Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hough Home

228 North Congress Street today
Hough Home

Address: 228 North Congress Street, Jackson, Mississippi, USA

Opened: Between 1917 and 1920; became women only with death of Dr. Joseph W. Hough on December 11, 1920.

Closed: Sold on March 1, 1985 to the Magnolia Federal Bank

The Hough Home (sometimes referred to as the Joseph W. Hough Home - Business Woman's Home or the Business Women's Home) was said to be the last of the old-fashioned, ladies-only boarding houses in the State of Mississippi. According to the 1920 Census, Dr. Hough, a 92-year-old widower, was still living at this address--with twenty-five women. But by the time he passed away at the end of the year, it was strictly for the ladies until 1985.

From the Waycross Journal-Herald, May 4, 1985:

The closing of the historical Hough Home in Mississippi's capital ends the days of women-only boarding houses that offered rooms, meals and sets of rules for parlour courting.

"The Hough House was the last of an era because there's nothing else like it around. I don't know of another boarding house for women. The younger girls now are more independent and all want to share together--they're more adventuresome," said Elaine Porter, 38, who has lived at the Hough House for four years.

The downtown Jackson structure was built between 1912 to 1915 and purchased by Dr. Joseph W. Hough in 1917. Hough donated the two-story colonial revival wood-frame house to a charitable organization.

"It was Dr. Hough's specific request that the house be used for the benefit of the women in the business community," according to Jackson Landmarks, a historical guide compiled by the Junior League of Jackson.

The eight-member Hough Home of Board of Directors sold the house to Magnolia Federal Bank on March 1.

"It was getting too expensive to run. It wasn't serving its purpose. The girls didn't work downtown, they worked all over the city and there wasn't adequate parking," said Hough Home Board President Sallie Crim.

The money from the sale will go into a scholarship fund for students at local colleges.

Single women boarding in the Hough Home were usually Mississippians fresh out of high school or college with jobs in state government, banks and insurance agencies.

Hostess Janie Gamble said they discovered the boarding house through word of mouth.

"It was never advertised. That way you never have as many undesirables applying. I tried and did keep it decent, where a mother would be glad for her daughter to stay there," Ms. Gamble said.

Curfews went out of style with bell-bottom jeans in the 70s, she said, but most tenants still returned home early on weeknights and "not too late" on Friday and Saturday nights.

It was downstairs-only for male visitors, who were restricted to the den and living room. The women could have men up to their bedrooms for moving purposes only, and that was strictly with the permission of the hostess.

The Hough Home was the last of the Jackson women's boarding homes that ran according to the old school of courting, where couples stayed at elbows-length until marriage, Ms. Gamble said.

"I don't know where the girls are supposed to go to meet a young man. They used to go to church...I always told them you don't meet nice young men in bars," she said.

For Belinda Gurley, who lived in the Hough Home for seven years, the house was sometimes an answer to sensitive dating situations. "In this day and time, I'm pretty liberal. But if you went out with somebody and when they took you home, there wasn't a problem," she said.

"I suppose if the Hough Home hadn't closed, I would have stayed there until I was married or an old maid," laughed Miss Gurley, who moved in with a former "Houghee" at a downtown Jackson apartment complex.

Ms. Gamble, 71, known as "Granny" to former Hough residents, said many of her tenants came to Hough Home from small Mississippi towns in hopes of meeting "responsible young bachelors. But it doesn't always work out like that."

"I'd tell them, 'Well honey, you've got to learn to stand on your own two feet and you know you really do,'" she said. She worked as a beautician before accepting the job as Hough Home hostess in May 1972.

For $135 a month, tenants received three meals each weekday and a semi-private furnished room. With room for 46 women, the Hough Home was sometimes close to empty and at other times had a waiting list.

"I miss all of the girls. They were sweet to me; they were just precious to me and almost always they respected me. Always I was Granny; that's what they all called me," Ms. Gamble said.

"I just wish that I had started taking notes. Some of them were really hilarious; some of them you could have spanked for it."

Central Park Ladies Refreshment Salon

Central Park Casino (1929)

Central Park Ladies Refreshment Salon

Location: 72nd Street near Fifth Avenue, Central Park, New York, New York, USA

Opened: 1865

Closed: 1873 in favor of a restaurant "serving" both men and women

The Central Park Ladies Refreshment Salon was designed by the noted architect Calvert Vaux in 1865. The Salon was a large and impressive structure spanning two blocks at the northeast end of the Mall. It wasn't terribly long-lived as a womyn's space, however, as park authorities decided to change it into a "mixed" restaurant serving alcoholic beverages to wealthy and elite New Yorkers in the 1870s. (The Ladies Refreshment Salon limited itself to "light refreshments" for ladies and young children.)

Note that in the history below, the use of this space as a Ladies Refreshment Salon was not in the original Central Park Plan, but was a "compromise"--and ultimately a short-lived one at that.

It is also important to realize that the mere fact that both men and women were served at the restaurant replacing the Ladies Refreshment Salon does NOT mean women unescorted by men were admitted. Whether in fact unescorted women were admitted into the Casino is not something that is clarified in any of the literature on this place that I have examined. But it was not common for "fashionable" restaurants of this era to admit unescorted women.

From the City of New York Parks and Recreation website:

The Casino and Rumsey Playfield

In the original 1858 Greensward Plan for Central Park, the designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux intended for this site an exhibition and music hall required by the Board of Commissioners as a feature of the new park. Plans changed, and by 1862 music was performed at the old Bandstand on the Concert Ground at the end of the Mall. This area then became the site of the Casino (casino means "little house" in Italian). The building was designed by Vaux to be used as the Ladies' Refreshment Saloon, a respectable dining establishment for the enjoyment of women who had come to the Park without a male escort. This plan changed, however, and the Casino became the main restaurant in the Park serving both men and women.

