Monday, April 30, 2012

Cowgirls Oasis

1200 West Magnolia Avenue
Cowgirls Oasis

Location: 1200 West Magnolia Avenue, Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Opened: July 14, 1995

Closed: 1996? A little later?

Buried somewhere in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, between August 1995 and January 1996, is the story of Carolyn Miles and the Cowgirls Oasis.

After a 10-year career at American Airlines, Carolyn decided to open her own lesbian bar. She wanted to create a nice place, a place geared toward gay women professionals. When the Cowgirls Oasis finally opened up for business in July 1995, it must have felt like a dream come true.

But in just three weeks, the dream had turned into the proverbial nightmare. Neighborhood opposition sprang up. Just a dozen people or so, but it was enough to make a big stink. It now looked like the place's liquor license was in jeopardy. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission got pulled into the mess, and a state hearing was held in September. At this point, Carolyn's bar was only 8-weeks old--practically a newborn--and really struggling.

In November, it was finally recommended that the Cowgirls Oasis receive her liquor license. And in January, Carolyn finally got it.

And then?

The media apparently dropped the story, so I can't tell you anything more.

Not only that, but every news story connected with the Cowgirls Oasis is a $2.95 pay-per-view. Now I love all you Lost readers like my own sisters, but if I'm going to spend $25 on you, I'd like to get lunch out of the deal at the very least. That's obviously not happening here. So everything recounted above is patched together from the brief descriptions generated by Google. I've tried teasing out longer and longer descriptions by piling on more and more search words (kind of like adding letters in Wheel of Fortune), but there's only so much you can do before the system gets wise to your shenanigans.

I did find out that by 1998, Carolyn had become president of the Tarrant County Lesbian-Gay Alliance in Fort Worth, so I'm thinking that the Cowgirls Oasis didn't survive all the legal hassles. At least not for long.

Today the space is occuped by West Magnolia Plastic Surgery.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Farmer's Rest and Writing Room for Ladies

Farmer & Company store at 436-450 George Street (1928-1976)
Farmer's Rest and Writing Room for Ladies

Location: Pitt, Market, & George Streets, Sydney, Australia

Opened: Farmer & Company began operations under this name in 1869

Closed: Store "badged" with the Myers name in 1976

Farmer & Company Limited was one of Australia's oldest and largest department stores. If you've been to the flagship Macy's in New York's Herald Square, you probably get the general idea. The store began its life as a drapery shop in the 1840s, but didn't become known as Farmer & Company till 1869. From then on, it expanded and branched out into many other lines of merchandising before finally becoming a public company in 1897.
Farmers display window

Their final building (shown above) at 436-450 George Street, designed by Robertson & Marks, dates to 1928. However, it appears that Farmer & Company had operated a store at this general location since 1889. Business was conducted under the Farmers name until 1976, when it was "badged" with the Myers (Myers Emporium Ltd) name. The building is now part of Sydney Central Plaza.

It was not until this kind of department-style retailing developed in the 19th century that shopping became branded as a "feminine" pastime, as an opportunity to stroll and ogle and gawk--not just haggle over necessary provisions. In fact, Farmers & Company is credited with installing Sydney's first plate-glass windows in 1854. This short history of Australian shops and shopping goes on to observe the following:

Retailers have gone to great lengths to cultivate the female shopper. From the early twentieth century many stores produced elaborate displays of fashion items. They lavished attention on their women customers and displayed goods to appeal to feminine fantasies.

In dividing their stores into specialised departments such as clothing, hardware and shoes, retailers began to designate men's and women's departments. David Jones had a Men's Grill. Gowings installed a barber's shop (one is still open for business). Women had their own rest rooms complete with writing areas and telephones. Even the furnishings reflected the differences: marble floors and timber fittings for men, mirrors and soft fabrics for women.

Farmers took a special pride in their Rest and Writing Room for Ladies. In fact, they actually published advertising copy extolling the room's virtues. Oddly, this reads more like a prose poem than an ad for the latest shipment of hats. From the Sydney Morning Herald, November 30, 1922:



In the midst of a hot, busy, rushing day in town--to get "far away from everything" for a brief spell--into a cool, peaceful atmosphere--to lie back and shut one's eyes and relax--that is the way speedily to secure a new lease of energy for shopping or other business--and it is quite simple and practical if you make use of the Ladies' Rest and Writing Room.

Or you may have urgent notes to write in time for the very next mail. In this same charming room--upholstered in soft rose shades--are all writing facilities.

This artistic room is adjacent to the Corset Salon, on the Fourth Floor. A nominal fee of 8d. is made for its use, including all accessories.

I wish I had a photo or drawing to share, but no such luck. You'll just have to shut your eyes and journey there yourself.

There's something of a twisted paradox here, though. Funny that the women's "artistic" rest and writing space is literally next door to the women's body-crushing space (the Corset Salon). I'll have to ponder that a while.

