100 years ago today: When smoking is a civil right

Yesterday I blogged about the fact that newspapers across the United States picked up the shocking story about Mrs. Craig Riddle smoking in public. I ended that piece by making a statement might have seemed overwrought:

Mrs. Biddle may have chosen to smoke in a public place simply to demonstrate her social prominence. Yet in a way Mrs. Biddle was a pioneer of women\’s rights to the full enjoyment of citizenship just as were women who were campaigning to extend suffrage to women as well as men.

Well, 100 years ago today the following headline WOMEN MAY SMOKE IN PUBLIC SAYS CITY COUNSEL ran on the front page of The New York Evening World. The city counsel had responded to a question from an alderman as to whether an ordinance could be passed forbidding women from smoking in public. The counsel replied:

My opinion is that the courts would more likely hold an ordinance prohibiting public smoking by women to be void than valid.

It is possible also, that such an ordinance might conflict with Section 40 of the Civil Rights law, providing that all persons shall be entitled to equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges in inns, restaurants, hotels &c.

The counsel was making the point that forbidding women from engaging in behaviour that men were allowed to engage in was against the law. By creating this situation Mrs. Biddle provided the opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people to realize that that law existed and what its implications were.


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