The building resembled upstate country houses that Vaux had previously designed in his private architectural practice. At night, the building was described in Baldwin's Guide to the Central Park as "brilliantly illuminated with gas from handsome pendants." During the day patrons would drive up in their carriages to visit the Casino, sit under the Wisteria Pergola at the western edge of the site, and listen to the strains of music from the Wednesday and Saturday afternoon concerts on the Mall below. In the summer seasons refreshments from the Casino were served at tables placed under the archway leading to Bethesda Terrace.

In the 1920s the restaurant was extended to include an elaborately decorated ballroom created by Josef Urban, the esteemed Viennese interior designer. It became a fashionable nightclub frequented by New York Mayor "Gentleman" Jimmy Walker, and featured the musical talent of Eddie Duchin's orchestra and such performers as Ethel Merman.

In 1935 this site underwent another transformation. Newly appointed Parks Commissioner Robert Moses ordered the demolition of the Casino, and the site was developed as the Mary Harriman Rumsey Playground for children. A statue of Mother Goose, designed by F.G.R. Roth, was erected near the playground entrance in 1938. Purchased with Works Progress Administration funds, it depicts Mother Goose and some of her nursery-rhyme characters, including Little Jack Horner, Humpty Dumpty, and Little Bo Peep. In 1986 it became Rumsey Playfield, a clay-surfaced sports area for school groups, and in 1990 the site of Summerstage, returning the site to the original musical intention of Olmsted and Vaux.

River Bank Refreshment Saloon

River Bank Refreshment Saloon

Location: Fronting the River Front near the Colonial Hospital, Whanganui, New Zealand

Opened/Closed: 1871 - ?

The River Bank Refreshment Saloon is another one of those random finds that's rather intriguing.

The business is obviously being started by a woman--a widow is my guess. And we know from the history of that era that "refreshment rooms" were generally intended for women. At any rate, Mrs. Peter Ross makes it pretty clear that this is a "convenient and comfortable resort" for the ladies--and not, by rather obvious implication, for the gents. Who else to appreciate the rooms that had been "tastefully and elegantly fitted up"--apparently by Mrs R. herself?

The refreshment saloon (or salon) was a mid-nineteenth century Victorian invention. Although not exclusively for women--there was a prominent one established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for Civil War soldiers--they tended to be associated with ladies and young children as they only served non-alcoholic fountain beverages. In general, they were considered "respectable" establishments where a lady might indulge in a tasty treat without a male escort in tow. New York's Central Park boasted a Ladies Refreshment Salon in its early days; the Calvert Vaux-designed building was constructed in 1865. It later became a "mixed" restaurant before being converted into the Casino, a swanky, high-society nightclub, in 1929. (The building is now gone, having been demolished in the mid-1930s for a playground.)
Whanganui, New Zealand (1886)
At the time that the River Front Refreshment Saloon was opened, Whanganui (then spelled Wanganui) was a young town. White immigrants battled with the Maori for control over land and territory, and these conflicts erupted into the Land Wars of the 1860s. The first Town Bridge had just been completed that same year (1871), which I assume made the River Bank area more commercially viable. With all the travel through and around the town, I imagine that Mrs. Peter Ross regarded a ladies refreshment saloon as a good and safe business decision. And as a pleasant space removed from the catcalls and hurly burly of the waterfront streets, at least for European women.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Studio Feminin

Opera of Paris (1932)
Studio Feminin

Location: Street of the Admirals, Paris, France

Opened/Closed: 1932 to ?

From the Montreal Gazette, September 10, 1932:

Men Will be Excluded From Studio Feminin

An exclusive, feminine theatre has been founded in Paris. Men are to be entirely excluded from its undertakings. The plays are to be written, produced, performed, and supplied with incidental music by women only. Moreover, the scenery will be both designed and shifted without male aid.

The Studio Feminin was established, somewhat inconsistently in the Street of the Admirals,  because it was felt that too few women have taken up playwriting heretofore. A competition is to be held, the closing date for the acceptance of plays having been fixed as September 15. The most successful effort will be performed next winter.

The principal object of the enterprise is to enable women to take a more important part in the ordinary theatre. Although the honor role in the casting of characters often is given to a woman, it is felt that men hitherto have jealously kept to themselves the roles of playwright and producer.

And without finding some good scholarly works on the history of Parisian theater in the 1930s, that's all I know.

Women's Bank of Prague

Prague Credit Bank (1929)
Women's Bank of Prague

Location: Prague, Czech Republic

Opened/Closed: 1933

The idea of a women's bank is not totally without precedent, especially in today's middle east. But the Women's Bank of Prague is certainly one of the earlier attempts at women-only banking--an attempt that probably did not advance too far, given the era in which it was proposed. Not surprisingly, I can find no information on this Bank beyond the announcement of its formation in March 1933. And, needless to say, the AP news article is very patronizing:

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia, March 9--Several leaders of the women's clubs here-abouts announced today that they were sick and tired of the mess men bankers had made of the world's finances and that therefore they had organized the Women's Bank of Prague.

 It will be managed entirely by women and will extend credit to women only. The profits if any will be devoted to feminist propaganda.

Monday, March 26, 2012


1015 - 1019 South 10th Street (around 2003)

Location: 1019 South 10th Street, Omaha, Nebraska, USA

Opened/Closed: Around 2007 to 2009?

Chixx seems to have been a lesbian bar located next door to a gay (male) bar called Flixx. She had her own myspace page, but she still comes across as a painfully shy kind of gal, as this is all she had to say about herself:

Located on 10th and Pacific Omaha, Nebraska Free parking in the rear! Specials Every Night ..

Not exactly informative, is it? I know this is Nebraska and all, but still. Was she cowered by the shadow of her gay big brother? Maybe so. At any rate, there's not a lot of information on this venue.

One of the few references to Chixx that I have found is the following:

Chixx interior (2007)
In June 2007, the Witching Hour Theater produced a "scary lesbian striptease" at Chixx as part of the local Fringe Festival. Check out the video if you're game.

So we do know at minimum that Chixx was open by the summer of 2007.