Some of us ladies "of a certain age" can still recall the days when ladies restrooms actually had facilities for rest. When I was a child, I can vaguely remember fainting couches in the small ladies lounges adjacent to some of the nicer restrooms. But those facilities were limited to a handful of old theaters or museums, not department stores. And nearly all of those are extinct now as well. When one considers the ladies restroom at Wal-Mart, rest is the last thing that comes to mind. No one would ever dream of them as being quiet spaces to collect one's thoughts or scribble down a few lines on perfumed stationery. It's just a place to get your business done, wash your hands, maybe drag a comb through your hair, and get out.

Such is progress???

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Ladies-only benches outside St. Paul's Cathedral

Ladies-only benches outside St. Paul's Cathedral (2009)
Ladies-only benches outside St. Paul's Cathedral

Location: Swanston Street, Cathedral Gardens of St. Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia

Opened: Laid out in 1921

Closed: Still exists, but not enforced

Close up of "Ladies Only" mosaic

I haven't found out too much about the history of these ladies-only benches, but they sure get an interesting reaction. One (male) blogger freaked out and called them an example of "21st century sexism." Absolutely! Right up there with rape, domestic violence, unequal pay! However, he also admitted that he wouldn't sit there. (Afraid certain dangly parts might fall off in divine retribution?)

Couple having lunch at the ladies-only benches (2012)

Which is ridiculous, because men have been violating the spirit of this humble (legally unenforceable) "ladies only" seating arrangement for at least fifty years.  

Ladies-only benches (1955)

Carefully examine this photograph of the ladies-only benches from 1955. You will see four ladies--and two (apparently illiterate) gentlemen. Observe, however, how the body language of the ladies indicates that the menfolk are distinctly NOT included in any of their groupings or in any conversation. In fact, the woman sitting next to the man has definitively turned her back on him. None of these women are even making eye contact with these fellows, and are gazing off in every direction as if to avoid it. Wish I could listen in as to what these ladies were thinking just then....

Also notice that the man on the left has assumed a kind of defensive posture (legs tightly crossed), while huddled very close to the man on the right. Interesting....

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ladies Writing Room, Hotel Vendome

Ladies Writing Room, Hotel Vendome

Location: 160 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Opened: Built 1871

Hotel Vendome (1910)
Closed: Ceased to exist as a hotel in 1971

The Historic Buildings of Massachusetts site provides this short description of the Hotel Vendome itself:

Built in 1871, the Mansard-roofed French Second Empire style corner building of the Hotel Vendome, on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, was designed by William G. Preston, who had studied in Paris. The western section, designed by J.F. Ober and R. Rand, followed in 1881. Hotel Vendome was for many years the city’s premier hotel, but by the late 1960s attempts were made to demolish the outmoded building. Renovations were almost complete in 1972, when a fire destroyed the southeast section of the original structure. Nine firefighters died when part of the building collapsed after the fire was out. There is a memorial to the nine firefighters on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall at Dartmouth Street. A 1970s addition to the Vendome by Stahl/Bennett in the Brutalist style replaced the destroyed section.

The building was later converted to condominiums, and it is at the condominium's website that we find this wonderful drawing of the Hotel Vendome's Ladies Writing Room. If you care to see more photos and illustrations from the Hotel's glory days, make sure you check it out. But for now, I'm just going to let you imagine that you had the wealth and leisure that would have allowed you to dwell in such a grand Ladies Writing Room, with bountiful supplies of paper and ink at your disposal....

Ladies Writing Room, Hotel Vendome (1872)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Proposal: Street Cars for Ladies Only (1903)

New York street car - all men?
A Proposal: Street Cars for Ladies Only (1903)

Location: New York, New York, USA

Opened/Closed: Proposed in a letter to the New York Times on March 8, 1903

We recently discussed a lady's letter to the New York Times arguing why a woman-only restaurant was needed for that fair town--this in 1885.

This time--some 18 years later--we see another plea in the same newspaper for womyn's space. This time for a women-only street car.

Street cars in one form or another had operated in New York City since 1832. The technology changed a lot over the course of the next century--horse-drawn cars were replaced by cable cars which were replaced by electric streetcars. Needless to say, the progression wasn't necessarily even-paced. According to the Brooklyn Historic Railway Assocation, "the last cable car line in New York City ended its run in 1905; the last horsecar line ran up until 1917."

But from its very beginnings, public transportation was staked out as an extension of the public streets where women were already subject to male "indignities" (harassment, groping, and sexual assault). And the street car "torture" (as this woman so accurately and bravely named it) only became more pronounced with increasing urbanization and crowding, which made it ever more difficult for women to move away from and escape their assailants. And that has never changed.
Horse-drawn street car - all men?

Finally, a woman spoke out. And not with a plea for better manners on the part of the gents. Nope, she was done with the gents. She wanted a woman-only street car.

She wasn't exactly alone in that sentiment either.

