The Women Left Out of the History of Cocktails

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Cocktail history — a relatively new pursuit — tends to dwell on ancient bar manuals from the 19th and early 20th centuries, largely the works of white, male heralded bartenders like Harry Johnson, William Boothby and Jerry Thomas. The books deal with the kind of drinks that were served in taverns, where women were long not permitted.

Nicola Nice, a social scientist and spirits entrepreneur, says that presents only half of the story of the cocktail’s rise to social prominence.

“It came with this crayon mark, which says to me this was used,” she said, tracing her finger along the creases on the cover of her copy of “Bacchus Behave!: The Lost Art of Polite Drinking,” a 1933 book by the journalist Alma Whitaker. “A woman had this, her kids were around, she left it out, it got drawn on.”

The same thing happened to Dr. Nice: “My daughter, when she was 3, drew on it and probably took hundreds of dollars off the value.”

They might have gleaned their knowledge from Isabella Beeton, whose 1861 work “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management” sold millions of copies, and whom Dr. Nice credits with “Kardashian levels of influence.”

Volume five of “Consolidated Library of Modern Cooking and Household Recipes,” published in 1904 by the mother-daughter team of Christine Terhune Herrick and Marion Harland, has dozens of recipes and a lengthy section on mixing drinks, as well as a chapter on “toasts and speechmaking.”

She agrees that women in the drinks-book field tend to view cocktail culture differently than men.

“It’s more about the guest than about you,” Ms. Reiner said. “With these male bartenders, it’s more about them.”

Dr. Nice intends to post PDFs of books in her collection. (Only a cover and brief description are currently available.) She hopes this will help get the authors their due — writers like Eliza Leslie, whose 1837 work, “Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches,” contained recipes for homemade wines, punches and cordials, and sold 150,000 copies.

“I want women in the home to be recognized for the influence that they had in what the cocktail has become, is becoming and will become,” Dr. Nice said. “It’s just as important how we drink it at home with each other as it is in the bar.”



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