According to one commenter in May 2010, Chixx was no longer in existence as of that date, as the square footage had been taken over by Flixx:

There used to be a great bar called Chixx adjacent to Flixx. Unfortunately, that is now closed and that section is now Flixx show bar for special occasions.

Does this sound like a familiar theme yet? Men's space encroaching upon and eliminating womyn's space? Sort of like the drinking man's equivalent of Radcliffe giving it up for Harvard?

Although her existence seemed somewhat marginalized during her lifetime, there is still some nostalgia floating around for Chixx. As an old Chixx fan lamented in June 2010:

DAMN! I miss the days when that Chixx was around cuz it was fun and it was pretty classy.

The requisite pool table at Chixx (2007)

This was part of a review for Connections, Omaha's last existing lesbian bar. At least she appears to be still breathing, though there are ocassional rumors regarding life support....

March 28, 2012: Correction. I have now verified that Connections is deceased as well. She was replaced by a new lesbian bar (very unusual) called Door 19 which opened on January 14, 2012. Will write up a Connections obituary soon....

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hudson & Manhattan Railroad women-only cars

Stairway from the Hudson Terminal Concourse to the platforms
Hudson & Manhattan Railroad women-only cars

Location: Between Newark, New Jersey and New York, New York, USA

Opened/Closed: Women-only cars reintroduced for commuter train service on July 7, 1958. Service was limited to one car on each train on the downtown line during rush hour. However, with no real explanation, the service was "withdrawn after a short while."

We've posted here before on New York City's "suffragette" railcars of 1909, and how these turned out to be a pioneering effort in establishing women-only public transportation around the world. Just to jog your memory, here's a little refresher course:

About one year after the Tubes [i.e. the Hudson Tubes of the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad] started its first service, the Woman's Municipal League, noting that women and children were being squeezed, jostled and potentially endangered in the rush hour crowds on the trains, asked the H&M for a "women's car" service during the rush hours for a two weeks' trial period. There would be one car on each rush hour train reserved for women and children. Since the North River ferries already had "women's cabins", this was not a particularly unusual request. [William G.] McAdoo, the H&M's President, responded with a three months' trial starting March 31, 1909.

At first the service was very popular with women and the cars were well patronized. But then newspapers began a campaign of ridiculing the cars and their users, referring to the "Jane Crowe Car", "Hen Car", "Old Maid's Retreat" and ridership dropped off precipitously. When the three month trial period was up, the cars were returned to mixed service.

Meanwhile, on April 24, 1909, while the experiment was still underway, a Francis Dundon lodged a complaint with the ICC against the H&M, alleging that the exclusion of men from the cars was illegal under the provisions of the Interstate Commerce Acts. The H&M responded to the ICC stating that "we do not exclude men from this car. We simply advise them that this car is reserved for women." The H&M's position was that the women's car was analogous to a smoking car. The ICC agreed with the H&M that making a request to men not to use the car was not the same as insisting that men not use the car. In any case the point was moot since the newspaper ridicule had doomed the women's cars.

Which just goes to show that men's obsessive efforts to kill off womyn's space, whether through public ridicule or legal avenues, are nothing new....

What is even less well known is that there was a short-lived effort to revive women-only service in the late 1950s, which was once again praised by women passengers. Also notice that even in the late 1950s, sharp-eyed women were observing how men "hog space" in public areas--and how these women weren't afraid to call them out on it either:


That's how one feminine commuter described the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad's new car for women only.

The baby blue, perfume-scented car was placed in service for the first time Thursday [i.e. June 7, 1958] on the morning rush-hour run between here [i.e. Newark, New Jersey] to New York City.

Mrs. Vera Veseley of Fords, said the car was marvelous because she had more elbow room.

"Men always spread out their newspapers and hog space," she said. "Only yesterday I had to tell a man to fold up his paper."

But the roominess in the air-conditioned car didn't last for long.  All 44 seats were soon taken and standees jammed the aisle.

Mrs. Veseley had only one mild criticism: "You could probably save time by applying make-up in the ladies car instead of at home, but there are no mirrors. As long as the railroad spent all this money, I don't see why it didn't install wall-to-wall mirrors."

Mrs. Corinne Rose of Edison patted the blue leather seats and commented: "These will save my stockings. Those cane seats in the old cars always gave me runners."

Santa Fe ad (1954). The preferred image for women on trains?
One woman offered a dissenting opinion.

"I enjoy riding with men more," she said.

Well it appears that somebody got the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) involved once more, as two years later, in July 1960, we see the following headline in the Hartford Courant: "Shocking-Pink Ladies 'Club Car' Is Okayed As a No Man's Land." The explanation: "Ladies rode the rails of the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad in their own shocking-pink pastel cars Friday with the informal blessing of the Interstate Commerce Commission."  

What happened to the baby-blue cars? Or these later "shocking-pink" cars? Seems there is a lot more lost herstory to explore here....

Lest you think that all this is in the quaint and distant past, consider the following: Czech Railways just instituted "female priority" compartments on their trains.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Tearoom

Six Girls and The Tea Room (1907)
The Tearoom

Location: Especially common in Great Britain, but seen in other English speaking countries as well

Opened/Closed: Heyday was in the late 19th century, early 20th century

I have long believed that owning and/or managing actual physical public space for women by women was somehow of central importance to our liberation and freedom, and to the building of women's community. We can dance, drink, talk politics, or network all we like in private homes, but the attendance will necessarily be limited to the fringes of our immediate circle. And for women living in small quarters or in extended families with fathers or husbands, the potential of such gatherings will be extremely constrained from the start. The same goes for floating meetings or parties held hither and yon--in a backroom this week, a church basement next month. These tend to be hard to sustain over time much less grow in size. And yet some women--particularly younger self-styled "queer" women--assure us that the loss of lesbian bars, community centers, women's music festivals, feminist boookstores and the like is not important. It's okay to "claim" a new party space once a month at yet another hard-to-find location somewhere across town, or in the corners of the local gay men's bar. We don't need public meeting spaces just for us, they say. As if women were somehow fundamentally different from every other group in their need for some territory of their own.