From the New York Times, May 8, 1903:


To the Editor of the New York Times:

Women societies are holding meetings and adopting resolutions full of the bitterest criticism against the loathsome conditions of our street cars. They find no words harsh enough against the indecency of crowded cars, in which men and women are huddled together like sardines. Our authorities seem to be helpless or unwilling to enforce better conditions. Even our District Attorney can't find any fault with conditions which stamp our overcrowded cars as "disorderly vehicles," in which to ride must be a torture to any decent woman.

There seems to be no remedy in sight against the complained-of conditions, and for any immediate relief. Now there is one way in which existing conditions may be improved in so far as decency is concerned if we have to stand overcrowded cars, let our women have an opportunity at least to escape situations which are embarrasing and humiliating to them. Let us have cars for "ladies only." It would cost the companies not one cent extra if, especially in rush hours, they would send cars, say every third or fourth or fifth or sixth, over their respective lines, with signs indicating that men must keep off.

Nothing easier could be done than putting this idea into practice. It would mitigate the present unsavory state of things in some way, and as we are accustomed to payment on installments, I will desist from demanding more, leaving it to our women societies to ask for conductresses, & c. But before others are going to make puns over my cars "for ladies only," let me strike the tune by asking "Why not female cars while there are "mail cars"?

                                                                                                          W. V. WEBER
New York, March 4, 1903

I haven't seen any evidence yet that W. V. Weber's street car proposal got much "traction" (if you'll excuse the pun). But six years later in 1909, New York women secured a women-only subway car for what was supposed to be a three-month trial period. During that time, the press viciously attacked the car and the women who rode in it. Some fellow even filed suit with the Interstate Commerce Commission--even though male-only facilities of all sorts were very common during this era. In fact, every attempt made in the U.S. to secure women-only public transportation--at least that I know of--has been subjected to persistent legal harassment initiated by men (kind of a variation of domestic violence by proxy). Doesn't matter if it was the modest 1909 experiment in New York or the somewhat more ambitious Women's Transit Service in Madison, Wisconsin (1973-2006).

But as we have also seen, these experiments have continued to inspire women-only public transportation efforts around the world that are still on-going, despite chronic male hostility.

Unfortunately, we now have to put up with relatively clueless liberal feminists speaking out against these initiatives as well. No women-only subway cars or buses, please, because that's discriminatory!

Instead, we get the same old tired utopian pleas for "education" and better manners--which have fallen on deaf (male) ears for nearly two centuries at this point. Meanwhile, real-world solutions that could make the woman commuter's life easier NOW are dismissed as "paternalistic."

Go figure.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ladies dining room, Hof Brau Haus

Hofbrau Haus matchbook cover
Ladies dining room, Hof Brau Haus

Location: 39 Church Street (Crown and Church Streets), New Haven, Connecticut, USA

Opened: At least as early as 1909

Closed: Probably around 1967

If you're a regular Lost reader, you may have the impression that all the ladies dining rooms of old were wasp-y, fussy affairs--even if lovely to gaze at in a formal sense. I'll admit it: most look like the kind of dining rooms where you'd live in mortal terror of picking up the wrong spoon. Where you could never indulge in a hearty laugh, at least not without courting Social Ruin. As for breaking out in song? NEVER!
A cozy nook in the Ladies Dining Room, Hof Brau Haus

But when we look at photos of the ladies dining room at New Haven's Hof Brau Haus, we feel instantly at ease. It's not hard to imagine having all your best gal pals arrayed around you, with big steins of beer for all. As for spoons? Who cares about spoons! Laugh and sing to your heart's content. Let every true lover salute her sweetheart. Let's drink! (Cue up the German beer drinking mood music here. And here are the lyrics if you'd like to bellow along.)

Ladies Dining Room and Fireplace, Hof Brau Haus

There must be THOUSANDS of restaurants called the Hofbrau Haus (or some variation thereof), so it's hard to sort through all the information overload. But it seems the New Haven Hof Brau Haus was owned, at least initially, by August L. Janssen, who also owned the Hofbrau Haus in New York at Broadway and Thirtieth Street from 1898 to 1938. When he died in 1939, his obituary mentioned that he also had a restaurant in New Haven, but doesn't provide the name or address. But an advertisement in the New York Evening Telegram from February 1909 verifies that the New Haven Hof Brau Haus at 39 Church Steet was a "branch" of the Broadway Hofbrau Haus.

39 Church Street today
We also know the Hof Brau Haus was open at least as late as 1967 because it had some liquor license problems that were reported in the press. But I doubt the ladies dining room was open that long. At least not as a womyn's space. In fact, I seriously doubt if any physical remnants of the ladies dining room are left anymore, as at last report, the building was occupied by a pest control company and seven or so other tenants. 

So you're still hoping "those bright eyes will shine/ Lovingly, longingly soon into mine!"?

