On January 21, 1908, the Sullivan Ordinance was passed in New York City by the board of aldermen making it ‘against the law for a hotel or restaurant proprietor, or anyone else managing or owning a “public place” to allow women to smoke in public’ as expressed in the title of a New York Times article from 1908.
Eleven women were present at this meeting, and fifteen men were present, including Katie Mulcahey.
A forward thinking Dr. Charles J. Pease wanted it to be a crime for “any person or persons” to smoke in a public place where women were present who could be forced to inhale the fumes.1 One Alderman opposed it claiming it wouldn’t be legal. They couldn’t prevent the men from smoking if that was what they choose to do. That was their right.
John Henry Smith, a member of the public said they should be paying more attention to the poor rather than wasting time discussing smoking. If they were to do anything why didn’t they stop boys smoking who were under the age of 21?
Alderman Doull claimed that was unconstitutional.
The ordinance passed.
The reporter spoke to the women who attended the meeting to see what they thought about the Ordinance, and they felt the board should not have been passing anti-smoke ordinances.
The board really didn’t think ahead as to whether or not women would break the law. The women were supposed to behave as they were told and that they wouldn’t argue about and they would just obey the law. The worst that would happen is that her husband or father would punish her.
Katie Mulcahey who attended the meeting was later cited for breaking the Ordinance and fined $5. She refused to pay and was arrested. The ordinance never mentioned any fines so she was released the next day. The ordinance also didn’t say anything about women not being able to smoke in public places.
This was definitely an Ordinance written with a play on the word ‘public’. Since anyone managing or owning a place is really privately owned, but opened to the public.
In this case language is everything.
1This is word for word from the New York Times article above published in 1908