Sunday, February 12, 2012

Forty-Two Years Ago, It Was Illegal For Women To Tend Bar In Chicago.

First of all, do you know there is a branch of the National Archives in Chicago? There is, at 7358 S Pulaski (Pulaski and W. 75th Place). This story is featured in the current (February 2012) edition of their newsletter.

In 1951, the City of Chicago enacted what was called the 'barmaid ordinance.' It prohibited women from "pouring, mixing, or drawing intoxicating liquors" unless they owned the tavern or were related as wife, sister, or mother to the owner. Chicago wasn't unique. The article mentions a similar law in Michigan.

Women could waitress. The first Playboy Club opened in Chicago in 1960. But they couldn't make the drinks. A woman couldn't even draw a beer.

Enforcement of the barmaid ordinance didn't begin until 1961. Dozens of women were arrested and hundreds lost their jobs. Early attempts to sue the city on behalf of female bartenders were unsuccessful. It was only in 1968, in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, that a federal lawsuit began to gain traction.

Many of the affected women were unionized but their unions, dominated by men, supported the ordinance. At trial, a business representative for the Bartender’s Union Local 278 questioned whether a woman could handle the job, "physically and emotionally." Could she tap a keg or "maintain an orderly house," he wondered.

Lawyers representing the city claimed that female bartenders would cause morality problems. "It is the city’s position that there is a danger to the public health, safety and welfare and that morals are in fact going to be endangered." They argued that female bartenders would "hypnotize" and "mesmerize" their male patrons, causing them to drink too much and cause trouble.

How many times has that happened to you?

In March, 1970, Judge James Parsons ruled that "sex is not a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the business of tending bar in the City of Chicago." The barmaid ordinance was dead, but it had stood for nearly 20 years.

So, yes, it is ridiculous that women in Saudi Arabia aren't allowed to drive a car, but don't feel too superior. Forty-two years ago, in Chicago, they weren't even allowed to draw a beer.


sku said...

How Bizarre. It seems strange that this was enacted in 1951 (as opposed to much longer ago). Do you know any of the history of why it was enacted at that time? Was there some incident that led people to think there was a need for such a restriction at that time?

T Comp said...

Great story Chuck. And as a lifetime Chicagoan I didn't know there was a branch of the National Archives here. Looks like a fun place to spend some time.

Josh Feldman said...

I think it was related to a Repeal-era sense of Saloon culture (as Fred Minnick put it in "Women and Whiskey"). That thing where women and prostitution were part of the draw along with liquor that drew the First Wave feminist/Reformer ire in leading the call to pass Prohibition in the first place. In the early post-Repeal era there a sense of wanting to play it safe by keeping whiskey more exclusively a clubby male thing. It's quite vivid when you look at the period advertising. From the 1930s to the 1950s you seldom see women at all in whiskey ads. It wasn't until the era of the pill (came out in 1960) and the 2nd wave of Feminism really hit its stride that women won the right to work (and hang) in bars again.