Good luck with that, 'cause it ain't gonna be here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ladies reading room, writing room, and library at the Murray Hill Hotel

Murray Hill Hotel (c. 1900-1910)
Ladies reading room, writing room, and library at the Murray Hill Hotel

Location: 112 Park Avenue (between 40th and 41st Streets), New York, New York, USA

Opened: Built in 1884

Closed: Razed in 1947

The Murray Hill Hotel was a high-end Manhattan hotel designed by Stephen Decatur Hatch. While the exterior has been extensively documented by talented photographers like Berenice Abbott and others, I have found just two photographs of the hotel's breathtaking interior spaces.

One of these was a womyn's space--a ladies reading room, writing room, and library.

Ladies reading room, writing room, and library
Murray Hill Hotel (c. 1905-1915)
Oh to be a lady fortunate enough to inhabit such a reading room--a place where you could lose yourself in a good novel for a couple of hours, or scrawl down a few lines of verse without interruption, all in the company of other like-minded and literate ladies. (I imagine the library must have been way to the rear, as I see no books at all.) Of course, very few women had the wealth or privilege that allowed such a thing.

Here's the foyer and marble staircase for the Murray Hill Hotel, also a stunning example of late Victorian interior design at its very best.

Foyer and marble staircase, Murray Hill Hotel
(c. 1905-1915)

 And to think that all this was destroyed for a post-war office building....

Ladies Dining Room, Ladies Writing and Reception Room at the Hotel Vendig

Hotel Vendig
Ladies Dining Room, Ladies Writing and Reception Room at the Hotel Vendig

Location: 13th and Filbert, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Opened: 1891

Closed: Doesn't appear to be still operating under this name, but have yet to verify when it was closed.

I have found almost no information on the Hotel Vendig, apart from a few old postcards. But this was obviously a very nice (if not super luxurious) hotel for this era. The postcards tell us that it was run on the "European Plan," that it was "Absolutely Fire Proof, " and that "Special Sample Rooms" were available. Best of all,  "Every Room has Bath or Shower and running Ice Water." So relieved to hear that! But as a better hotel, this also meant that it had distinctly separate areas for ladies and gentlemen.

So rather than spend too much time on analysis, let's just take a peek at what those ladies' spaces looked like.

Ladies Dining Room, Hotel Vendig

Ladies Writing and Reception Room, Hotel Vendig

Even to the casual observer, it is clear that the design of the designated ladies' areas favored a light and airy aesthetic, with lots of white.

As we have discussed before, ladies were generally not welcomed in the "main" dining areas of these hotels, though men very often "escorted" ladies into the ladies cafe. So these were not women-only spaces strictly speaking.

The Ladies Writing and Reception Room met with at least one woman's approval as scribbled on the back of the postcard is the following message: "This room is very pretty as well as useful. " I have to admit that this is a first for me--I had never seen a writing space for women before, at least before some of the writer centers, workshops, and retreats created by the second wave of the feminist movement. I'd like to think that some fine stories and poetry came out of this space, in addition to all the chatty postcards and letters sent off to the loved ones back home.

Lobby, Hotel Vendig
But check this out. We see a similar light and airy design scheme in the lobby, which is somewhat neutral or "mixed" territory. So apparently this design was not limited to the ladies' spaces.

As for the gentlemen's areas--which are seldom explicitly identified as gentlemen's areas--we have one general postcard depicting what they looked like:

Hotel Vendig - general views

Of the areas illustrated, three are more or less neutral--the bedroom (upper left), the Filbert Street entrance (lower left), and the 13th Street entrance (lower right).

The two middle photos are basically gentlemen's eating areas: the Buffet (on the left) and the Grill (on the right). Even comparatively recently, the "grill" has been associated with men-only areas in country clubs and the like. Both of these spaces seem to be a little darker and "clubbier" in appearance than the ladies' areas.

The intention behind the Exchange (upper right hand corner) is not entirely evident. But I suspect it was something like the Men's Lounge at New York's Hotel McAlpin, which was "a long gallery fitted up in the manner of a sumptuous clubroom with easy chairs, library, smokers' necessities, bar, stock ticker and public stenographer." You know, all that business stuff that the silly little females needn't worry about.

But apart from all that, I'm still finding myself in serious desire of a ladies writing room. And I'm sure that a lot of other women writers would love to have one too....

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ladies in the Brothel Dining Room

Ces Dames au réfectoire (1893)
Ladies in the Brothel Dining Room

Location: Paris, France

Date: 1893, by Henri Toulouse-Latrec

When I search for Lost Womyn's Space material, this painting called "Ladies in the Brothel Dining Room" by Henri Toulouse-Latrec has the habit of surfacing again and again. Finally I threw in the towel. I figured this painting must be trying to capture my attention for a reason, so I decided to find out more about it.

I'll grant that Toulouse-Latrec had a fascinating sense of color and composition, but as a man he was something of a sleeze. He definitely had this creepy obsession with prostitutes and lesbians, which kind of repulses me. And frankly that repels me from taking a greater interest in his work.

But heck, maybe Toulouse-Latrec was on to something here. Maybe turn-of-the-century Parisian brothels did have dining areas that were just for the women. Might be interesting to investigate further, since we see only women in this painting. Is this a kind of womyn's space, if only an eating space for women trapped in prostitution?

