It was 1868 and Jane Cunningham Croly, an accomplished journalist, tried to get a ticket to see Charles Dickens on his American tour. The event's host, the New York Press Club, not only denied her a ticket, but went on to ban women from the dinner altogether.
Angry and motivated, Croly decided to form the female-only Sorosis Club, America’s first women’s rights organization.
Since NYC’s famed Delmonico's restaurant was the setting for both the Dickens dinner and the male-only New York Press Club’s meetings, Croly approached Lorenzo Delmonico, (nephew of the founding Delmonico brothers, John and Peter). He agreed to accommodate the newly-formed women’s club in a private dining room and the rest, as they say, is history. The inaugural $1-per-head lunch was a success, the Sorosis Club continued to meet at Delmonico’s, and the group went on to rally around women’s issues, sponsor scholarships for female students and inspire other similar groups.
It was a pivotal start for the women’s movement AND for women’s dining.
Still in business today and famous for many things (including Baked Alaska, Lobster Newburg and Eggs Benedict), Delmonico’s recently held an event to commemorate that first ladies' luncheon.
Chef Gabrielle Hamilton created a special menu for the event, and speaker Jacqueline Ebanks, Executive Director, Commission on Gender Equity of the NYC mayor’s office addressed a room full of professional women:
“[Croly] was intent on doing something about her treatment and she was well placed to do it. And I want us all to reflect on that and to take a moment and look around this room. Ladies we are well placed to make the change that is needed today.”
The celebration of this important moment in women’s history continues this week, April 23 - 28, as Delmonico’s adds the original event’s menu to their lunch service. If you're in New York, book a table with your fellow girl bosses. And next time you’re gathering the girls for a get-together over dinner and drinks, take a moment to appreciate the determined ladies who paved the way.
Ladies’ Lunch, April 23 through 28, Delmonico’s, 56 Beaver Street , 212-509-1144, delmonicosrestaurant.com.