Exercise 1: Gendered Spaces

Hotel Bismarck Ladies Cafe and Restaurant

As part of his 1907 “booze” crusade, Reverend Frederick E. Hopkins visited seventeen first-class Chicago restaurants that catered to monied women. Among these establishments was the Bismarck Hotel, founded in 1894. Hopkins reported that more than half of the women he observed at the Bismarck were drinking alcohol in some form.

The Bismarck contained an elegant “ladies’ café” in addition to its “main restaurant.” Both spaces are depicted on postcards from the early twentieth century. The illustrations provide insight into how proprietors established a respectable environment for their female customers, as well as how gender and class shaped and defined commercial space.

Compare and contrast the interior sketches from the following postcards of the Bismarck Hotel. Consider the architecture, décor, clientele, and what was being served.

Questions

  • What features of the ladies’ café might have signaled to customers that the space welcomed women? What features marked the Bismarck Hotel’s main restaurant as an environment for men?
  • The illustrations depict an all-male clientele in the main restaurant and a mixed-sex clientele in the ladies’ café. Why might men have been permitted to enjoy both the main restaurant and the dining space reserved for women?
  • Can you provide any current examples of commercial spaces that are designed to attract either male or female customers? How are the gender identities of these spaces marked and communicated?

Sources

  1. Hotel Bismarck Ladies Café and Restaurant,” 1904 postcard (in Emily Remus’s private collection)
  2. Hotel Bismarck Main Restaurant and Bar,” 1903 postcard (in Emily Remus’s private collection)