
He felt that it was up to him to make over the native races to suit his own ideas
 of what pleased God and himself.
When he had the lower hand, he prayed and strove in agony to change the
wicked hearts of his flock to Clapham or Andover standards; he suffered the
contumelies of heathen jibes, and now and again—often enough to make a cartoon popular—he was hotpotted or baked on hot stones as a "long pig."
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The wowzers are more active in Hawaii, the most temperate portion of Polynesia, than in the Maori isles of New Zealand.
A law passed at the last session of the Hawaiian legislature prohibits "any person over fourteen years of age from appearing
upon the streets of Honolulu in a bathing suit unless covered suitably by an outer garment reaching at least to the knees."
There is a ferment in Honolulu over the arrest and punishment of offenders against this new censorship.
It is the result of the control

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by the spiritual, or perhaps, lineal, descendants of the first South Sea censors, of the great grandchildren of those men who wore the girdles of leaves at the landing of the Marlboro school teacher a hundred years ago. \
The girdle-wearers are members of the Hawaiian legislature—soon to be succeeded by Japanese-native-born—and the censors,
likely, are wives of financiers and sugar factors.
Again the feeble remnant of the Hawaiian race voted against the girdle.
A friend of mine, grandson of the estimable missionary and his bride of the New England of a century ago, thus comments upon the law in a paper sent to me:—

The facts which caused the passage of the law were, that certain residents of Waikiki were donning their bathing suits at home, walking across and along the public streets to the sea and returning in the same state of undress.
If the bathing suits had been of the old-style no objection to this would have been made.
The woman's bathing suit of the olden days were a cumbrous swaddling garment, high- necked, long-sleeved, full-skirted, bloomer-breeched and stockinged.
Simultaneously with the outbreak of the street parade era, above noted, there came with spontaneous-combustion-like rapidity, a radical change in the style of female bathing suits "on the street at Waikiki."
First the sleeves, then the stockings, then the skirts, then the main portion of the garment covering the legs, successively

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disappeared, until the low-necked, sleeveless, legless one-pieee suit became "the thing"; and women clad in garments scantier
than the scantiest on the ballet stage, were parading Kalakaua avenue in the vicinity of the Moana hotel, to the scandal and disgust of some; the devouring gaze of others; and the interested inspection of whomsoever chose to inspect!
It was a startling sight to the uninitiated—probably unduplicated in any other civilized country.
The South Pacific or the heart of Africa would probably have to be visited to find virtuous women so scantily clad, making such exhibition of their persons in public—more particularly on the public streets.
This scantiness of dress became the subject of protest, of justification, of discussion in press, in public and in private throughout the community.
The practice was violently attacked as tending to lewdness and scandal; as vigorously defended as a question of personal taste and liberty, and as a matter concerning safety and comfort in swimming.
Those "old-style suits" he refers to, "full-skirted, bloomer-breeched" were the godly ones brought to Hawaii by the censors, but which gradually disappeared with the influx of rich tourists from America, and the importation by Honolulu merchants of the flimsier and less concealing kind.
This new generation of whites that has sought escape from the "cumbrous, swaddling garment" embraces the flapper, who at Waikiki is a beautiful and wholesome sight. Browned by years of exposure to the beach sun, charmingly modelled, and with

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the grace and freedom of limb of the surf-board rider and canoeist, she has no consciousness of guilt in her emergence dripping from the sea, in her lying in the breeze upon the sand, nor in her walks to and from her bungalow nearby. And she refuses to be censored.
The commentator, proprietor of the oldest newspaper in the islands, and himself a noted diplomat, lawyer and revolutionist—he took up a rifle against Liliuokalani—says so:—

The law has been observed by a few, ignored by a few, and caricatured by the many. It is not an uncommon thing to see a woman walking the streets in Waikiki in the scantiest of bathing suits, with drapery of the flimsiest suspended from her shoulders and floating behind upon the breeze.
The police have made a few feeble and spasmodic attempts to persuade observance of the law, with some ill-advised attempts to enforce individual ideas of propriety on the beach itself.

On the whole, the law is either openly and flagrantly violated or rendered farcical by the contemptuous manner of its semi-observance.
And, cautiously but firmly, the grandson of the first missionaries to Hawaii, himself living six decades in Honolulu, a church member and supporter of all evangelical and commercial progress, gives advice to the people of his territory.
Urging that those opposed to the bathing suit law try

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legally to secure its repeal, but that all obey it while it is on the statute books, he says:—
As to the question of attire on the beach, there are modest and immodest women to be found everywhere, regardless of their clothes.
It is impossible to legislate modesty into a person who is innately immodest, and it is therefore useless to try and do so.
The attire of a woman on the beach at Waikiki as well as her conduct elsewhere, should therefore be left to the individual woman herself.
That is the last word of a very shrewd, wealthy, experienced, religious son of censors.
But wow-zerism dies hard in America or in the South Seas.
The Anglo-Saxon American has it in his blood as an inheritance from the rise of Puritanism four hundred years ago, while with many it is an idiosyncrasy to be explained by the glands regulating personality.
In fact, I feel that this is the enemy the would-be free must fight.
We must attack and extirpate the wowzerary gland.

Fredrick O'Brien: The Wowser in the South Seas.
Sundry observations concerning prohibitions, inhibitions and illegalities, .

Ed. by G. P. P.
Illustrated by Ralph Barton
G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1922.

Hathi Trust$b113083


Geoff Cater (2017) : Fredrick O'Brien : Surf Fashions in Hawaii, 1922.