So I started digging around, and it soon became clear that I was barking up the wrong tree entirely. Despite Toulouse-Latrec's track record for general sliminess, it turns out that this painting apparently has nothing to do with a brothel at all. The original French name of this painting is Ces Dames au réfectoire, which roughly translates as Ladies in the Refectory. And what is a refectory? According to Merriam-Webster it's a dining hall (as in a monastery or college).

So what we see here is an excellent example of the patriarchal politics of translation. Some (male?) translater/art critic assumed that if all these "unescorted" women were eating together in the same dining hall, they must be...whores! And therefore, in some huge leap of the imagination, the dining room must a whorehouse! 'Cause naturally, that's where we find whores, right? Such is the Misogynist Mind as it struggles--mightily--to make sense of the world around it.

Pure. unadulterated. bullcrap.

Los Angeles Women's Saloon and Parlor

Mary Yakutis of the Los Angeles Women's Saloon
and Parlour (1976)
Los Angeles Women's Saloon and Parlor

Location: Los Angeles, California, USA

Opened: 1974

Closed: ?

So far, the only information I have been able to find about this place is a single article by Sharon Johnson that was picked up by a couple of newspapers back in 1976.

Coleen McKay sat hunched over a glass of white wine and searched for the words to explain why she had abandoned a promising career in advertising and risked her life savings to launch a feminist restaurant that is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

"Take those two women," she said softly, pointing to two middle-aged housewives enjoying an omelette and conversing quietly. "Do you think they could get first-class treatment in any other restaurant? Why, no maitre d' or waiter would bother with them. They would get the worst table and would be whisked out the minute they put down their forks."

Now almost two years old, the Los Angeles Women's Saloon and Parlor has attracted hundreds of women who use it as a place to meet friends or entertain business clients. About 10 percent of the customers are men, many of whom are employed at a nearby hospital and like the hearty food and unpretentious decor.

"Many feminists have talked about changing their workplace but few have done so," explained Miss McKay. "By eliminating the hierarchy implicit in most businesses and by giving women employees the opportunity to be themselves, we think we have gone a long way toward making it possible for them to be feminists on the job."

All of the 14 employees participate in the major decisions, although those who are experts in cooking or marketing make day-to-day decisions in those areas. The dirty work is divided so nobody gets stuck scrubbing the floor everyday.

Another difference is wages. Unlike most other Los Angeles restaurants, which pay their waitresses next to nothing and encourage them to smile, flirt, and ingratiate themselves with customers in hopes of getting larger tips, the Los Angeles Women's Saloon and Parlor pays all its employees $3 an hour.

"I don't feel like I'm an automaton here," said Pody Molina who worked as a waitress at other restaurants in Los Angeles. "Other restaurants make you wear ridiculous costumes or walk with a silly grin on your face. Male managers permit and sometimes even encourage customers to insult or mistreat waitresses. Here no matter what job we do we are treated with respect."

Most customers are sympathetic to the needs of the staff. If the waitresses are busy, they will get their own silverware or help themselves to a second cup of coffee. One night a group of regular customers did all the cooking and cleaning so that the staff could have a night off.

"Eating dinner in a feminist restaurant is a consciousness-raising experience because it makes women realize that for years head waiters have treated the woman dining alone as a pariah to be shuffled off to the worst table or regarded as a seductress who has come to the restaurant in search of a man instead of a good dinner," said Barbara Clarchile, a frequent customer.

"Even in the best of restaurants, women are treated as inferiors who don't know their own minds," Miss Clarchile said. "They are never asked to order or select the wine. No matter what the woman's professional status or business connections, she never gets the check."

The menu reflects feminist positions. There are no diet drinks or low-calorie specials because the restaurant does not want to offend its overweight women clients. The restaurant serves crab quiche and vegetarian meatloaf, but avoids dishes with grapes or lettuce because it supports the farm workers in California.

Such positions make it difficult for the Los Angeles Women's Saloon and Parlor to compete economically with other restaurants.

"Nine out of 10 new restaurants in Los Angeles fail the first year," Miss McKay said, "but we have been lucky to survive."

Miss McKay and her partners spent $18,000 to convert the former artist's studio into a restaurant. With its worn Persian-style rugs, bamboo lounge chairs and posters on the wall, the Los Angeles Women's Saloon and Parlor looks like a college coffee house.

The owners had to employ a few men because there were not enough female carpenters and plumbers to go around.

"Men are very supportive of our restaurant," said Miss McKay. "The biggest challenge we faced was from a nearby church that tried to prevent us from getting a liquor license. The members claimed that we would be a bad moral influence on the community."

In case you're still wondering about that $3.00 an hour wage, minimum wage in the U.S. back in 1976 was $2.30 an hour, and $2.50 in California. As of 2010, the U.S. minimum wage had risen to $7.25, and $8.00 in California. (Of course, restaurant workers tend to make less than minimum because of deliberate loopholes in the legislation.)