That said, it was still a revelation when I stumbled upon this article showing how having access to tangible public spaces mattered for the early women's movement. And it's a space that tends to be treated disdainfully, if it's existence is noted at all. I speak of the humble tearoom. Yes, where your great-grandmother (if of the middle-class sort) may have taken tea and a biscuit, or even a pleasant luncheon or two with several of her lady friends. Bourgeois and suffocatingly respectable you say? Wrong.

Also notice how another seemingly innocuous public space we have taken for granted until fairly recently--the ladies lavatory or restroom--was a deeply political struggle within Victorian society. Sobering stuff, given that the very existence of a ladies restroom as such (i.e. for female persons only) is once again a point of attack and contention in transgender politics.

Tea and Women – how the Tearoom supported women’s suffrage

Jane Pettigrew – tea specialist, historian, and writer

Tea has many unusual connections but one of the least obvious perhaps is the fact that towards the end of the 19th century, tearooms provided a safe haven and meeting place for the women suffragists and may have been instrumental in furthering their cause.

In many areas of Britain, local branches of the women’s movement grew out of the temperance societies. T-Total meetings were often just very large tea parties (with a sermon or two thrown in) and the women, who brewed gallons of tea and dished it out in mugs, encouraged ‘guests’ to turn away from harmful alcohol and instead drink ‘the cup that cheers but does not inebriate’.

Towards the end of the 19th century, society was changing fast. New public transport allowed easier movement into and around town, more women were working in professional employment, going out more, shopping in the new departments stores. And yet, there were no even moderately respectable places where some kind of refreshment could be taken by female shoppers. When William Whitely opened his department store in Bayswater in the 1870, he applied for a licence to open a restaurant inside the store but was refused on the grounds of its potential for immoral assignations!

And where were women to wash their hands and find other essential comforts? It was still considered very improper and frightfully bad manners to refer to women’s bodies, and finding a lavatory was almost impossible. The provision of public conveniences for ladies was considered outrageous and it was not until 1884 that the first ‘convenience’ run by the Ladies Lavatory Company opened near Oxford Circus.

The tearoom at the Walforf Hilton, London

To provide for women’s needs, women-only clubs started appearing – The University Women’s Club in 1883, The Camelot Club for shop and office workers in 1898, Harrods Ladies Club in 1890. And women met more and more frequently in tearooms. Tea had always had very genteel connections and, as the public tearooms became more and more popular during the 1880s and 90s, they were recognised as very respectable places where respectable women could enjoy a peaceful cup of tea away from the hurley-burley of busy urban streets. They created the perfect place for a little light refreshment, for a chat, and for discussions about politics and votes for women and, of course, for planning campaigns and demonstrations.

Fullers' tearoom at The London Colisseum in London

In Votes For Women, published in 1956, Roger Fulford wrote, “The spread of independence was helped by the growth of the tea-shop. A few expensive restaurants existed but apart from these, there were no places for a quick meal other than the formality of the large damask tablecloth and best silver at home, or the brisk clatter of the bar parlour. The tea-shop gave the young – perhaps in revolt against
the stuffiness of family afternoon tea – an ideal meeting place; it was an integral part of the women’s liberation movement.” And according to Margaret Corbett Ashby, the teashops run by the ABC (Aerated Bread Company) were “an enormous move to freedom”.

Once the Suffrage campaign got going, the tearooms played a central part. In 1907, the Young Hot Bloods (the younger members of the Women’s Social & Political Union, founded in 1907) met at a tea shop in the Strand. And Alan’s Tea Room at 263 Oxford Street regularly advertised the free use of its large function room for members of the Women’s Social Political Union. Records show that the room was used in 1910 by the Tax Resistance League and in 1911 by the Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society for its inaugural meeting. In 1913, at the end of the ‘pilgrimage’ to London by the NUWSS (the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies), some of the women (a few from the 50,000 who attended the rally) went to Alan’s for dinner and no doubt for several restorative and well-deserved cups of tea!

The White Lion

The White Lion  (l967-68)

The White Lion

Location: 51 Grange Road, West Kirby, Merseyside, England

Opened: Dates back to the 17th century, became "ladies only" in 1975

Closed: Apparently still open. But it ceased to be "ladies only" sometime in the early 1980s.

By the looks of it, the White Lion is one of those classic Olde English pubs, the kind where you toss back a pint or two with your mates. In other words, a thoroughly laddish affair. But for a time in the mid 1970s, it was staked out as a womyn's space. The announcement that the White Lion was now "ladies only" even got picked up as an Associated Press story in March 1975:

A 17th century inn here has made history with a new sign outside one of its bars: "ladies only."

The White Lion Tavern in this northwest England town claims to have the only bar in Britain from which males are banned. The click of knitting needles has replaced the thunk of darts, and martinis perched on tables once splattered with the foam of ale.

Not surprisingly, the White Lion's owner is a woman. But Margaret Richardson doesn't claim to be a women's libber.

A visit to a London bar convinced the 36-year-old drama teacher that she wanted to open a place where women could go for a drink without being "humiliated, ogled or assumed to be an easy pickup."

The ladies bar, Mrs. Richardson admits, doesn't make money.

But she says she isn't worried. It is enough "that I've provided a place where respectable women can have a civilized drink without harassment," she says.

"When I went into that bar in London," she recalls, "my reception was such that I left without finishing my drink, and I was determined to provide a place where women could drink without fear of insult."

So with the support of her accountant husband, Mrs. Richardson turned the White Lion's games room into a female preserve.

It's fascinating how carefully this "ladies only" space is coded as heterosexual. All the way from the prominent mention of the knitting needles (in the 1970s?!?) to Mrs. Richardson's marital status and her "women's libber" denials. Was this a deliberate attempt at camouflage, or was Mrs. Richardson really intent on reserving this as a place for "respectable" wives and mothers? Did lesbians manage to claim this space regardless? The whole tone of this article comes across as remarkably disingenous for the time, as if this little English village pub existed in some pristine bubble that history forgot.

