Tonight, the 2nd of the 3-part Ken Burns documentary series, “Prohibition,” airs on PBS, and as of this posting,  you can still catch up on episode 1 online. The era of prohibition, synonymous with the “Jazz Age” is one that I’ve always found mesmerizing; to date, my favorite documentary is another Ken Burns epic, “Jazz.” Flappers, bathtub gin, the Charleston, The Great Gatsby–all evoke horribly romantic visions for me–I feel half drunk just thinking about it. So, sticking with the theme of Beers, Booze and Bars…I thought today’s Ladies Lounge could throw ‘broads’ into the mix. And as an aside, I’ll be tweeting for Indiana Humanities on October 18th for “Chew on This” (follow @historicindiana) at one of the best historic drinking venues in town, The Rathskellar. (Click the Humanities link for more details.)

I’ve often wondered what the drink of choice was for most ladies of that era? Gin was certainly plentiful–so perhaps it was during that era, one of my favorite (and relatable) drinking rhymes was penned:

 “I’m tired of gin,

I’m tired of sin,

And after last night–

Oh boy, am I tired.”

Martini anyone?

Whiskey was a well-established spirit, readily available in Indianapolis in the 1820’s. According to Greater Indianapolis, “Whisky was the prevailing drink. Whisky raw and whisky sweetened, whisky hot and whisky cold, and sometimes whisky watered and often whisky medicated. Roots and herbs, and barks, when steeped in whisky had wonderful curative properties. Snake bites and milk sickness, rheumatisms and agues, alike, yielded to the thousand and one prepartations which the hardy men of those days knew how to make with whisky; and a birth or death, a wedding or funeral, a log-rolling or shucking, or a raising or a quilting, was incomplete and unsatisfactory without it. Egg-nog or toddy, or both, was much more certain at an afternoon visiting party of women than ‘store tea’ was for supper; and well-to-do Methodists, and Baptists, and New Lights, and other good people, were as thougtful to supply it for their guests, even their preachers, as were other people.”

With prohibition having been repealed in December 1933, I was sure I’d encounter some advertisements in magazines soon after, and indeed, from a June 1934 Cosmopolitan, found ladies drinking AND smoking openly. (Mon dieu!)

What’s your poison of choice, ladies?

How old were you when you had your first drink?

Any stories from the matriarchs in your family?



2 responses to “Ladies Lounge: Booze, Bars, Broads–and the Whiskey Drinking Women of 1820s Indianapolis”

  1. Donna Winsted says:

    I could have a drink anytime I wanted it when I was in my early teens! Most of my friends drank beer on the sly but I had highballs at home – and I hardly ever drank them! If I had been told I couldn’t drink them, I probably would have become an alcoholic but those highballs saved the day. 😀
    I prefer bourbon over whiskey, but my drink of choice is a martini on the rocks cut with water (OK so I’m a wuss!).
    My paternal grandmother was a quilter and she attended a quilting circle every Wednesday at her church – Thoburn Methodist in Chicago. But I can tell you absolutely that never a drop of booze was had at those quilting circles – a Methodist church with tea-totaling ladies? NEVER!!! 🙂

  2. Jeff Downer Indianapolis says:

    It’s interesting to note that until the late 20th century, women were not permitted by law to be seated at the bar in Indiana. Sometime in the 1970’s or 80’s.

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