Collection: Early Years
In the early 1900s, it was not considered socially acceptable for women to smoke in public, but according to a newspaper article from Aug 9, 1919, “Smoking in public by women has ceased to shock for ten years past.” One New York Times article from October 7, 1919, cited British women as having a “large share in doubling cigarette sales since 1914.” The article claims that some women “can’t even hang out the washing unless they have a cigarette in their mouths.” As early as 1915, Cambridge University was polling parents as to whether its female students should be allowed to smoke on campus. At the time, women were clearly interested in smoking, but it was not accepted by the entirety of the general public.
It was becoming clear that women were beginning to make up quite a bit of the market share for many cigarette brands, and it was only a matter of time before the brands started targeting women directly with advertising. Another 1919 article, this one written by a woman in the Daily Mirror, states that “most women smoke for effect: merely to be up-to-date” and to avoid the “horror of being thought to harbour old-fashioned ideas nowadays.” If it was a look women were after, the tobacco companies capitalized on this trend, featuring beautiful, glamorous, “up-to-date” women smoking cigarettes in their print advertisements, furthering the prevalence of the image of the modern smoking woman and making it seem more and more like smoking was “something that everybody does.”
The 1920s saw a boom in advertisements marketing cigarettes to women, though the tobacco companies feared the prohibition activists who were prominent from 1920-1933. Indeed, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was displeased when women began smoking in public, and in 1920 the WCTU stated that it would work to prevent women and youth from smoking. In 1921, prohibition groups were appealing to state governments to pass anti-tobacco legislation, hoping for an ultimate constitutional amendment banning tobacco. It wasn’t until after these prohibition activists became less of a threat that the major mass marketing efforts by tobacco companies targeting women would begin. However, well before these major mass marketing efforts, tobacco ads targeting women were present – though more subtle – marketing cigarette smoking as a method of evoking femininity or of providing an alluring fragrance for women.