Navigation Menu+

bangs / lunatic fringe

“Lunatic Fringe” is a name given to the fashion of cropping the hair and letting the banged ends hang down over the forehead.

The lunatic fringe is going out of fashion, pity the lunatics are not. – Maryland newspaper, April 1884.

Ahundred twenty-five years before I started writting little bits about all the people, places, and things mentioned in the Little House books, back in the years before the Wilders moved to Missouri, and a decade before Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her first Missouri Ruralist article, Haryot Holt Cahoon was publishing articles of interest to women. Born in Michigan and receiving a classical education, Cahoon found herself living in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she became associated with Kate Cunningham, founder of The Woman’s Chronicle, a late nineteenth-century newspaper catering to women of the area. Both were ardent suffragists. The paper was the first published that proclaimed equal suffrage for women, and it was a great success. Cahoon later moved to New York City, where she wrote articles for several newspapers.

In 1893, Haryot Cahoon published What One Woman Thinks, a collection of over seventy of her essays. (Blogs being turned into books is nothing new!) Subjects include grandmothers, scolding, Columbus and patriotism, the farm wife, the man (of the place), Sundays, and banged hair!

Cahoon suggests that when women “banged” their hair, they laid the cornerstone for equality with men, and that men never liked short hair on women because they feared the women would live up to it. Cutting bangs – that fringe of hair that covered the forehead somewhere between hairline and eyebrows – was a badge worn by a young girl as she approached womanhood, a rite of passage. She looked in the mirror and saw the smooth hair and middle part of a modest youth, and no longer wanted to be that person. Once she cut a “prankish” fringe, it opened up a whole new world for her. The submissive oval face was suddenly framed with fringe over laughing eyes, and laughing eyes in a woman catch the attention of men. — Haryot Holt Cahoon, What One Woman Thinks (New York: Tait, Sons & Company, 1893), 89-92.

In Little Town on the Prairie (see Chapter 17, “The Sociable), Laura Ingalls wanted to cut “stylish” bangs because Mary Power had done so, and she wanted them now, in the minutes before attending a church sociable. We only learn later that Laura and Mary were the only girls there. Perhaps Mary Power cut her own fringe after her older sister, Susie, fringed her own hair while courting the dashing Jake Hopp. A De Smet photograph of the three Power sisters – Susie, Mary, and Lizzie – show all three with curled fringes of bangs.

Mostly likely, Carrie Ingalls, shown in her upper level school pictures with bangs of her own, had no trouble with Ma or Pa over cutting her hair. And Grace Ingalls sported bangs at an even younger age, according to a photograph of her. One thing is for certain. Hair styles come and go in popularity; they always have and they always will. A daring cut will soon be mainstream or out-of-fashion, and something new will always come along to replace it.


bangs (BPC 20; TLW 9; LTP 17, 19, 20, 23, 24; THGY 19, 21, 29, 30; PG 102, 325)
lunatic fringe (LTP 17, 23)