Let’s say you’re a well-off New York woman in the late 19th century, and you’re on an excursion to Ladies Mile—the area roughly between Broadway and Sixth Avenue and 10th and 23rd Streets where the city’s chicest emporiums and boutiques were located.
Shopping is time-consuming, and your stomach starts growling. Where could you grab a bite to eat or a snack?
Social rules at the time made it almost impossible to sit down at a restaurant, as most eateries either banned or discouraged women unaccompanied by men (you might be mistaken for a prostitute).
You certainly couldn’t sit at the counter at a saloon or club, as these were off-limits to women as well.
Your options, then? Going to one of the new women’s lunch rooms or tea rooms, sometimes in the department store itself. Or you could visit a confectionery—a fancy sweets shop that served a light lunch and treats.
Maillard’s Confectionery, on 23rd Street inside the posh Fifth Avenue Hotel, was one of the most fashionable. Billing itself as “an ideal luncheon restaurant for ladies,” the shop was “an Edwardian fantasy” according to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.
This description of a new Maillard’s on Fifth Avenue and 35th Street that opened in 1908 (as department stores relocated uptown, so did the restaurants catering to female shoppers) gives an idea of what was on the menu.
“The lunches, as of old, will be light and dainty with the Maillard chocolate and cocoa, coffee or tea. Wines will not be served,” stated Brooklyn Life in October 1908.
Life for New York women after the Civil War was decidedly not coed, with ladies generally expected to stick to and find fulfillment in what was dubbed the domestic sphere.
Find out more about how women’s roles began to change in The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910.
[Top photo: MCNY: 126.96.36.19970; second image: The Theatre Magazine Advertiser, 1908; third photo: MCNY: 188.8.131.5209; ; fourth photo: MCNY: X2011.34.3811]