McSorley’s Old Ale House
photo Daniel Bellino-Zwicke
A “Men’s Club”
John McSorley firmly believed that it was “impossible for men to drink with tranquility in the presence of women” (Mitchell, pg. 4) which is why upon establishing his alehouse in 1854 he vowed to serve only men and proudly operated with the motto “GOOD ALE, RAW ONIONS, AND NO LADIES.” This policy was maintained even when ownership of the alehouse changed hands to Daniel O’Connell and was inherited by his daughter Dorothy upon his death. In keeping with her father’s request, Dorothy relinquished responsibility to her husband Harry Kirwan, and stayed out of the alehouse during business hours, only stepping foot inside while the pub was closed on Sundays.
For working men like John McSorley and his establishment’s many loyal patrons, saloons were thought of as “an escape from wife and family… a bastion of male fellowship and independence.” (Kingsdale, pg. 468) As depicted in John Sloan’s painting McSorley’s Saloon, the men seen in the alehouse appear to be “maturelyreflecting in purely male ways and solemnly discoursing, untroubled by skirts or domesticity.”
In the back room of the alehouse John McSorley hung a large copy of Gustave Courbet’s La Femme au Perroquet painting depicting a female nude playing with a parrot. For the first one hundred and sixteen years that McSorley’s Old Ale House was in business, this portrait was the only female to enter through its doors (with permission, at least).
La Femme au Perroquet
“Female Nude Playing with Parrot”
by Gustave Courbet
Hangs on the back wall of McSorley’s
In 1969, after several guerrilla attempts by women to disguise themselves as men and receive service at McSorley’s, two women named Faith Seidenberg and and Karen DeCrow began the motions of gaining access for women once and for all. Seidenberg and DeCrow happened to be attorneys for the National Organization for Women (NOW) and when they were refused service, decided to take legal action against the alehouse. Their mission was to combat the larger issue of sex discrimination in public accommodations, and McSorley’s became their primary focus.
by John Sloan