Contrary to popular belief, 58% of modern bartenders are women—or at least they were before COVID-19. Job losses have been substantial in the face of the current health crisis, and while the hospitality sector overall has suffered greatly, no group has experienced greater adversity under these circumstances than women.
Of course, this isn’t the first-time women in bartending have had to deal with gendered hardships. From being persecuted as witches by their competitors to being legally barred from any profession that would have them working nights, women bartenders have had their un-fair share of treatment for daring to enter a male-dominated industry.
Despite the challenges, women in the industry have continued to persevere, encouraging innovation alongside progress. Though women’s contributions have historically been left unacknowledged across sectors, the bartending world owes a lot to the determination of its talented female mixologists.
In honor of World Bartender Day this February 24, we’re celebrating the women in bartending—then & now. Here’s 4 names you should remember next time you order a drink:
Not only was Ada Coleman one of the first women to occupy a bartending role during her time, but she was also one of the few to be recognized for creating some of the world’s most enduring and iconic cocktails.
Affectionately known as “Coley,” Ada started her career at 24 at the Claridge Hotel in London in 1899. Thanks to her inventive approach to mixology and undeniable talent for the craft, her reputation landed her the opportunity to serve at The American Bar at The Savoy as Head Bartender just 4 years later——since then, there has only been one other woman in that role.
During her 23-year stint, she engineered masterful cocktail creations and served them to likes of Mark Twain, the Prince of Wales, and Prince Wilhelm of Sweden. One of her most famous cocktails was inspired by regular Sir Charles Hawtry.
Called the Hanky Panky, the negroni-like cocktail brought Fernet (a bitter amaro) to popularity outside its native Italy. Later, the recipe would be recorded and published by her mentee, Harry Craddock, in The Savoy Cocktail Book, printed 1930—still one of the most famous publications in the bartending sector today.
In the 1940s post-Prohibition era, bartending was among one of the professions in which men discriminated against women in the name of “protecting” them—some states even went so far as to pass laws blatantly forbidding women from any role that would have them working nights.
Bartending unions at the time not only denied women from membership, but in fact also actively protested taverns that employed female bartenders, lobbying state and local officials to pass laws specifically to prevent it.
In Michigan, Detroit’s Local 562 had successfully gotten legislators to amend the state’s Liquor Control Act of 1945 which stopped women from bartending unless they were the bar owner’s wives or daughters. So when Dearborn resident Valentine Goesaert’s husband died, and she and her daughter Margaret wanted to continue to run the family bar, they had to make their case in court.
Joining together with 24 other women bartenders and tavern owners (and supported by their lawyer Anne Davidow), the women challenged the sexist law. Unfortunately, when Goesaert v. Cleary made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1947, the Justices ultimately sided with the union in a 6-3 ruling.
While the law was eventually repealed in 1955, thanks to continued activism from the Michigan Barmaids Association, the Supreme Court ruling was a critical blow to progress everywhere. It enabled other states to pass their own discriminatory laws excluding women from bartending.
In fact, before the decision, only 17 states had such laws; but by the 1960s, nine more states would follow suit. It wouldn’t be until the passage of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1964 Equal Pay Act, that women would receive the legal precedent to challenge these discriminatory laws.
Throughout her 50+ years in bartending, Joy Perrine created a name for herself in both bartending and Bourbon industry circles. She is also fondly remembered as a Professor Emeritus at Moonshine University.
When Joy started her career in the 60s, there still weren’t very many women bartenders and, in some places, women were still being legally excluded from it. When she came to Louisville, Kentucky in 1978, she found herself a rarity among bartenders—both for her sex and her skill.
In Louisville, she became enamored with Kentucky’s Bourbon culture, determined to learn as much as she could about the spirit. By the late 80s, Joy had become a local legend coveted for her prowess in slinging Bourbon cocktails.
In 2009, she partnered with Susan Reigler to co-author The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book, a best-selling publication now in its fifth edition print.
As of 2016, the self-proclaimed “bad girl of bourbon” now holds a proud place among the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame as the first female bartender to receive the designation—a recognition that is already rare among bartenders.
Joy passed away in 2019, but her legacy lives on.
Recognizing the need for “a roadmap for success” for aspiring bartenders, Lindsey Johnson has been making her own mark on the industry by creating initiatives that provide educational and networking opportunities for that community.
In 2010, Lindsey launched Portland Cocktail Week—an annual gathering of talented beverage creators. The event is designed to help bartenders develop their personal and professional skill sets in a variety of business-oriented knowledge areas like bar ownership, management, and hospitality. The program—which is completely free for working bartenders by the way—has become recognized industry wide.
But she hasn’t stopped there. Only two years later, Lindsey created Camp Runamok, a summer camp-inspired experience that invites bartenders from around the world to spend a week making connections and exploring personal and professional growth.
Lindsey told Forbes, “Camp Runamok and Portland Cocktail Week are fairly different experiences, but at their core both programs focus on community building, education, and making space for all people in our industry.”
With her bartender advocacy collective Lush Life, Lindsey continues to empower a global community of bartenders and inspire growth in thoughtful, engaged, and healthy ways. Through Lush Life, she provides opportunities that contribute to further professionalizing the occupation while pushing the envelope for innovation of not just cocktails, but what’s possible with the hospitality experience as a whole.
Raising The Bar—Building A More Equitable Future, Together
The socio-economic impact of an ongoing pandemic has wreaked havoc on the bartending profession; but equally frightening is how the status of current events threatens to set back progress in gains made to create a more equitable workplace for women.
Women across sectors, and especially women of color, have been disproportionately affected by the current crisis. A National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ final jobs report of 2020 revealed the troubling summary, as Forbes reports: “Not only did the US workforce lose 140,000 jobs in December, but women lost a net 156,000 jobs, while men gained a net 16,000. In other words, women accounted for over 100% of the labor market’s first month of losses since a tepid recovery began in May.”
More troubling yet, the report found that the sectors suffering the most job losses in 2020 were those with disproportionate rates of Black, Latinx and Indigenous workers—that is, restaurants, retail, and hospitality. In December alone, nearly 500,000 leisure and hospitality industry jobs were lost, and women (especially women of color) accounted for a disproportionate 56.6% of those losses despite making up only 53.1% of the sector’s workforce.
As our world continues to adjust to life under pandemic conditions, it is our job as a community to ensure that our “new normal” does not include accepting inequality of any kind. Now is the time to band together in support of our bartenders, especially those who have been most greatly affected by the current crisis.
There’s obviously still more work to be done, but the path for the aspiring female bartenders of the future continues to look brighter and brighter thanks to trailblazers like the women on this list—and that’s something we can all raise a glass to.
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