Adjusted for inflation, workers at the Los Angeles Women's Saloon and Parlor were making the equivalent of $11.36 an hour in 2010 dollars.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pittsburgh Female College

Pittsburgh Female College
Pittsburgh Female College (1877)

Location: Eighth Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Opened: 1854

Closed: 1896

Pittsburgh Female College is not to be confused with the Pennsylvania Female College, which was founded in Pittsburgh in 1869. The Pennsylvania Female College was renamed the Pennysylvania College for Women in 1890, and Chatham College in 1955. As of 2007, it became known as Chatham University, but it still includes three distinct colleges, one of which is the Chatham College for Women. So the college most assuredly still exists as womyn's space.

The Pittsburgh Female College, on the other hand, merged with Beaver College in 1896. Beaver College started out life in 1853 as the Beaver Female Seminary (a rather unfortunate name one would think). This was in Beaver, Pennsylvania under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the founding names all belonged to men, even the principals which were sometimes women in those days. In 1872, the name was altered to the Beaver College & Musical Institute or Beaver College. In 1922, the college moved to Jenkinstown, Pennsylvania and then in 1928 to Glenside, Pennysylvania (near Philadelphia). In 2001, its (final?) name was changed to Arcadia University.

Got all that? Quiz next Wednesday.

It appears that Beaver College first proposed the consolidation in 1892, but the Pittsburgh Female College trustees rejected the move. Beaver College repeated the overtures in January 1894, but was turned down yet again a month later. But in 1896, Pittsburgh Female College finally accepted the proposal--though the deal was sweetened with the promise that the Beaver College president would resign his position in favor of the Pittsburgh Female College president.

But all that seems to have been partly a face-saving measure, as Pittsburgh Female College had lost its facilities in a disastrous fire some years before, and was still struggling to find a permanent home. They needed the merger as badly as Beaver College, which was burdened with a high debt load.

At the time of the merger, Beaver College was coed, as they had begun admitting men as students in 1872. But in a strange oscillating pattern sometimes seen with women's colleges, men were booted out again in 1907 and weren't readmitted till 1972.

Pittsburgh Female College (1873)
Frances Willard (1839-1898), the great suffragist, educator, and long-term president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), taught science for a time at Pittsburgh Female College.  This was around 1863.

Interesting detour: In her memoir, Willard reports that the very first saloon she ever entered was Sheffner's on Pittsburgh's Market Street--apparently in 1874. (Regular Lost readers may recall that city officials cracked down on these Market Square saloons in the early 20th century for serving alcohol to women--which was illegal at the time--and promoting licentious encounters with the male sex. The proposed solution by one city bureaucrat was a "manless saloon" that would protect women's virtue while still allowing them to hoist a brew or two amongst their lady friends. See our former post here.)
Frances Willard

However, Willard had no interest in the partaking of any liquid refreshment at Sheffner's or any other drinking establishment. She had been visiting "this dun-colored city" and catching up with "old friends at the Pittsburgh Female College" when she decided to seek out the women involved with the "the Crusade." She managed to convince her friends to do the same. So Willard found herself walking down the "stony pavement" of Market Street "arm in arm with a young teacher from the public school." They paused in front of a saloon. Here's what happened next:

The ladies ranged themselves along the curbstone, for they had been forbidden in anywise to incommode the passers-by, being dealt with much more strictly than a drunken man or a heap of dry-goods boxes would be. At a signal from our gray-haired leader, a sweet-voiced woman began to sing, “Jesus the water of life will give,” all our voices soon blending in that sweet song. I think it was the most novel spectacle that I recall.

The saloon keeper at that particular establishment denied the ladies entrance, but they were later admitted into another saloon (apparently Sheffner's) where they read Psalms aloud and sang "Rock of Ages." They then decided to pray, which turned into a life transforming experience for Willard:

It was strange, perhaps, but I felt not the least reluctance, and kneeling on that saw-dust floor, with a group of earnest hearts around me, and behind them, filling every corner and extending out into the street, a crowd of unwashed, unkempt, hard-looking drinking men, I was conscious that perhaps never in my life, save beside my sister Mary’s dying bed had I prayed as truly as I did then. This was my Crusade baptism. The next day I went on to the West and within a week had been made president of the Chicago W. C. T. U.

Today, we tend to write off temperance as a reactionary religious movement, but in the nineteenth century, these crusades were tightly connected with feminism, the suffrage movement, and the creation of womyn's space. Many women of this era were made destitute by drunken and abusive husbands and fathers--which perhaps were even more plentiful then than today. So they organized to impede at least some of the alcohol flow. But that's not all they did--especially Frances Willard. As Jone Johnson Lewis observes,

As head of the first national organization in America for women, Frances Willard endorsed the idea that the organization should "do everything": work not only for temperance, but also for woman suffrage, "social purity" (protecting young girls and other women sexually by raising the age of consent, establishing rape laws, holding male customers equally responsible for prostitution violations, etc.), and other social reforms. In fighting for temperance, she depicted the liquor industry as ridden with crime and corruption, men who drank alcohol as victims for succumbing to the temptations of liquor, and women, who had few legal rights to divorce, child custody, and financial stability, as ultimate victims of liquor.

