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Best of 30POV: “McSorley’s Old Ale House – Women Not Welcome”

“Best Post that Makes Ya Glad You’re in your 30s (and the 1930s)”

Over the months, Christina has taught us a lot about history, but Bestie #9 is by far her most popular.  I think it’s because we’re so “modern” and all that.

“McSorley’s Old Alehouse – Women Not Welcome”*

I have never been to McSorley’s, but I still drink the beer.  As I was reading the back of a bottle of McSorley’s Irish Black Lager, I learned that women were not allowed in McSorley’s until 1970!  The shock, confusion, and anger subsided as I took another sip.  I really do not care that us women could not enter the bar until then.  Perhaps that makes me a bad feminist, but I can deal with that.

*Female photographer Berenice Abbot had to get special permission to take this picture.
*Female photographer Berenice Abbot had to get special permission to take this picture.

McSorley’s is said to have opened its doors in 1854, and is often referred to as the oldest surviving bar in New York.  Questions have been raised about the accuracy of that, but McSorley‘s website claims it is the oldest continuously operated saloon in New York (definitely a case of good wording).

The issue of women at McSorley’s had gone on for some time.  By the 1930s, women were part of the increasing number of patrons at bars.  Although women were now “allowed” to be at bars, it did not change McSorley’s, which still continued to ban females from their premises.  In 1937, a New York Times’ article, “Is Woman’s Place at the Bars?,” provided insight into the changing times of New York saloons.  The article shares the story of the recently discontinued “McSorley’s Onion,” which was a bowl of raw onions patrons could eat to help alleviate beer breath and “fool” their wives into thinking they were elsewhere at lunchtime.  Of course, women are not that stupid, and the onion was more of a tradition than a realistic approach to deception.  (At some point in the future, the onion returned).  While other bars began welcoming women, McSorley’s held firm to their belief that a “woman’s place is in the home, or if she must take a nip occasionally, that her place is elsewhere, anywhere, but not at McSorley’s.”

It is said in 1952 a woman did enter the establishment, and even drank beer.  She was a reporter for theNew York Times, and was covering the story of a 90-year-old man who had been a patron of McSorley’s for 70 years.  It is true an article exists for that celebration, but the writer is not named.  The article was sure to mention McSorley’s “no women” policy.  It goes on to state that McSorley’s was founded on a policy of “’good ale, raw onions, and no ladies’ and it has been a last sanctuary from encroaching womanhood ever since.”

It was not until August 10, 1970 that women were allowed into McSorley’s.  The change came after the mayor signed in a bill that prohibited discrimination in public places on the basis of sex.  I am not sure if raw onions are still provided to patrons, but McSorley’s policy of Good Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladieshad to be adapted, albeit unwillingly, over the years.
John T. McManus, “Is Woman’s Place at the Bars?,” New York Times, January 3, 1937.
“Boys of McSorley’s Whoop It Up For Oldest Oldtimer, Who’s 90,” New York Times, February 29, 1952.
Grace Lichtenstein, “McSorley’s Admits Women Under a New City Law,” New York Times, August 11, 1970.


*”McSorley’s Old Ale House – Women Not Welcome.” Orig. Pub. Date: 4/9/2010. Vol I, Issue 8 ~  Intoxication ~ 30POV.com; All rights belong to the original author.

One response to “Best of 30POV: “McSorley’s Old Ale House – Women Not Welcome””

  1. Avatar disperse says:

    I love what Christina brings to the site: a contagious interest in history. I believe I've said this before, but; I nearly flunked out of 10th grade history due to lack of interest but Christina's writing is gripping. You should write a history book!

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Christina About Christina

*Christina “Olives” Lamoureux is the self-fulfilling prophecy of a quirky and sarcastic procrastinator. When faced with the reality of work, she generally takes a nap instead. She currently lives and attends graduate school in Fitchburg, MA, where she spends her time studying really old stuff as an Ancient and Medieval History major. She is very slowly writing a true crime story that has nothing to do with ancient or medieval history, but aspires to write historical fiction as well. The only perfect thing she has done in her life is thrown a 300 game in ten pin bowling; since that occurred in her twenties, it is now ancient history as well. Besides history and bowling, she “sees dead people” as part of a paranormal investigation team. When she cannot afford to indulge in her martini fetish, she reads or watches terrible, pointless TV.

Read more by this author on 30POV .


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