Friday, April 20, 2012

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.

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