Walk into McSorley’s Old Ale House today and you will see an equal mix of the genders enjoying a beer. It’s hard to imagine that for 116 years this would not have been the case, as women were not allowed into the establishment. The philosophy was, “Good Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladies.” In 1939, owner Daniel O’Connell died, leaving the business to his daughter Dorothy O’Connell Kirwan. According to the website McSorley’s New York, “Patrons feared she would renovate and innovate. She did neither, staying out of the place as she promised her father she would. After some minor management problems, she made her husband Harry Kirwan the manager. She only visited on Sundays after they were closed.”
Opened in 1894, McSorley’s did not admit women until August 10, 1970, upon the signing of a bill by Mayor Lindsay prohibiting discrimination in public places on the basis of sex. The establishment had been sued in 1969. They could have become a private club, therefore allowing them to control admittance, but instead McSorley’s opened its doors to women. A New York Times article written the day after the famous integration shared all the juicy details, including a fight that broke out between a female guest and a male bartender and some of the old time regulars’ dissatisfaction with the admission of women. Dorothy Kirwan’s son Danny had wanted his mother to be the first woman served, but she refused, citing the promises she made to her father.
Even still, it wasn’t until 1986 that a women’s restroom was added (previously there were no closed-door stalls) and not until 1994 when the first female bartender poured beer from the taps. The latter event took place in September of that year when Teresa Maher, the daughter of McSorley’s owner Matthew Maher, decided she wanted to be involved behind the bar. An article in the Villager recounted Teresa’s first day as barkeep: “Customers told her that she was tarnishing 140 years of tradition, and that she would cost her father his business. But she had grown up in McSorley’s. It was her home. Her earliest memories, when she was just 5 years old, are of sitting in the bar’s backroom, drinking Cokes, eating hamburgers and watching her dad do paperwork. Those memories, she said, made the transition less menacing than it might have been for an outsider.”
Next month, GVSHP members (male and female!) will be able to step inside McSorley’s for a special event where the “Bard of McSorley’s,” Geoffrey Bartholomew, will read from his works of McSorley’s-based poetry. After coming to New York City in 1970, Mr. Bartholomew found himself living in an apartment above McSorley’s and soon afterward serving as its bartender. His first volume of poetry inspired by the historic watering hole, Voices from New York City’s Oldest Pub, was influenced larg1ely by the bar’s physical appearance. Light or Dark, the second volume, is focused on the bar’s role in history and the many important figures who passed through its doors. In addition to reading his poetry, Geoffrey will also discusses the influence McSorley’s had on his life and work. If you’d like more information about the event and to register, CLICK HERE!