Thursday, April 12, 2012

The "Manless Saloons" of Market Square

Market Square (Market Street just off Forbes Avenue)
The "Manless Saloons" of Market Square

Location: Market Square, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Opened/Closed: Around 1914--though maybe just in the vivid imagination of a certain City bureaucrat

Confession: I don't know for sure if the "manless saloons" ever came into existence in "real" time or space. A definitive answer may await us in a dusty archive somewhere in Pittsburgh, but it's not forthcoming soon.

At any rate, I still want to share this apparent "idea" of "manless saloons"--a proposal (most paradoxically) cooked up by a male city bureaucrat who was horrified by all the brazen hussies who were invading the men's bars around Market Square (they were male-only BY LAW). Not only that, they were freely imbibing liquor,  becoming intoxicated, and apparently engaging in (hetero)sexual encounters. The nerve!!!

So like many men who are freaked out by women doing their own thang, he decided to rein in those tipsy tarts and control them, especially their sexuality. (Sound familiar? This is a very, very old story. Particularly for certain gentlemen who hail from the great Commonweath of Pennsylvania, if you catch my drift.)

Charles S. Hubbard was Pittsburgh's Director of Public Safety in 1914. And according to Mr. Hubbard, his department had been inundated with complaints regarding these wasted wenches in and about Market Square. A February 14, 1914 article in the Pittsburgh Press fills us in on the juicy details:

Many complaints have been received at the department of public safety about the way women of all classes and sorts congregated in certain Market Square saloons, loitering there for hours at a time, meeting men there, and using the saloons as a means of rendezvous. Visitors to these saloons were pretty certain to find, at any hour of the day or evening, a bevy of women and girls assembled, few of whom acted insulted if they were asked to accept a drink.

It was claimed that this shameful practice began with the simple and hardworking rural women (the "huckster women") who peddled their wares within the general vicinity:

The custom had its origin, it is said, from the huckster women, and those having stands in the Market House, who, being obliged to leave home early in the morning, got into the way of dropping into one or another of the saloons for a bite of breakfast, a cup of coffee, or a glass of beer, or both. This has been going on for years, and other women than the country women availed themselves of the chance to buy meals and drinks, and finally got to buying the drinks without the meals. Then, progressing still farther, these hangers on sometimes just went to the saloon and waited until some kind man would volunteer to buy it for them.

Market House (1916)
That's some slippery slope! You start with an innocent country lass hawking bushels of apples or peaches at market. She parts with a penny or two for a cup of coffee--or perhaps a sweet bun--to ward off the morning chill. And before you know it, all hell has broken loose and Market Square is jammed with juiced-up Jezebels!

But the Good Citizens of Pittsburgh needn't have feared, because the ever-capable Mr. Hubbard was onto the problem and already crafting a solution. As he sternly warned, if the saloon proprietors continued to violate Pittsburgh liquor laws, he would pull their licenses. The conversion of these "places of business" into "veritable places of assignation" would not be allowed under the vigilant Mr. Hubbard's watch. 

So naturally, all ladies would be banned from patronizing the saloons. Even the huckster women. Because we can't have "disreputable" women congregating there to "meet men with whom they have engagements, or meet strangers and make engagements with them." 
Market Street at South 12th Street (1910)

However, an exception was made for ladies patronizing the cafes (i.e. not the saloons) who were properly escorted by an authorized male family member. In other words, this rule basically targeted single women, or women in the company of other women:

Director Hubbard explained that this move is not intended to interfere in any way with men and women drinking together in cafes, so long as they go there together. A man will still have the privilege of taking his wife, or his sister, or somebody else's sister, to a cafe. But the woman will not be permitted to go without escort.


But then Mr. Hubbard hatched An Idea. Here he explains it in his own words:

"I have been considering the advisability of permitting women to use two or three of the saloons; they must use them exclusively, and no men must use the saloons patronized by the women. It has been suggested that we install women waiters and bar tenders.

I am imperative on one point, and that is, that no men shall use those saloons. There must be no intermingling of men and women where drinking is going on. That will remove the temptation, and save many a woman from a fatal misstep."

We shall now take a short break, so as to allow our lesbian readers to stop gasping for air. Or whooping with laughter.

Classic Lesbian Invisibility, is it not?

But it's also a fascinating example of what the foreign policy folks call "blowback," and what the philosophers call dialectics. By taking a certain action, you actually create the conditions for its opposite to spring forth. Let's explain this further. In the official rush to contain unauthorized (hetero)sexuality, by segregating women within their own drinking establishments, we carve out a space where women can mingle, laugh, and hoist a few brews amongst themselves. And by doing that, we create a place where woman-to-woman intimacy, passion, and connection--and yes, sexuality--can take root and flourish.

So basically, the prudish Mr. Hubbard outlined a prototype for a lesbian bar--and all before the U.S. entered the first World War. Probably NOT his intention in the slightest. But that's the beauty of blowback. Your wishes or aspirations have nothing to do with the final result.

It is revealing, however, that the unnamed journalist who reported on all this did not receive it within the spirit of Mr. Hubbard's dour and puritanical intent. As he declared with great incredulity, "whoever heard of a manless beer saloon?" His response: No one!

Women picketers on strike (1914)
Just think of man, the lord of creation, in the temporary absence of the suffragettes, espying a saloon, hastening thither to quench a dime's worth of thirst, or maybe a little more, and finding himself barred from entrance, by a sternly uncompromising legend reading "For Ladies Only, No Men Admitted!" Think of him peeping through a crack of the door and seeing the room filled with contented looking she-persons comfortably quaffing beer or other light stimulants, while trim looking waitresses whisk about the room taking orders, and getting them filled at the bar, behind which a couple of elderly female bar-tenders hold forth!

Could he believe his eyes? Hardly!

But he had better, and he would do well to tip-toe away from the Adamless Eden without starting any demonstration a-tall, else he will come into violent collision with the law as administered by Director of Public Safety Charles S. Hubbard and his cohorts.

Needless to say, our unnamed journalist did not interpret the "manless saloon" as a commendable state effort directed toward controlling women and their sexuality, but as a grand offense against men as a group and their collective right to police women as they saw fit. All the standard male reactions to women-only space are here in full display: the obsession with surveillance and spying on women's activities, the association of women apart from men with militant feminism or at least a lack of acceptable femininity, the full-blown anger at being "excluded" from women's presence--even though as men they routinely exclude women from their activities or spaces with no apology or reservations.  Our unnamed journalist didn't utter the word "lesbian." He may not have been fully conscious of what lesbianism was or what it meant. But he was aware--if only dimly--of something "lesbian-like" in this imaginary scene, and it really pissed him off.

Even if Mr. Hubbard was completely obtuse to the implications of his proposed "manless saloons," other men were not. So I suspect that Mr. Hubbard would have encountered huge political roadblocks in getting these "manless saloons" set up and running.

But that part of the story still needs to be uncovered before it can be told.

Postscript: Seems this story got a litttle bit of play around the country--even as far away as the west coast. See accounts in the Mansfield Shield (Ohio), the Daily Republican (Cape Girardeau, Missouri), the Oxnard Daily Courier (California), and the Eugene Register-Guard (Oregon).

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