BARRED FROM THE BAR: HOW WOMEN WON THE RIGHT TO SIT AT THE BAR

BARRED FROM THE BAR: HOW WOMEN WON THE RIGHT TO SIT AT THE BAR

While perusing material in response to a research question about Seattle in the 1950s and 1960s, Washington State research librarian Kathryn Devine read A Complete Guide to Non-Tourist Seattle (1962).

Intended as a pocket guide for visitors who wanted to see the “real” Seattle, it’s a very entertaining read.  

In the chapter titled “What to Know and Where to Go,” author Wayne Carter offers some fine print for visitors who need a stiff drink: “A cocktail lounge may sell liquor, wine or beer, but not to take out. It must operate in conjunction with a restaurant. The restaurant may choose its own hours of operation, but it cannot sell alcohol after the legal closing hours. Women may not sit at the bar.”

The last sentence caught Kathryn off guard. Upon further investigation, she traced the ‘rule’ barring (pun intended) women from the bar of a cocktail lounge (but not a tavern) to a 1948 Initiative.

1948’s Initiative 171 sought to regulate liquor sales by the drink by creating a specific type of retailers’ license known as a Class H license.

You can read the text of Initiative 171 beginning on Page 8 of the 1948 Washington Voter Pamphlet. Buried in the text on Page 9, with no explicit justification or context, is Sec. 2 (e): “It shall be unlawful for any Class H licensee to sell liquor to women, except when seated at tables.”

Voters approved the “Providing Liquor by the Drink” initiative 416,227 to 373,418. It became Chapter 5 of the 1949 Session Laws and kept the section that barred women from the bar.

Kathryn found that the provision went unchallenged for 20 years until 1968, when a well-traveled woman walked into a Tacoma cocktail lounge and — having forgotten the rule — took a seat at the bar.

She was asked to move, so she sued the bar and the Washington State Liquor Control Board. Her lawsuit was later dropped after the legislature decided to take up the issue and ultimately overturned the prohibition on women sitting at the bar.

So 51 years ago this month — in August 1969 — it became legal for women to sit at a bar in Washington state.

In celebration of this right, the Seattle Times Women’s Section published this bit of (now embarrassing) advice: “How to Look Good Perched at a Bar.” [Seattle Times, Aug. 24, 1969, Page B6].

Seattle Times, August 24, 1969, titled How to Look Good Perched at a Bar.
“How to Look Good Perched at a Bar,” article in the Seattle Times, Aug. 24, 1969.

Forget equality. Clearly the important thing, now that women could sit where they wanted, was to look good doing it.  

For more information, see:

“Tacoma Woman Files Suit in Bid to Win Right to Sit at Bar Stool.” Seattle Times. Nov. 13, 1968, pg. 38.  

“Last Male Refuge.” Seattle Times. Nov. 22, 1968, pg. 11.

“Ban on Women on Bar Stools.” Seattle Times. April 8, 1969, pg. 9.

“Senate Drops Ban.” Seattle Times. April 11, 1969, pg. 11.

Featured Image: Front and back covers of “A Complete Guide to Non-Tourist Seattle,” 1962.

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