Her Best-Kept Secret

History of Women’s Drinking

  • In the early days of the republic, the only safe drink was alcohol — and American men, women and children drank five gallons of it each year. That includes Martha Washington: In a collection of 500 recipes she left her granddaughter as a wedding gift, fifty were were for boozy drinks. She thoughtfully included a couple of hangover cures.

  • By the mid-19th century, sand filtration systems made drinking water safe, and white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant women set their sights on the prohibition of alcohol. Here, members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union state their conditions.

  • Reformer Carry Nation took it a step further. She used a hatchet to destroy whiskey barrels. She called them “hatchetations.” By her 1911 death, she was arrested more than 30 times on vandalism charges.

  • Prohibition changed everything about the way Americans drank. They found ingenious ways to make, transport, and conceal their liquor, as this woman’s 1922 cane flask demonstrates. It also prompted coed drinking outside the home. Nobody could ever be sure if the feds would come, so people drank quickly, normalizing the idea of drinking to get drunk.

  • After Repeal in 1934, American brewers and vintners advertised their product as refreshing and patriotic. Americans were used to sweet mixers that had disguised the taste of bathtub gin, so it took awhile. Rockwellian ads like these ran for more than a decade after World War II. A woman was always in the frame — as both a civilizing influence and a potential consumer.

  • Likewise, the wine industry promoted its product as a wholesome beverage every woman, from young housewives to grannies at a luncheon, could enjoy.

  • Less than a century after Carry Nation’s axe, Carrie Bradshaw’s cosmopolitans mirrored popular culture. Drinking had become a common female plot line. Sometimes, it was the plot itself.

  • Courteney Cox’s character on Cougar Town’s has wine vessels that hold almost an entire bottle.