But the bubble finally pricked and it all came to an end regardless. A 2002 piece in the Liverpool Echo picks up the tale over 25 years later:

The White Lion stands on the hill that glides down into West Kirby's town centre, with Hilbre Island seemingly floating in the late December sea of slate grey sky. A return to harsh reality came with the realisation that the Lion has no car park - but the muncipal at the next major turning right provided a cheap (30 pence for three hours) and accessible (less than five minutes walk) alternative.

The inside is a traditionalist's dream more like a warm cave than a boozer. Lanterns shed dim light across the stone floors and walls, a pleasant musky smell from the coal fire beside the bar adding extra savour to the welcoming atmosphere and the excellent quality of the ale. And being a trad pub there is strictly a 'no young kids allowed' policy. We parked ourselves on wooden benches around the long oak table in a raised alcove facing the pumps dubbed the Royal Box by Christine Stokes licensee/manager of a decade-plus. "That's what we call the naughty table - it's always very noisy and rowdy up there'' explained Christine later, aware that perhaps we'd found our spiritual home. The Royal Box is also home to a potted history display for this building which has been serving ale for much of its existence since the 1600s.

Special prominence is given to a period through the late 70s and early 80s when it became the focus for national press attention as an early bastion of Girl Power.

The former licensee Margaret Richardson declared one of the alcoves a Man Free zone where women could drink without harassment. It has, however, been consigned to the knicker drawer of history because as Christine stated: "It's not necessary any more; women are far more confident these days than to need such things.''

Ah yes. The women-don't-want-womyn's-space-anymore line. They've outgrown it. After all, male harassment ended, um, around 1980, right? Doesn't exist anymore! So have some more Kool-aid, er ale, girls. Bottoms up!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ladies Cafe and Oyster Parlor

Ladies having tea and donuts - around 1900

Ladies Cafe and Oyster Parlor

Location: Bonham, Texas, USA

Opened/Closed: Around 1907

In the Daily Favorite from November 30, 1907, we see the following ad:

              OYSTER PARLOR

    The best of everything
served in the best style.

    Hot Chocolate and Coffee
served at all hours.


So here's the deal. If you indulged in too many Red Head beers at the Ladies' Cafe in Springfield, Ohio, you could always crawl back into your time machine and sober up at the Ladies Cafe in Bonham, Texas. Cheers!

Ladies' Cafe (Springfield, Ohio)

14 North Fountain Today
Ladies' Cafe (Springfield, Ohio)

Location: 14 North Fountain Avenue, Springfield, Ohio, USA

Opened/Closed: c. 1902-1903

Ladies' Cafe - Springfield, Ohio (1902)

Sometimes I stumble upon a lost womyn's space for which there is very little (readily available) information. Though I haven't found out much about the Ladies' Cafe in Springfield, Ohio, it still manages to intrigue me--partly because there is no reference to it being attached to a (male) restaurant or drinking establishment. But until we can find something more substantial--like maybe a photograph or biographical data on J.J. Clancy the proprietor--we'll just have to voyage back in our imaginations. 

The following ad appeared in the Champaign Democrat through 1902 and 1903. It's hard to read, so I'll retype the content below.

Ladies' Cafe
14 N. Fountain Ave., Springfield, Ohio.....

Fine Wines, Beer and all popular Refreshments served from Car in adjoining building. A pleasant cheerful place to meet your friends and chat. Cloak Room, Toilet-Rooms and Lavatory provided.

J.J. CLANCY, Prop.,
16 North Fountain Avenue, Springfield, O

Don't you wish you had a time machine just about now? If you get there before I do, could you order me a Red Head beer? Seems it was a well-known local brew of the time....

Important historical point:  New York City's Cafe des Beaux Arts Ladies Bar (founded in 1911) is typically credited with being the oldest "ladies bar"-- at least in the U.S. I think that with some confidence we can now say this is NOT true.

March 28, 2012: Just out of curiosity, I did a little genealogy research into J. J. Clancy (sometimes called James J. Clancy). He was born in England of Irish parents in 1859 and immigrated to the U.S. as a child. He became a naturalized citizen in 1880 and married a woman named Bridget Flannigan in 1891. They eventually had two children, Catherine and John. The first Springfield City Directory reference to Clancy having a "saloon" on 16 North Fountain Avenue occurs in 1894. Beginning in 1900, we see this place referred to as the "New Sample Room." By 1903, we see that Clancy's business has expanded to include14 North Fountain Avenue, where we know the Ladies Cafe was located. However, the City Directory makes no mention of the Ladies Cafe--not that this is terribly signficant, as the City Directory is limited to just bare-bones information. It appears that around 1908, Clancy may have consolidated his business to just the 14 North Fountain Avenue address. Does this mean that the Ladies Cafe was dropped about this time? Difficult to say without additional information. Then for a few years, his saloon is listed as being at 12 and 14 North Fountain Avenue. The saloon disappears from the City Directory sometime between 1917 and 1920, about the time Bridget apparently passed away. Of course, these were also the years when prohibition triumphed in the U.S.; the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act both passed in 1919, and weren't repealed until 1933.

But what we still don't know--and may never know--is why Clancy opened a Ladies Cafe, and what factors influenced his decision. Did his wife Bridget play a role in this? Or his daughter, who apparently never married?

Nor do we know what kinds of ladies patronized the Cafe, what they ate or drank, how they entertained themselves, what they talked about, how they felt about the place, or what relationships developed there. All that remains a mystery wrapped in an engma....

But as I look further into Springfield history, I can tell you one thing: we can safely assume that none of the patrons at the Ladies Cafe were African-American. Especially during the era in question, Springfield was a hotbed of white terrorism:

On March 7, 1904, over a thousand Springfield residents formed a lynch mob, stormed the jail and removed prisoner Richard Dixon, a black man accused of murdering a police officer. Richard Dixon was shot to death and then hung from a pole on the corner of Fountain and Main Street, where the mob continued to shoot his lifeless body. The mob then proceeded to burn much of the black area of town. In February 1906, another mob formed and again burned the black section of town known as “the levee”.

