If You Want A Drink, Should It Matter Whose Mixing It?


Nowadays it is very common for you to be greeted by a female bartender. However, it was not always that way. Along with many others, Detroit Local 562 of the Bartenders’ Union members shared the same view on woman mixing up alcohol beverages. They believed women were not knowledgeable, outgoing, sociable or even physically capable of being a bartender. Although this belief was widely accepted and enforced, that was just not enough for Thomas Kearney, business Representative of the Detroit Local 562. He felt that there should in fact be a law established prohibiting women to be apart of the fruitful bartending business. In reaction to the substantial amount of pressure on Michigan legislators, the Liquor Control Act of 1933 was amended. In 1945, the revised version of the 1933 Act prohibited women from tending bars unless they were under establishments owned by their husbands or fathers.

Although this act encouraged women to depend on men, some women actually saw the act as protection. Like other polices passed by the Courts, legislators argued that the genetic makeup of a women requires them to work in different conditions than men. During the 1940’s there was a increase in revenue for bars. There was also a change in the type of population they held. More women spent time having a drink. And as this became widely popular women found more interest in bar-tending and owning their own bars.

In 1947, women and barmaids made their first attempt to crusade the law passed by legislators. (For those whom are not familiar with the terminology barmaid, it is a term to describe a female bartender.) This case is known as Goesaert vs. Cleary. Woman had become upset with laws that were passed that prevented women from being independent based on their genetic makeup. What was most challenging about this battle was influencing others to escape gender norms. By passing several laws it had became a norm for women to be treated different than men. For example, men worked in different environments, they held different positions, they affected wages and they also didn’t have any protection laws. These laws were examples of how we constructed our society to treat women.

The plantiffs of this case was Valentine Margeret Goesaert, Gertrude Nadroski, Caroline McMahon and 24 other bar owners and barmaids. These group of women proceeded to sue the Michigan Liquor Control Communion. These women thought that liquor laws made it possible for only men to benefit from the booming bar business. And this belief was due to laws being placed for bigger cities where there were more economic potential. This also created a bigger problem of unfairness because women of different class and location did not have to obey by these laws. In additional to that women were allowed to bar-tend while men were at war, so why did these opportunities have to be given back to male veterans? This showed that during this time it was a gender norm for women to have to prioritize being a housewife than employed. It also proved that men were more entitled to favorable paying jobs than women.

Even after having all the right evidence of gender inequality the Goesaert women failed to change the minds of the Michigan court. So they began to agitate the Supreme Court for change in 1948. And without much help the Supreme Court honored Michigan’s right to protect the public welfare. But this loss did not leave barmaids doubtful. Instead they continued to fight lawmakers for change.

In the 1950’s after years of fighting from the Barmaids Associations, the Bartenders Union allowed women membership. In their defense, this was due to economic reasons. In 1976 the Supreme Court finally decided to over turn the law. But this wasn’t until they saw men arguing over gender inequality concerning liquor laws.

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

15 thoughts on “If You Want A Drink, Should It Matter Whose Mixing It?

  1. Very good post! I think that it very strange to think of how women were treated back then for being bartenders. Most of the time, that’s all you see now days are women who are mixing up drinks behind the counter.

    1. I am a female bartender and where I work actually only has female bartenders right now, so it was very bizarre for me to read this. I know for a fact that I can handle a drunk, I can socialize, I know about sports and other things my patrons (mostly men) want to talk about and are interested in, and I can absolutely lift or move anything heavy, like a keg, that’s part of my job requirements. I know more about beer, different breweries, and the different types and flavors than half the people that I serve so these reads really showed how off base and ridiculous the gender norms were.

    2. Yes, Cassie its almost hard to believe. I was actually watching a bartending show and its about people inspecting bars. What amazed me is one of the inspector made a comment about the bartender (who was a woman) not being able to control the patrons properly and it made me think of the olden days.

  2. I thought this post had a very good layout and it is strange to think that women were prohibited from bartending, it gives us a new perspective on the gender norms of the time. When we think of women’s inequality, our minds don’t go straight to bartending, we usually think of voting or some type of industrial job that men claimed they were not capable of doing. I found the reading from this week especially interesting for those reasons.

    1. It just baffles me that women couldn’t serve drinks back then today i don’t think i could walk into a bar without seeing a girl serving the drinks. Most of the time the guys are either waiting on tables or cooking in the kitchen. This has been very interesting to me as well this week cause i thought all along that girls were the only ones serving the drinks never knew any other way.