Anna Adams Gordon (1910)
In addition, quite a few the women involved with the temperance movement were what we would call lesbian today. Certainly Willard was, who never married and lived with Anna Adams Gordon  (1853-1931), her "living and travelling companion and personal secretary," for 22 years. In fact, Willard even showed what we would identify as "butch" tendencies while growing up. She preferred "active play" with her brother over housework, boys' clothing over girls', and liked to go by the name Frank even as an adult.

At any rate, end of detour.

In 1946, Elizabeth Phillips Hart published A History of the Pittsburgh Female College. Hart was a member of the Pittsburgh Female College Association, which hosted an annual luncheon at the William Penn Hotel for many years. Here's a report of their meeting in 1932, over 30 years after the college's demise. Intense alumnae loyalty is typical of lost women's colleges, and Pittsburgh Female College was no exception.

And we can certainly see how the friendships that Frances Willard made at Pittsburgh Female College were influential to her political development, in addition to being life-long and nurturing in every way.

Women's Poolroom

Woman contemplating her next move at pool (1900s)
Women's Poolroom

Location: West Eighth Street, New York, New York, USA

Opened/Closed: Around 1903

You know that phrase "well-behaved women seldom make history"? Here's a concrete example. We never would have known about this women's poolroom or the name of one of the women associated with it (Go Miss Annie!)--except that the joint ran afoul of the law.

From the Meriden Daily Journal, February 28, 1903:



New York, Feb. 28.--Captain Gorman and a number of policement raided an alleged women's poolroom yesterday in the rear of a saloon in West Eighth street. There were about twenty women in the place at the time and they were thrown into a panic.

There is a Raines law hotel over the saloon, and several of the women sought escape in that direction. They went into rooms and hid under beds, and one very stout woman tried to get through the scuttle leading to the roof. She became wedged in the aperture and her screams for help betrayed her hiding place.

A woman, who said she was Miss Annie Simmons, was arrested on a warrant charging her with keeping the poolroom and several alleged male attendants were also gathered in. The customers were allowed to go.

The evidence, on which the warrant was issued, was secured by one of the city's police matrons, who says she placed bets in the room.

A little background information here.

The "Raines law" hotel is not the name of the business. Rather, the term "Raines law" referred to a piece of New York legislation passed in 1896 "which raised licensing fees for saloons and prohibited the sale of alcohol on Sundays, except in restaurants and hotels with ten or more beds"--this according to Michael Lerner's Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City.

Ephemeral New York explains further:

How did bar owners beat the law? They began serving “meals” of pretzels with drinks, which city magistrates ruled “were enough of a meal to excuse many saloons from the Sunday closing laws,” writes Lerner.

“The statute also encouraged the proliferation of seedy ‘Raines Law hotels,’ created by saloon owners who partitioned back rooms and upper floors of their bars into ‘bedrooms’ to meet the new licensing requirements.

“Not only did this innovation allow Sunday drinking in the city to continue unabated; it also prompted saloon owners to rent out their back ‘bedrooms’ to prostitutes to meet the higher cost of these new licensing fees.”

More than 1,000 Raines Law hotels were established, allowing drinking and prostitution to thrive in a way Progressive reformers had never imagined.

Second, it is not always clear in this era whether "poolroom" was referring to a billiards hall, a gambling den, or both. As this history of pool states,

The word "pool" means a collective bet, or ante. Many non-billiard games, such as poker, involve a pool but it was to pocket billiards that the name became attached. The term "poolroom" now means a place where pool is played, but in the 19th century a poolroom was a betting parlor for horse racing. Pool tables were installed so patrons could pass time between races. The two became connected in the public mind, but the unsavory connotation of "poolroom" came from the betting that took place there, not from billiards.

And third, notice how police matrons were used to monitor and control the behavior of other women. This appeared to be about the only police work open to women in that era, unfortunately.

Here are additional cases of "women's poolrooms" being raided: one on West 39th Street in 1904, one on West 22nd Street in 1905, and one on West 126th Street in 1914. All of these raids clearly involved women who were betting on horse races and the like.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cluj women-only restaurant

Cluj women-only restaurant (1969)
Cluj women-only restaurant

Location: Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Opened/Closed: c. 1969

I quite literally know nothing about this restaurant--except for this snippet of film that shows up at British Pathe. I tried to download it directly onto the site here, but no such luck. So you'll have to go to the British Pathe link above to see it for yourself.

Since I started the Lost Womyn's Space project, I have found very few films of historic women's spaces--apart from a few YouTube videos of more recent lesbian bars. Which is unfortunate, because in many ways, film can give us a keen insight into what these places may have been like. As you watch this film clip, it is easy to find yourself seduced into the scene. The charming ambience of the restaurant itself. All the fashionable ladies with bouffant hair-do's. The diners exchanging tender glances. The Turkish-style coffee, lovingly prepared by a woman's capable hands.

