Thursday, December 6, 2012

Smoking Cars for Women

The Smoke Nuisance (1886)
Smoking Cars for Women

Location: England

Opened: 1906

Closed: Existed at least into the 1920's

In the 19th century, smoking was defined as a strictly masculine activity, and definitely improper for ladies. Smoking was also an activity that was strongly attached to the idea of male space--the smoking rooms in hotels, clubs, and the like were typically reserved for gentlemen only. 
Smoking car on the Chicago Limited, which was
reserved for men only (1891)

One of the spaces where gentlemen used to enjoy their cigars--and do a little exclusionary male bonding--was aboard the smoking car on railroad trains. 

According to an 1881 piece in the New York Times, only a minority of the men who took up the seats in the smoking car were actually smoking. A good number of the rest, or so it is suggested, "have just quarreled with their wives, whom they have left in another car, and who can not follow them with angry tongue and umbrella to the smoking car." (Notice that in the illustration from the Chicago Limited, all the men in the smoking car are also white--except for the Black porter.)

Unfortunately, women began to associate smoking itself with male privilege and freedom, and soon took up the habit themselves as a way of declaring their personal autonomy and independence. 

And for a time, separate smoking cars for women came into being, just as there were for the men--at least on the English trains.

From the Bedford Daily Mail, August 23, 1906:

Bedford Daily Mail
August 23, 1906

Introduced in England, They Seem to Be in Demand

Fashionable women in England seem to be leading those in America in the smoking habit. According to Everyday Housekeeping, one of the first class carriages on a train that left London for Liverpool recently displayed the sign , "Ladies' smoking."

Women's smoking car (1920's)
It was the first time ever. A man called for the carriage, as they call a car in England, for his women friends, who occupied it for smoking purposes. Regular smoking carriages for women may now come into vogue over there.

Actually in America, the sentiment tended to run the other way, with municipal campaigns to ban public smoking by women. Part of the reason was that it was associated with excessive drinking and promiscuity--definite social no no's. Back in 1908, a woman named Ethel Powers protested one such ban:
Women smoking on bus (1925)

They have stopped women from smoking in public!
Their excuse for this is public decency.
They say it is wrong for women to smoke in public places – that it is offensive to those who look on and detrimental to the character and dignity of the fair sex.
Who say and do this?
Why, who else but those lords of creation — men.

Read the rest here.

By the 1920s, many younger women had taken up smoking with a vengeance. They smoked on the streets, on trains, on buses, in restaurants, and anywhere else they could get away with it.

And we now have the lung cancer rates to prove it....

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