Kaylee Kim ’20

“‘WE WILL NOT BE BARRED!’: The Feminist Campaign Against Men-Only Bars and Restaurants”

Tell us about your thesis!

I wrote about the feminist campaign against men-only bars and restaurants in the late 60s and early 70s across America. Sex segregation at these establishments was surprisingly common — in 1970, 25% of liquor licenses in Boston belonged to bars that did not serve women. This fight, however, has often been lost in the larger narrative of late 60s feminism, which was all the more motivation for me to pursue it as my thesis topic!

How did you choose your topic?

Because I knew I wanted to write about women in the 60s/70s, I started my search at Schlesinger Library, particularly its extensive archives of the National Organization of Women. I discovered that NOW had pioneered a campaign against men-only bars and restaurants in 1968 that other feminist groups and women joined later on. From reading the ways feminists justified this fight, I then became interested in the ways public space facilitated gender dynamics and relations, and I knew there was so much more to investigate about this topic beyond literal access to restaurants or the ability to order a martini.

Lucy Komisar, VP of NOW, at McSorley’s the day it opened to women on August 10, 1970. Credit: The New York Times

What were the biggest challenges?

I had never embarked on such an extensive academic project, so continuing to write without knowing my exact argument was really challenging. I don’t think I had an overarching thesis statement until the end of January. My thesis advisor was really encouraging throughout and reminded me that this was all part of the process, and my argument eventually came together, even if it was later than I had initially expected.

What was your favorite thing about your thesis?

I was lucky enough to be able to interview Lucy Komisar, one of the vice presidents of NOW who was famously photographed at McSorley’s Old Ale House the day it was forced to open its doors to women in 1970. (In the photographs, you can see men jeering and shouting at her as she tries to order a beer.) Getting to hear her perspective firsthand on how this fight fit into the feminist movement at large was such an incredible experience and a definite highlight of my thesis journey.

What advice would you give to juniors?

When it comes to your topic, think about what has interested you most during your time at college: themes, eras, figures, etc. Start this process as early as your junior spring. You want a topic you are passionate about — otherwise, you’ll get sick of it pretty easily! Also, be prepared to edit your drafts like crazy. This is actually really freeing because you don’t have to feel the pressure of getting it “right” the first time around.

Published by Hist & Lit

Committee on Degrees in History & Literature at Harvard University