SPOILER ALERT: And then we realize that the movie camera is not a neutral observer. That we are not mere visitors, innocently peeking into this intimate women's dining room from two generations past.

On the contrary, we find at the very end--much to our shock and disgust--that the filmmaker was a man who disguised himself as a woman in order to record this scene. That all this is basic male voyeurism, no different in kind from the dudes who plant video cameras in women's restrooms. Or the men who are seemingly compelled to invade, infiltrate, or spy on women's space in any way they can.

It is particularly sickening to realize that what is probably the only documentary film preserving anything of this women's restaurant was made by this particular voyeur, and that we have been lured into unwitting participation in this filmmaker's trespassing and deceit. And that, sadly, we have no choice in the matter if we are to "see" this place at all.

Regulars at the Gateways (1968)
Then it occurred to me that this is also true for one of the very few films showing a lesbian bar from this era. Back in June of 1968, the film director Robert Aldrich used the Gateways Club--a famous lesbian bar in London--as "local color" in The Killing of Sister George. All of the women in the background are actual club regulars, they are not professional actresses or hired extras. Even Smithy the bartender was the real-life club bartender.

See clip here.

In Kelly Hankin's The Girls in the Backroom: Looking at the Lesbian Bar we discover all the ways that Aldrich exploited and endangered the Gateways Club and its customers--all while exposing and redefining these women as "genuine" (if scary) objects of titilation and surveillance for a male heterosexual movie audience. Among other things, it turns out that many of the lesbians used in these scenes did NOT sign any forms authorizing the use of their images, and as a result, faced catastrophic personal consequences upon the film's release. As Hankin argues, "it was heterosexuals, rather than lesbians, who orchestrated the use and vision of authentic lesbian space and real lesbians in The Killing of Sister George. The lesbian extras were effectively voiceless and nameless in the production and credits of this film."

But then we know that the male obsession with moving into and "directing" women's space is at least as old as ancient Greece. In fact, Aristophanes himself addressed the subject in a play called Thesmophoriazusae. The plot? A man disguises himself as a woman, so he can crash the festival of the Thesmophoria (an annual woman-only fertility celebration dedicated to the goddess Demeter) and spy on the women's doings there.

So not much is new under the patriarchal sun....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Changchun women-only restaurant

Changchun women-only restaurant exterior
Changchun women-only restaurant

Location: Changchun, Jilin, China

Opened: July 2007

Closed: Can find no evidence that it is closed. But can find no evidence that it's still open either.

Here's how China Daily reported the opening of this "genteel restaurant for women only":

A Western restaurant that only serves women, particularly women office workers, opened in Changchun, Jilin, last week.

Decorated to look like a living room, the restaurant is reaching its target clientele.

"In my free time, I like to go there with friends for a cup of coffee and to share confidences because we won't be bothered by noise or the strong smell of tobacco that one has to suffer in many other restaurants," a young woman surnamed Bai, employed by a local newspaper, said.

Changchun women-only restaurant interior
A blog called utubelaughter tells us a bit more:

Recently, a "ladies-only" Western-style restaurant was opened in Changchun, Jilin Province, attracting many female white collars.

The interior of the restaurant is divided into several delicate chambers by colorful and dreamy gauzes. Paintings of different styles decorate the wall in an exotic but harmonious way.

Step into a chamber, the first thing catching customers' eyes is a tiny blue gold fish in a small fish tank on the table. Then they will sit in the big and soft sofas, and order sushi, pasta, or coffee, anything they like.

"I really appreciate the serene atmosphere here, and I even don't care about others smoking here. Sometimes, I would like to spend the whole afternoon here working," said Bai, a newspaper editor.

Seems regardless of where you go on the globe, there is an appreciation for womyn's space....

Monday, April 16, 2012

Women-only sections at the moving picture show

The Perils of Pauline (1914)
Women-only sections at the moving picture show

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Opened/Closed: Proposed February 1914

We recently discussed the 1914 proposal to create "manless saloons" within the City of Pittsburgh, so as to prevent wanton females from getting looped in the company of strange men. (Obviously, their virture would be left intact, ahem, if only in the company of other women.)

Turns out that this was just one of the City's ladies-only proposals from that year. The Mayor decreed that even the movies were to be subject to sex segregation:

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 19--Mayor Joseph G. Armstrong has sent to Charles S. Hubbard, director of public safety, an order that will separate men and women in moving picture shows throughout the city. The mayor's plan is to have all such audience rooms divided into three sections, one for men, one for women and one for women accompanied by men.

The order followed many complaints of annoyances to which women and girls have been subjected while the lights were out.

Apparently Pittsburgh women were not afraid to speak up and register complaints about male sexual harassment. But did they specifically request their own theater section as a remedy? Or was a women-only theater section created and conceived by municipal government officials? Again, we'll have to follow up on this in the archives to find out for sure.