Today in Herstory: NYC Bar Refusing Service to Women Will Face a Federal Suit

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


June 24, 1969: As a result of being refused service at one of New York City’s “men only” bars in January, Karen DeCrow and Faith Seidenberg, members of the National Organization for Women, filed a Federal suit today.

They contend that being barred from McSorley’s Old Ale House, solely on account of their sex, is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Karen DeCrow
Karen DeCrow

The atmosphere inside the pub was even colder than the weather outside on that winter’s evening five months ago. A large bell was rung as an alarm when DeCrow and Seidenberg stepped in. The male patrons clapped and stomped their feet, while the waiters hooted. Both women sat quietly at a table and politely asked for service, but without success, with the refusals becoming increasingly hostile. Finally, a sympathetic man at the bar tried to buy drinks for the women. Some of the patrons then picked him up and roughly threw him through the swinging doors and on to the curb, his head striking the doors in the process. Not wanting to be the cause of any more violence, the women left, determined to fight the issue out in court.

This is not the first bar or restaurant in the city to be targeted by N.O.W. for discriminating against women. On February 12th, Betty Friedan and a few other women unsuccessfully tried to dine in the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel, and were told women were not served there until 3 p.m. on days the stock exchange was open, and that the same rule applied to the adjoining Oak Room Bar.

The struggle for equal access to all public accommodations is going on nationwide, with plenty of other actions so far this year. On March 25th, N.O.W. staged a sit-in at Trader Vic’s in Beverly Hills, California, protesting its prohibition on unaccompanied women – but not men – drinking at the bar. The management’s assumption is that any woman not accompanied by a man is probably a prostitute intent on soliciting a customer, though management apparently doesn’t assume that an unaccompanied man is looking for a prostitute.

On March 8th, N.O.W. members staged a sit-in at a bar in Colchester, Connecticut, to protest a state law that prohibits women from being served liquor at a bar. On February 19th, Los Angeles N.O.W. members Judith Meuli, Lana Phelan, Ruth Ehrlich and Ila Johnson staged a successful sit-in at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge in California. Amid considerable press attention, they were served, so policies can change if publicly challenged.

Eliminating such forms of public accommodations discrimination has been a goal of N.O.W. from the beginning. On November 11, 1966, less than two weeks after its organizing conference, N.O.W. wrote a letter to Acting Attorney General Ramsey Clark, saying in part:

Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination or segregation in places of public accommodation, also should be amended to prohibit such discrimination against women. Although sex discrimination in public accommodations has not been so widespread as race discrimination, it is more common than discrimination based on religion and national origin – both of which are specifically prohibited by Title II. The exclusion of women from numerous public restaurants, for example, continues as an insult to women and a handicap to their participation in the business world.

Today, one more salvo against blatant discrimination was launched, as the battle for equal access continues.

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