Goesaert v. Cleary

Goesaert v. Cleary was a case which was being fought because women were prohibited from being licensed as bartenders in cities having a population of over 50,000 people. They were only allowed to bartend if the bar was owned by the woman’s father or husband. According to the article “Mixing it up” women were viewed as not smart and not as conversational as men. Women were said to not be able to handle situations or drunks as well as men could.

Although women were allowed to work while there men were away at war, once the men returned they were no longer needed. They were expected to return to their duties as the housewife. Even though they were not able to bartend, they were not excluded from being waitresses. Even being a waitress the woman working is still dealing with the same people that men claimed she was not capable of dealing with. Union workers from Detroit local 562 claim that “bartenders not only have to be brave, but they practically have to know jujitsu”.

The fact women were prohibited from being bartenders brought up the issue that it was in violation of the fourteenth amendment. The claim was rejected by a panel of three male judges. I think that the outcome of this case shows that at that time women were pretty much viewed as objects. They were used up while their men were away and when there was no use for them anymore they were pushed to the side and disregarded.


French, Amy Holtman. “Mixing it Up: Michigan Barmaids Fight for Civil Rights,” Michigan Historical Review, Vol. 40 No. 1 (2014). pp. 27-48.

11 thoughts on “Goesaert v. Cleary

  1. I definitely agree that the objectification of women led to the court’s ultimate decision in Goesaert v. Cleary… along with the fact that the plaintiffs were up against three male judges. Objectification also ties in with the other excerpt we had this week, which was about women losing their factory jobs when their husbands returned from war. Factory managers did just that: When there were no men around to labor, they urged the men’s wives to replace the laborers-turned-soldiers. Then, these same women were let go upon their husbands’ return, setting themselves back into the roles they once knew. Gender roles objectify and dehumanize, reducing women to individuals who live to serve men and procreate. This court case perfectly shows how gender roles affected everyday life and law.

    1. It was so striking and bothersome to me while reading Ruth Milkman’s excerpt from the book at just how illogical the gender norms at the time were. Without giving women a chance, the entire country was able to decide what they physically could and could not do. When in reality once these women were put to the test, they were able to do the jobs equally as well or even better. But still by the end of the war, though it was cheaper and easier to keep women on in their wartime positions, they still systematically ousted them for men who would do the same job but for more money. But, ya know, it’s a man’s job so it makes sense, right?

      1. I felt the same way! I was honestly so surprised at how brutal and upfront some of the opinionated justifications were. The fact that some boldly claimed that women as a whole were “not smart and not as conversational as men,” and used such broad and biased judgements to support legislative opinions boggles my mind. It’s as if all of society just agreed at that time that such claims were valid without necessarily asking for proof or elaboration. The normalcy of it at the times suggests that the men may not have even been trying to be rude so much as they were simply taught that women were lesser objects. It’s sad, really.

    2. I think that is the biggest outrage in all of these laws, women were encouraged to take up these jobs while the me were away at war and yet suddenly they return and women are no longer capable of working in these environments. It is simply illogical.

  2. I felt the same way in that women were basically just treated as place holders for the men until they got back from the war. It is obvious that they wanted to make bartending a “man’s job” and they did this by amending a law that already existed. They basically just pushed women out of their jobs to make way for men. With the gender norms of the time, women were only really seen as potential wives and mothers who should only want to stay at home and take care of the children.

    1. Women should have been able to keep there jobs yes what the men are doing at what war is tremendous and will never be forgotten but a war affects everyone one in the country and it is not fair to them the women that is to just go back to there old ways when the men get home. The women have sacrificed so much when those guys are off fighting the least we could do to repay them is to let them keep there job.

    2. It’s disheartening to think that women only had value back then as place holders. It’s a theme that can be seen all across the board: Women can’t lead in some Christian churches unless there are no capable men present at the time. Mothers often waited for the return of the fathers to the household before disciplining children for misbehavior. The damsel is in distress, waiting on the male. Hopeful the capability and strength of women will become more apparent and acknowledged in society as time passes.

  3. Without the women to do the men’s work when they left, who else would they have to rely on to do so? Children are too young to be bartenders. Some compromise should have been taken place, instead of making the rash decision to boot them out of their positions. I can see how men would have felt like they needed their jobs back after what they went through, but to at least think about hiring women after their experience as a thank-you, would have been a nice breakthrough

  4. It’s definitely a common theme throughout history that women were not seen as their own human beings but rather as their relationship to men. In this case, the women who had their jobs stripped away from them were not allowed to bartend unless their father or husband owned the bar, which as we all know is incredibly sexist. And yet, it was customary at the time. Those men were so desperate to hold onto whatever power they had over women that they wouldn’t even let them work and help support themselves or their families. Even though the court case didn’t end the way the women would have liked, the fact that they even took it to court and then made their message heard until they saw progressive results really resounds well for all feminists and activists to fight for your cause even when things dont seem to be going your way. Nice post!

  5. I understand that they wanted to cut back jobs, but I 100% do not agree with there reason. women were viewed as not smart and not as conversational as men. In my experience I do not know how this is true at all. Most of the time its the other way around. I’ve found that women are more outgoing and willing to strike up a conversation then men are. Also they said women were to not be able to handle situations or drunks as well as men could. I can see this to be true if a man is drunk and throwing stuff and swinging punches, but that about it. Women are very smart and know men. They can easily get a man to do what they want so in a lot of causes i would rather have the brains then the bruit. All in all i am just very glad that the times have changed and women now have there right to bartend back, even if its just a small thing in some peoples eyes.

  6. This is a very interesting case to read about, but it infuriates me how ridiculous some of these gendered expectations were. I find it nauseating that women were only allowed to bartend in cities with a population of over 50,000 people if their husband or father owned the bar. Since this case was in the 1940s, I can understand why this was still an issue in our society. That was simply the mindset of the majority, unfortunately; women were viewed as property, belonging to the father and then the husband. Women weren’t viewed in the same light as men were. They were viewed as unintelligent and weak during this time, even though we all know that is very much not the case. Women and non-men can handle a situation and carry their own weight in a conversation just as well as men can, and were just as intelligent as men were.

    A society where women are only needed when the men are away is a sad one to live in, and I am glad that things have taken a better turn since then. Why am I not surprised that it was okay for the women to have waitressing jobs but not bartending jobs? People in that time period were gendering the workplace and the people in it which made it very hard for women and non-men to hold bartending jobs. They couldn’t hold jobs that society viewed as being for men because of these expectations that these genders had. But that’s bologna because waitresses essentially did the same work as a bartender. So I’m glad this issue was brought up because there was no solid reason for women to be prohibited from bartending. Any reason that was brought up was very hypocritical, as it was no different than a man doing the same job.

    Since this violated the fourteenth amendment, it had to be investigated, and I find it funny how a panel of three male judges rejected this violation claim. Like, of course men are going to deny sexism exists when they’re the oppressors in the first place. Oppressors never like to admit that they’re oppressive.

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