Realize that the lynching spot where Richard Dixon was tortured and murdered was just half a block south from the Ladies Cafe....

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Winnepeg Beach women-only beer parlour

Winnepeg Beach
Winnepeg Beach women-only beer parlor

Location: Lake Winnepeg, Province of Manitoba, Canada

Opened/Closed: Winnipeg Beach was open from 1902 to 1964; the women-only beer parlour was open for just a few hours in 1928 before being shut down by the authorities. During this same time period (1902-1964), male-only drinking establishments flourished and in fact were typically protected as male-only space by law.

Winnepeg Beach was a beachside amusement park, a self-styled "Coney Island of the West." In its heyday, it drew up to 40,000 visitors a day. And like New York's Coney Island, it served as both a center for leisure and (heterosexual) courtship.

Nevertheless, though the dance halls, promenades, and beaches were gender mixed --given that they were the proper domain of courting (heterosexual) couples--some spaces were strictly segregated and reserved for the men. One of these areas was the male-only bar or beer parlour. As historian Dale E. Barbour observes, public drinking establishments were exclusive male territory from the very beginning:

In the early years of Winnipeg Beach, the hotels would have offered a place for men to drink. The Empress Hotel, for example, was famous for its "lavish bar." Women were discouraged from taking place in this male-oriented drinking.

Barbour later concludes:

Clearly, alcohol was considered to be within the male domain and the men going to the hotels were engaged in male sociability. This public sociability was ended in 1916 when prohibition was enacted in Manitoba. The rules were relaxed in 1923 to allow for the sale of liquor in government run stores and then again in 1928 to allow public drinking in licensed male-only beer parlours. The male-only beer parlours, and Winnipeg Beach did have one on its Main Street after 1928, make clear that liquor regulations were a gendered affair, with regulations predicated on fears that mixing men, women and alcohol would lead to immoral behavior. It would not be until 1957 that mixed-gender public drinking establishments were allowed in Manitoba.

So there can be little doubt that beer parlours were male-only spaces--by both social custom and legal statute--for nearly 60 years. No girls allowed!

Except for a few short hours in 1928, when a remarkable act of resistance occurred:

In 1928, Winnipeg Beach was home to Manitoba's only women's beer parlour -- which lasted just a few hours before being closed down over licensing issues. The men's-only beer parlour operated into the early '60s.

I'm still looking for information on who organized this women's beer parlour, and what women chose to come in and make this their home for the few brief hours of its aborted existence.

This is the kind of history that people forget when comparing contemporary "men's bars" and "women's bars"--or even male and female public spaces in general. Public female spaces--especially women's drinking establishments--have never enjoyed the same legal, political, and social protections as the men's spaces; they've never even come close in a rough equivalence. That's one reason they continue to be vulnerable and easily destroyed. That's why those who pressure the miniscule number of women's bars (or clinics or shelters) to be more "diverse" or open to all comers typically have a complete ignorance of  (or indifference to) the actual historical record. Within the larger scheme of things, men's spaces have not been subject to the same pressures, and in many cases, were actually protected and sanctioned by the State. Given the monopolistic control that men have had on public space from the very beginning (whether "mixed" or male-only), it's perhaps not surprising that even the right to female-only public restrooms or locker rooms is increasingly under siege in some quarters, especially in Canada. When a couple of gals can't even hoist a few brews together for more than a single evening (before the heavy hand of state intrudes and shuts down the bar), we can certainly see why no women's space--not even a toilet stall--can be considered truly safe or beyond challenge in the male-dominated political realm.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The saloons of Kansas City's "Little Italy"

Kansas City's City Market on Fifth Street (1906)
The saloons of Kansas City's Little Italy

Location: Little Italy (also known as the Columbus Park area), Kansas City, Missouri, USA

Opened/Closed: Women allowed in saloons for brief time around 1909--before police crackdown

We've noted here before that bars and saloons have been classified as "male space" by the dominant American culture. And so they were...and still are in many (mostly) unspoken ways.

But it's interesting that not all ethnic groups observed this gender restriction. In particular, the saloon owners of Kansas City's Little Italy apparently saw nothing wrong in letting women "frequent" their establishments and even act as bartenders. The authorities, however, vehemently disagreed. Hence, the police crackdown in December 1909. But for a while, women were able to carve out and claim these public spaces as their own "home"--at least to some degree:

December 30, 1909                        

         FIND WOMEN IN A SALOON.     
     Italian Promises Police Board to
 Bar Them in Future.

910 East Fifth Street today
The board of police commissioners is having a hard time impressing upon the Italians of "Little Italy" the fact that their women must not frequent saloons. In the past some Italian women have been as much at home in the saloon as in the home; in fact, many of them used to tend bar while their husbands were at meals.

Yesterday Mattaeo La Salla, who has a saloon at Missouri avenue and Cherry street, was before the board for permitting his wife and mother to frequent his saloon. It was some time before Judge Middlebrook could impress La Salla with the fact that there was a law in this state which prevents women from frequenting saloons. The Italian looked worried, puzzled, but he promised that his women folks would keep out of his saloon in the future.

Salino Defeo, 600 East Fifth street, and his bartender were seen twice, it is alleged , to serve a woman with a bucket of beer. Commissioner Marks was closing Defeo's saloon for two days, but, being Christmas week, Judge Middlebrook thought the board should be more lenient and a reprimand was given.

For having a man not in his employ in his saloon at 1:20 a. m. last Friday, John Honl, a saloonkeeper at 7306 East Fifteenth street, was ordered to close his place Friday and Saturday.

Kansas City Ladies' College

1500 North Liberty Street
Kansas City Ladies College

Location: Independence, Missouri, USA

Opened: 1871 as the Independence Female College

Closed: 1905

Very little information is readily available on the Kansas City Ladies' College.

