Ladies' Ordinaries: Women-Only Restaurants That Shielded Them From 19th-Century Men

By Joseph A. Williams
The Gloppe patisserie on the Champs-Elysees, two women eating pastries, 1889, Jean Beraud. (M. Seemuller / De Agostini Picture Library via Getty Images)

A girls' night out in the 1830s looked very different from how it does today. In fact, for most of the early 1800s, the chances of a group of women (or a woman by herself, for that matter) finding a restaurant that would serve them without the company of a man were pretty slim. Only women of ill-repute dined alone, but occasionally, respectable ladies who were traveling alone or in town to shop or attend church got hungry. The solution to this was the "ladies' ordinary," the women-only dining areas that sprang up in American restaurants and hotels to give proper ladies a proper place to eat. This International Women's Day, let's look back at this archaic practice to show how women have come a long way, baby