As with many professions during the second World War, women took the place of men in bartending among many others. After men returned from the war, they demanded that women leave their positions and return to what they thought was the best position for a women in society: being a housewife. It is obvious with the gender norms of the time that women bartenders would be seen as taboo and was not encouraged after the war, women could not even join the Bartenders’ Union because accepting a woman would mean, “to imply that the industry has accepted barmaids as a permanent fixture. This is not true” (French 28).
Since men wanted to monopolize the trade, the Bartenders’ Union lobbied for an amendment to the Liquor Control Act of 1933. In 1945, the act prohibited women from bartending unless it was in an establishment that was owned by their husband or father (French 28-29). This law was claimed to have been passed to protect public welfare and to protect women. This, like many other laws, was not actually made to protect women, but to control them. It was inconceivable at that time to believe that women knew what may be best for them instead of men.
The law only barred women from being bartenders, not waitresses in bars, many women argued that being behind a bar felt safer because that way they did not have to deal with much of the unwanted touching or pinching that waitresses dealt with. This is another example of gender norms of the time, men believing that they know what is best for women and touching women as they please because they are seen as less then human. Not to say that this does not occur today, but it is not nearly as common or socially acceptable, society has come a long way but it also has quite a ways to go.
Michigan’s Bartending Act prompted the case of Goesaert v. Cleary of 1948. The case was taken to the Supreme Court after the law was affirmed by the Michigan Eastern District Court where they were represented by Anne Davidow. She argued that the act ousted female bar owners from behind their own bars and they had to hire male bar tenders to do a job they could do just as well and paying a man to bartend when it was not actually needed would decrease profitability (French 37). Michigan barmaids fought to dismantle the idea that men had to be breadwinners and that the only job suited for a woman was a housewife.
The Supreme Court validated the Bartending Act because it was rationalized that since women do not have any federal right to work in any occupation that they chose, the law was not discriminatory (French 42). Even though the plaintiffs lost in this trial, the barmaids still fought for change and women kept the law on the minds’ of legislators through continuous agitating. After another loss in the case of Nephew v. Liquor Control Commission in 1953 and a decade of continued pressure on lawmakers, the law was repealed in 1955. This was a huge victory for barmaids and female bar owners because with changing laws came changes in the ways that society viewed bartending as a man’s position.
French, Amy Holtman. “Mixing it Up: Michigan Barmaids Fight for Civil Rights,” Michigan Historical Review, Vol. 40 No. 1 (Spring 2014). pp. 27-48.