Faith Seidenberg, Lawyer Who Won Women the Right to Drink at McSorley’s Old Ale House, Has Died
Faith Seidenberg — the lawyer whose brave venture into then-males-only McSorley’s Old Ale House in Manhattan, New York with a friend one freezing January evening in 1969, led to a landmark ruling that barred public establishments from discrimination based on sex— has died at the age of 91, reports The New York Times.
Seidenberg recalled years later that fateful evening that she and her friend Karen DeCrow entered shivering “as much from fear as from the cold,” and received considerable attention (“bells were rung, the all-male clientele of the bar clapped and stamped”) before they were shown the door.
Seidenberg and DeCrow sued for gender discrimination earning women the right, a year later, to enter businesses like McSorley’s, which had been female-free for 115 years until that point.
On August 10, 1970, the same day the ruling was issued, McSorley’s invited Barbara Shaum, a nearby shopkeeper, to be the bar’s first female patron under the new legislation.
“Without suggesting that chivalry is dead, we no longer hold to Shakespeare’s immortal phrase ‘Frailty, thy name is woman,’” wrote Judge Walter R. Mansfield of Federal District Court. “Outdated images of bars as dens of coarseness and iniquity and of women as peculiarly delicate and impressionable creatures in need of protection from the rough and tumble of unvarnished humanity will no longer justify sexual separatism.”
Though Seidenberg herself never even returned to McSorley’s, and would go on to represent many other causes (such as whether a lawyer’s skirt was too short for the courtroom), the battle for McSorley’s was perhaps her best-known fight.
“She had many, many cases that changed the law,” her daughter Lisa told The New York Times, “but she knew she would be remembered for liberating a seedy bar.”
On Facebook, McSorley’s posted the following message in remembrance of Seidenberg:
“Many things have changed these last 161 years (yes, this February 17th marks our 161st Anniversary), but this lady really changed things for the Ol' House. She gave us hell but we can now say it was for our own good. May God rest her fighting soul.”