Champagne and the Performance of Femininity in Victorian Britain

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Graham Harding, whose recent book, Champagne in Britian 1800–1914: How the British Transformed a French Luxury, was just published by Bloomsbury Academic.

In nineteenth century Britain, champagne was gendered feminine. Poems were written to “My Lady Champagne” that described it as “wayward, soft, luscious and tender” [1]. Women went to fancy dress balls dressed as champagne bottles (the nearest male equivalent was to go as a bottle of Bass beer). The words used to describe champagne— “pretty,” “elegant,” “sparkling”—reflected a stereotypical Victorian view of femininity.

“Sparkling” is a key word here. It encapsulated what the Victorian novelist Amelia Barr called “the social friskiness—the afternoon wit—the great fun” that Society (my capital “S”) demanded of women, particularly young women [2].

Harding Title Card
Left: Woman wearing a champagne bottle dress in 1902; and a photo of a vintage champagne bottle dress. Images courtesy of the Fashion Museum of Bath.

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Points Interview—”Problem Substances: Temperance and the Control of Addictive Drugs in Nineteenth-Century Australia” with Matthew Allen

Editor’s Note: This is the third Points interview with authors from the Spring 2021 issue (vol. 35, no. 1) of ADHS’s journal Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. Matthew Allen, a lecturer in the Faculty of Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences and Education at the University of New England in New South Wales, Australia. You can see his article here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to this article or any other article from SHAD’s history. 

SHAD Interview Matt Allen Title Card
Left: Esther Paterson, “Keep This Out: Prohibition, Poison Liquor and Drugs – Vote No, Thus,” (Melbourne: J.J. Liston, 1930). Image courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales.

Article Abstract

During the second half of the long Australian nineteenth century (c. 1840–1914), drugs were subjected to increasing government control in a process largely driven by the temperance movement. Temperance activism and its highly public campaign against alcohol were the key to a profound shift in the social imaginary of drugs—the common understanding of intoxicating substances—which were converted from symbols of individual deviance to the structural cause of social problems.

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On being cited by the Supreme Court

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Richard F. Hamm, Professor of History at the University at Albany, SUNY. He is with Michael Lewis co-editor of the forthcoming Prohibition’s Greatest Myths (LSU Press, forthcoming April 2020), which has an essay by Thomas Pegram, who is also cited in Alito’s opinion in the Tennessee case.  

So, in late June of this year, I was reading a United States Supreme Court case.  Not something unusual for me, as I am legal historian as well as a historian of alcohol policy.  Actually what I was reading was the “slip opinion” which used to be the unbound just-off –the-press opinions of the justices, available before the volume of the United States Reports in which the case would be included was compiled and printed.  Today they are available on the internet.  

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The family at the center of Tennessee Wine v. Thomas

The case is one that would interest readers of this blog: it is Tennessee Wine v. Thomas and it concerns how far the second clause of the 21st amendment will reach.  The readers of this blog will know that amendment’s first section repealed the 18th amendment, formally ending national alcohol prohibition in the United States.  What only a few of you know is that its second section gives states broad powers to regulate alcohol.  Based on an important pre-prohibition federal law, the 1913 Webb-Kenyon Act, it reads: “The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.”  And there as I was reading the dense prose of Justice Samuel Alito for the majority of seven justices, I came across my name and a citation to my first book, Shaping the Eighteenth Amendment (UNC Press, 1995).  It’s right there on page 14 and again on page 17, as part of the long discussion of the relationship between the federal government’s commerce power and state alcohol policy.

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