Why Some Bars Still Have Signs For The Ladies' Entrance

Ladies' night is typically associated with bars that are cheaper for women to enter, or in some cases, places that are women-only for the night. But before there was ladies' night, there was the ladies' entrance. Back in the 1800s, there were separate doors for women to enter bars. Needless to say, these doors are outdated, and it's difficult to find them at most bars around the country — although not impossible. In a few cities in the U.S., including Philadelphia and Madison, you may still see these signs swinging above pub doors. They may not be used in the same way they were back in the 19th century, but they haven't been completely discarded.

So why are these old-fashioned signs still kind of a thing? The entrances themselves may not be in use, but some bar owners keep the signs around as historical artifacts of sorts. As Jim Savage, the owner of Julie's Corner Bar, told Hidden City, "It's more there for nostalgia than anything else. All my patrons know they can go in the front or the back. We've been here 55 years and the sign was already there." Some passersby even take and post pictures with the signs to show how far women's rights have come since then.

An outdated concept

The reasoning behind the signs is a little questionable — allegedly, they were to help women avoid male scrutiny since it was pretty unusual at the time to see a woman in these types of establishments. However, they also helped women avoid worse treatment such as harassment, and allowed them to quickly purchase alcohol to drink in a back room with other women, thus avoiding what was seen at the time as male territory.

This custom is rooted in the late 1800s, when bars were "a place where men have been able to get away from their wives, enjoy their fellow men, perhaps cement a deal," Mary Jane Lupton wrote in "Feminist Studies." Women typically had to be escorted to be part of the scene.

Surprisingly, bars shutting women out has been an issue as recently as the 1970s. McSorley's Old Ale House, a saloon in New York City, had to receive a court order to allow women in 1970 — and even then, women walking in received resistance. And in 1982, a British bar banned women from standing at the bar, although a court case later struck down the rule.