Katie Mulcahey and New York’s Short-Lived Women’s Smoking Ban

By Karen Harris
Two girls lighting cigarettes, 23 April, 1931, have the right to do so thanks to Katie Mulcahey. Photograph by Leslie Cardew. (Photo by Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)

Smoking cigarettes was a big thing in the early 1900s. Most men smoked and many women did. The problem was, no one looked twice if they saw a man smoking in public, but they were extremely uncomfortable if a woman smoked in public. This sort of double standard happened all the time. It was shocking, for example, for women to enter a store, restaurant, or hotel without a proper male escort. But the times, they were a-changing. By 1908, women were clamoring for their rights…to vote, to shop or dine alone in public and to light up a cigarette in public. That didn’t sit too well with some, especially an alderman in New York City.