However, we do have several names attached to the history of the Kansas City Ladies' College--and they all belong to men.

Civic leader William McCoy was one of these men. According to the Dictionary of Missouri Biography, McCoy "was one of the petitioners and board members for the Independence Female College, established in 1871 and subsequently known as as the Kansas City Ladies' College until its closing in 1905."

We're also told that William Chrisman, a successful Independence lawyer and banker, helped found the Kansas City Ladies' College and paid for the financing of the college’s principal buildings. However, no dates are given, though it is implied that this took place sometime between 1867 and 1875.

The Kansas City Public Library Missouri Valley Special Collections has a Catalog for the Kansas City Ladies' College for 1886-1887 and announcements for the 1888-1889 academic year. These documents are found in the rear of the Independence city directory for 1888-1889. Unfortunately, the contents are not available on-line.

Dr. James McDonald Chaney, an ordained Presbyterian minister, became president of the Kansas City Ladies' College in 1885. He left in 1891 when he assumed the presidency of Independence Academy of Missouri. According to his 1909 obituary in the Kansas City Journal, "Rev. Chaney, after severing his connection with the Kansas City Ladies' college, promoted an academy for young men at Independence, making a feature of higher mathematics." Implying I suppose, at least in the mind of Reverend Chaney, that higher mathematics wasn't an entirely suitable subject for young ladies.

The Boston Evening Transcript  reports that a Reverend George Frederick Ayres served as president of the Kansas City Ladies' College for a time, but the dates are not provided. However, it appears that it was just for a brief time after Dr. Chaney left, as Reverend Ayres assumed the presidency of  Lindenwood College (another lost womyn's space) in 1902, and for four years before that, he was a pastor in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Reverend Ayres died in 1913.
Ad for Kansas City Ladies' College, Kansas City Journal, July 22, 1897

In addition, it appears that George Porterfield Gates, the grandfather of Bess Wallace Truman (Harry's wife), had dealings with the Kansas City Ladies' College, as there is mention of the college in his financial affairs records. Those records can be found at the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence.

In 1894, Colonel Harvey M. Vaile of Independence passed away and left his mansion (pictured above) to the Kansas City Ladies' College. The College promptly auctioned off the house's content to raise money. But it turned out that Colonel Vaile's gift turned out to be something of a Trojan horse. According to the Kansas City Journal (December 10, 1897),

The Vaile estate, which was bequeathed to the Kansas City Ladies' college, on condition that the institution be called Vaile Institute, is still in the hands of the administrator, and will likely continue to do so for some time to come. Since Colonel Vaile died, claims have been filed against the estate to such an amount that if the provisions of the will are carried out, Colonel Vaile's bequest will be his name without any financial aid. According to the terms of the will the institution was to assume the name of "Vaile Institute" within five years of the death of the testator. The time will expire within a year and unless the conditions are complied with the heirs may get a small percentage of the estate, which was once considered large. The estate is far from being settled up, and friends of the institution are of the opinion that after the administrator's fees and claims are paid nothing will be left for the college.  

According to this site, the Vaile mansion, which was constructed in 1881, is "rumored to be haunted."

Few juicy details are provided--other than that Mrs. Harvey Vaile apparently committed suicide in the home in 1883. It is claimed that her ghost can still seen looking out the windows.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hudson Arms

Hudson Arms? Or random bar photo?
Hudson Arms

Location: Central Avenue (Corner of Lark Street), Albany, New York, USA

Opened/Closed: 1960s/1970s?

Back in June 2011, Slate did a series on the gay bar which included interviews with "eminent gay, lesbian and bisexual writers" on the first gay bar they had ever visited. That's where Len Barot introduces us to the Hudson Arms:

Len Barot, publisher of Bold Strokes Books, writes as radclyffe and L.L. Raand

When I came out at 18, I was a freshman in college. I had heard there was a gay bar for women on Albany's Central Avenue called the Hudson Arms. I walked past that bar half a dozen times before I had the courage to go inside. When I did, I found a working-class community of lesbians who were somewhat suspicious at first of those of us who braved the trip from the college campus on a Friday night. They weren't sure we were lesbians because we didn't know the rules and we didn't look the part. (Ki-ki they called us.) The bar patrons were very different from us in their appearance, their comportment, and their ideology. Over the course of my three years at SUNY-Albany, I became a frequent patron of the bar. These women were my community, despite our social and class differences. Ultimately, we came together around the quintessential lesbian activity—softball. I would not give up that experience, despite my fears and the challenges, for anything in the world. When I recently moved back to upstate New York, one of the first things I did was try to find the bar to show my partner. Sadly, it is gone, but the memories of my first lesbian home have not diminished in my heart.

Unfortunately, Len doesn't tell us when she was 18, so we don't have much of an idea as to when she visited the Hudson Arms. But elsewhere it is reported (i.e. Wickipedia) that she was born in 1950, so that must have been around 1968.

The good news is that we're able to determine that the Hudson Arms was still open (at the very least) in the mid 1970s. We know this because it's mentioned in an interview with two lesbians ("Joan" and "Martha") in ASPects, the Albany Student Press Magazine. The date of the issue is November 18, 1975.

The bad news is that the copy on the Internet is from a very poor quality microfilm, and some of the story is unreadable--particularly the part where "Martha" mentions the Hudson Arms. I can just make out something about "old-line women" going there, and something (I think) about it being the oldest women's bar in Albany. And also something about it being a "rough place" with role playing and butch/femme stuff, of which "Martha" disapproves. But that's about it.

An article called "Are Lesbian Bars Going Extinct?" appeared in AfterEllen about the same time as the Slate series, and author Trish Bendix quotes Len Barot's recollections of the Hudson Arms--but with the photo reproduced above. Whether it is in fact a picture from the Hudson Arms--or just some random photo from an old-time lesbian bar--is not made clear. But it's a wonderful photo, some I'm including it here anyway.

Friday, March 9, 2012


Candace Gingrich (1995)

Location: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA

Opened: ?

