Thursday, March 22, 2012

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....

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