      1. I agree, It is insane that this was actually a law. Nowadays, it is just laughable to read. Who was out of their right mind to think women were incapable of being a bartender? Especially since 90% of bartenders you see are now female.

    2. Yeah, you rarely see anybody talking about types of jobs like this when bringing up women’s equality. It’d be funny to go back in time just to see what was going through all these individuals heads, because most of these thoughts are just plain ridiculous.

  3. In the small town that I am from, the few bars around here seem to have only women as bartenders. Men are mostly stationed in the kitchens. Roles seemed to have flip-flopped and businesses seem to be running great no matter who is doing which. Back then, you would think that after the women had to take care of the men’s jobs when they went off to the war that they would become more accepted. but instead they were shoved aside without a thank-you. It is good to see how much has changed since then.

  4. I never would have guessed that one of the jobs that sparked gender equality was bartending. Today we think of bartending as a basic job that both men and women excel in. Although I would have never guessed that women would want to fight for this job I don’t blame them at all. If someone told me i wasn’t physically fight for a job you can bet that I’m going to be angry and do everything possible to get back to it. Its cray how some of this is still going on today. To this day we still have jobs stereotyped and men and women do get paid differently in some cases. Will this ever end?

    1. I was actually pretty surprised by this as well, I think the main thing that sparked it was this was a job many women held while the med were away at war, so they had essentially already proved they were capable of doing it, but yet were being forced out to make room for men returning from war in need of jobs.

    2. Thanks Shelby for responding. I was actually watching a movie, in which a lady healed a CEO position. And in the movie the lady was giving orders to group of men and it reminded me how hard we had to fight for this right. Nowadays we are seeing more and more women holding higher positions, but the fight is not over. One my instructors told me that whenever you have a job offering your should always negotiate your salary. He also mentioned women are less likely to do this and in additional to that… they are also less likely to be granted the negotiation.

  5. The comments made by men in this case arguing for why women should not be bartenders were simply absurd. They paint a picture of women as quiet, mousy, and defenseless, when most women are anything but. While they claimed they were passing these laws to protect women they were really setting up a huge fight for women to obtain equal rights in the work place.

    1. I absolutely agree. I hate to think about, not only the ridiculous criticisms, but also the fact that male members of the Bartenders’ Union were able to socialize and spread this disrespect among judges, attorneys and legislators at the Detroit Ball and other elite meetings where women weren’t allowed to be present. Barmaids had to fight this battle against inequality without the easy access and representation that their male opponents were offered.

    2. I think the reason they told the women that they were making laws to protect them is because they saw women as being inferior. Today woman are doing things that are known as masculine. There are even bars who have female security guards and bouncers, yet these men were worried about them mixing drinks.

  6. I shouldn’t be surprised by these misogynistic viewpoints of the past, but somehow I still find myself in shock. These viewpoints and beliefs, while widely accepted and enforced, simply weren’t enough for some men. Some men like Thomas Kearney, as you mentioned, felt there should be laws prohibiting women from being bartenders. I don’t know what’s worse at this point in time: telling a woman she can’t bartend because she’s not a man, or telling a woman she’s only allowed to bartend if a man in her life (like a father or husband) is the owner of it. No better way to start the fight against the patriarchy than by telling women they can’t do things because they’re not men, right? While the entire concept of this act is frustrating, some women saw the best in a bad situation. The act was also seen as an act of protection and increased revenue for bars and thus encouraged women to seek out bartending which I think is incredibly empowering despite the sexism and misogyny that is the basis of this law.

    This led to women attempting to fight against this law once they realized how hindering it was to them. I really love how this battle encouraged people to turn away from gender norms and become independent. In a way, it seems like it had some positive outcomes even if those outcomes weren’t exactly intentional. These women were absolutely right too; laws that prohibited women from being independent from the men in their life, especially when it comes to bartending and bar owning, was unfair and unjust. The bar business only benefited men and that absolutely had to change. Women had just as much right to benefit from the business.

    It’s really…unsettling though to learn that it wasn’t overturned for a long, long while and it wasn’t until the men had issues with gender inequality. This should have been settled long before the time it actually was, honestly. It should have been settled when women challenged it initially, not when men challenged it ages later. It is good that it got overturned overall, but it’s frustrating that it only got overturned in response to the concerns of the oppressors and not those who are oppressed by the structure.

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