Closed: 1994

With The Newt boasting a pretty high profile as of late (you know, through the bizarro circus known as the Republican primaries), I thought it would be fun to see what his sister Candace was up to these days.

That's how I found out about D-Gem. And it's only through Candace that there is any information about D-Gem on the Internet at all.  Such are the strange and mysterious ways that "lost womyn's spaces" get preserved for posterity....

Back on March 7, 1995, the Advocate did a cover story on Candace Gingrich, and her somewhat belated introduction to political activism:

Until her brother was elected House speaker, Gingrich lived a quiet existence in Harrisburg. Although she describes her political leanings as "as far to the left as Newt's are to the right," she says she's given little thought to politics, devoting most of her time to working two part-time jobs as a shipper at United Parcel Service and as a computer technician for the state's education department, where her boss is her sister Roberta Brown.

Gingrich spends her spare time with her family and playing rugby on a women's team in Harrisburg. In June she broke up with a girlfriend whom she met seven years ago while attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she received a degree in sociology. Candace says she has yet to begin dating, in part because the city's only women's bar, D-Gem, closed last year. leaving her little opportunity to meet other lesbians in Harrisburg.   

A year later, in September 1996, Candace published The Accidental Activist: A Political and Personal Memoir.  In the subsequent review published in the New York Times, we once again see mention of D-Gem. But now we see how a lesbian bar like the D-Gem functioned as more than a place to find sex, intimacy, and a possible mate. We also see how it served as a "second home" or place of refuge, and as a center of community activism:

After the '94 elections, she wasn't surprised when the A.P. reporter ''guessed'' she was a lesbian, but she was surprised when Human Rights Campaign Fund representatives approached her. What, she wondered, did those ''well-heeled gay white men'' who held ''exclusive black-tie fund-raisers'' want with ''a blue-collar rugby dyke like me?'' What they got, and presumably came to like, was a young woman who wanted to be more than a thorn in her brother's side, who wanted to make ''some special contribution'' to gay rights, and who decided the way was to remain true to her ''blue-collar roots.'' She figured the large national gay rights organizations had plenty of sophisticated, inside-the-Beltway strategists; in fact, that is what made them seem nearly as removed as her brother from the kind of homosexuals she knew, the couples who have to rent apartments with an extra bedroom they can't afford, ''for show.'' Although alien to the black-tie crowd, she knew that small-town gay bars served their communities the way black churches served theirs, as places of refuge and, when mobilized, as centers of activism. She could be the rights campaign's ambassador to places like the D-Gem, for years Harrisburg's only lesbian bar and Candace's ''second home.''

For two years now, through 51 cities, she has been doing just that, serving as liaison between Beltway and barstool and, more recently, as the spearhead of a voter registration drive that might help undo the accident that propelled her to public attention.

Unfortunately, here we are fifteen years later, and the big brother is just as much of a homophobic, misogynist freak as ever....

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Arezou (Wish) Island

Urumiyeh Lake, Iran
Arezou (Wish) Island

Location: Urumiyeh Lake, Western Azerbaijan Province, Iran

Opened/Closed: Apparently never progressed beyond the planning stages back in 2007

Arezou (Wish) Island is a "lost womyn's space" that never existed outside the imaginations of a few ambitious tourism planners--and a few hopeful women.

Here's how Reuters announced the news back on February 22, 2007:

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran plans a female-only island to boost tourism in a northwest province, the Tehran-e Emrouz newspaper on Wednesday quoted a local official as saying.

 It will be on the Urumiyeh lake in Western Azerbaijan province, a municipality official identified only as Aghai said.

Under Iran's strict Islamic law, mixing with men in public is forbidden. Strict sex segregation actually protects women rather than restricting their rights, officials argue.

"There will be no men on the Arezou (Wish) island. Public transport, restaurants and other facilities will be staffed only by women," Aghai said.

Parts of Iranian beaches are reserved for women, where they can remove their headscarves and wear swimming costumes. Women have forced their way into the national sports stadium, defying strict sex segregation. There are several parks for women only.

In public women have to cover their body in long loose coats and their hair with headscarves. The chador, literally meaning 'tent', an all-enveloping, usually black cloth is obligatory in some government offices.

From there, the story circulated around the blogosphere for a while--then evaporated. So what happened to Arezou Island?

It seems that since this starry island vision was born, Urumiyeh Lake has been the subject of an increasingly severe environmental crisis. The lake is literally drying up. Where there used to be water, there is nothing but a thick crust of salt. Years of "man-made" interferences--dam building along with other water diversion schemes--have taken their toll. The damage has been compounded by the effects of an ongoing drought, no doubt driven by climate change. There is now an ever-increasing risk of "salt storms," where strong winds will carry the salt elsewhere, creating further environmental degradation. In fact, there were even protests in Iran last fall over this issue, with sixty people arrested.

It's not reported whether these protesters were women.

The boys giveth, the boys taketh away....

Rent parties

Rent parties

Location: New York, New York, USA

Opened: 1920

Closed: 1935

Back in January, riese posted an absolutely marvelous piece at Autostraddle called "10 Great Places to Meet Lesbians If You Have a Time Machine." There is so much great material here, that I urge you to read the piece in its entirety. Meanwhile, I'm going to borrow just this section on rent parties:

Private parties were still the safest places to meet other ladies during The Harlem Renaissance and "rent parties" were the most popular kind of private parties in which to do so. Rent Parties were huge in Harlem at the time, and some were very gay. The hosts provided bootleg liquor, dancing and jazz and charged admission (to help the resident pay their rent, which was astronomical at the time -- many white landlords charged black tenants double what their white counterparts would pay). Fear-mongering local papers described lesbian-attended Rent Parties as "dangerous to the health of all concerned" because of their "combination of bad gin, jealous women and a carving knife." (a.k.a. "dyke drama")

Actually, I've read that rent parties (or house parties) were an established institution outside of New York City as well, especially in the African-American gay and lesbian community. In particular, I've seen mention of them in places like Buffalo and Detroit.