Women’s Rights

as portrayed on

19th Century Cigar Boxes

A Hyman’s Cigar History Museum Exclusive

© Tony Hyman, all rights reserved

Uploaded July 2011


         Some of the  most interesting boxes of the 1870s focussed on contemporary political and social issues, hoping to attract a smoker’s eye by depicting one of the day’s more  newsworthy controversies. “Issues” boxes are rare and a thrill to find.

        “Women’s lib” of the 1960s began a century before. The 1872 election pitted Republican Grant against Democratic newspaperman Horace Greeley, but the real attention-getters were the nominees of the newly formed Equal Rights Party: feminist Victoria Woodhull and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Woodhull didn’t win one state, largely because not one state allowed women to vote (only Wyoming Territory did).  Interestingly, Woodhull could not have served had she been elected not because she was a woman, but because she didn’t meet the minimum age requirement of 35.

        “Women’s Rights” included the right to smoke in public, a hotly debated issue since Puritan days. In the label above, the fashionable pretty cigar-smoking woman is rejecting “her” party and accepting gift cigars from the Democrats, while the hang-dog women’s party is attracting a different clientele. Ultimately, her choice didn’t matter, as both parties lost to the popular Grant. This is the earliest depiction of cigars being given away by a political campaign in exchange for attention and presumably votes. It is also a very early use of the women’s rights movement to sell a product.

Cigars by John Rauch, whose 20 rollers made him 3rd largest of the 91 cigar factories in Indianapolis. Fact. 97, 6th Dist. Indiana, 1879.                                                      [7594]

       Whatever that lady’s doing, she’s not voting. Women’s right to vote was a matter for states to decide said the courts. Their menfolk voted no. Not one state allowed women to vote in the 1870s.  Men in Wyoming Territory gave women the right to vote in 1869 in a deliberate effort to attract women to the very wild west. In 1911 California became the 6th state, all West of the Mississippi, to give ladies the vote.

        Give women equality and they’ll take men’s jobs and beat them up according to this 1870s label depicting women as conductor, porter and police as well as a cigar smoking woman with a tennis racket.

    In the world of 1870s cigar labels, Emancipation meant, among other things, freedom to smoke in public and private. Emancipated women would, it appears, adopt all of men’s bad habits.

    This label was also used as an outer by Women’s Rights, the top illustration, under that brand name.

The silverfish loved it.


        Give a woman equality, according to this 1870 label on an 1877 box, and they’ll do what men do...sit in a saloon with feet up drinking and smoking cigars.

        Barroom nude paintings were famous and infamous; in this woman’s bar the painting she is admiring is of a man taking care of a baby at home.   


        The women’s movement didn’t give up their efforts. Between 1869 and 1910, only
the new state of Wyoming and four other Western states allowed ladies to vote.  In 1911, California became #6. Their pants-like bloomers became the rage and a controversial symbol of feminism. Though the fashions in this label are outrageous satires, this early 1890s label does treat the ladies themselves decently.

        The nail tag features a woman on a bicycle, a liberating device, popular with women in both urban and rural areas. Bicycles provided women mobility without the fuss of a man or horse.


Cigars were made in Factory 50 in New York City’s 3rd Dist. by Lichtenstein Bros, one of the nation’s largest and most prolific makers of private brands, 1872.

A Curator’s favorite   Top 100 Boxes             [15082]