Prohibition, widely enacted in the early 20th century in the US and northern Europe, is often brought up as an example of female activism and a consequence of suffrage, but long before the introduction of universal suffrage similar restrictionist movements had almost resulted in heavy penalties for, of all things, drinking coffee.
In late 1675, King Charles II of England banned the sale and consumption of coffee in “a proclamation for the suppression of coffee-houses.” Fortunately, he backed down a couple days before the ban was to take effect. Coffee had, at that point, become very popular amongst the British intelligentsia, spawning a number of all-male coffee clubs where men would gather to discuss philosophy and politics. Apparently, Charles wasn’t all that pleased about the activities of the intellectually stimulated men, who were accused of spreading dissent throughout the realm.
However, there had already been political pressure from another group to ban coffee, which is perhaps what gave Charles the initial push toward banning the substance.
It turns out that a group of proto-feminists had approached the king demanding that he shut down the coffee houses a year earlier, as the elixir was held to be causing their husbands to become snotty, “Frenchified” fellows who had lost all interest in sex (with their wives).
The document they presented is “The Women’s Petition Against Coffee,” and it is well worth reading for the humor therein if nothing else. In one hilarious passage, the “Buxome Good Women” warn that coffee-drinking husbands run the risk of being “Cuckol’d by Dildo’s.” In another, they express dismay that men have begun to talk as much as women.
Here are a few excerpts:
To the Right Honorable the Keepers
of the Liberties of Venus; The
Worshipful Court of Female-Assistants,
The Humble Petition and Address of
several Thousands of Buxome Good-Women,
Languishing in Extremity
THat since ’tis Reckon’d amongst the Glories of
our Native Country, To be A Paradise for Women:
The same in our Apprehensions can consist
in nothing more than the brisk Activity of
our men, who in former Ages were justly esteemed the
Ablest Performers in Christendome; But to our unspeakable
Grief, we find of late a very sensible Decay of that
true Old English Vigour; our Gallants being every way so
Frenchified, that they are become meer Cock-sparrows,
fluttering things that come on Sa sa, with a world of Fury,
but are not able to stand to it, and in the very first Charge
fall down flat before us. Never did Men wear greater
Breeches, or carry less in them of any Mettle whatsoever.
There was a glorious Dispensation (’twas surely in the
Golden Age) when Lusty Ladds of seven or eight hundred
years old, Got Sons and Daughters; and we have
read, how a Prince of Spain was forced to make a Law,
that Men should not Repeat the Grand Kindness to their
Wives, above NINE times in a night: But Alas! Alas!
Those forwards Days are gone, The dull Lubbers want a
Spur now, rather than a Bridle: being so far from doing
any works of Supererregation that we find them not
capable of performing those Devoirs which their Duty, and
our Expectations Exact.
Nor is this (though more than enough) All the ground
of our Complaint: For besides, we have reason to apprehend
and grow Jealous, That Men by frequenting these
Stygian Tap-houses will usurp on our Prerogative of
Tatling, and soon learn to exeel us in Talkativeness: a
Quality wherein our Sex has ever Claimed preheminence:
For here like so many Frogs in a puddle, they sup muddy
water, and murmur insignificant notes till half a dozen of
them out-babble an equal number of us at a Gossipping, talking
all at once in Confusion, and running from point to
point as insensibly, and as swiftly, as ever the Ingenious
Pole-wheel could run divisions on the Base-viol; yet in all
their prattle every one abounds in his own sense, as stiffly
as a Quaker at the late Barbican dispute, and submits to
the Reasons of no other mortal: so that there being neither
Moderator nor Rules observ’d, you may as soon fill a
Quart pot with Syllogismes, as profit by their Disconrses.
Wherefore the Premises considered, and to the end that our Just
Rights may be restored, and all the Antient Priviledges of our Sex preserved
inviolable; That our Husbands may give us some other Testimonies
of their being Men, besides their Beards and wearing of empty Pantaloons:
That they no more run the hazard of being Cuckol’d by Dildo’s:
But returning to the good old strengthning Liquors of our Forefathers;
that Natures Exchequer may once again be replenisht, and a Race of
Lusty Hero’s begot, able by their Atchievments, to equal the Glories
of our Ancesters.
We Humbly Pray, That you our Trusty Patrons would improve your
Interest, that henceferth [>henceforth] the Drinking COFFEE may on severe
penalties be forbidden to all Persons under the Age of Threescore; and that
instead thereof, Lusty nappy Beer, Cock-Ale, Cordial Canaries, Restoring
Malago’s, and Back-recruiting Chocholes be Recommended to General
Use, throughout the Utopian Territories.
In hopes of which Glorious Reformation,
your Petitioners shall readily Prostrate
themselves, and ever Pray, &c.