The photo above from the New York Times in 1888 shows attendees to the first International Conference of Women in Washington, D.C., a meeting devoted to political rights for women. Among them could well be a delegate named Lovisa Candace McCullough whose occupation might have startled her sister attendees. She was Pittsburgh’s only female running a wholesale liquor business.
Lovisa (often mistakenly given as “Louisa”) was a true blue American, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), as the grand-daughter of William Munks (1762-1841) a Irish-born immigrant who saw service in the Revolutionary War as a private in the Pennsylvania militia. Born Lovisa C. Meredith, she married an immigrant from Northern Ireland whose name was John McCullough.
McCullough had his own pedigree. He was a relative of John Edward McCullough, a well-known Shakespearean actor, and his uncle had been an invitee to the 1840 wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Why McCullough chose Pittsburgh and the liquor trade is not recorded but he claimed to have established his business well in advance of the Civil War. He was recorded in the 1860 Census as “merchant.”
Although I have been unable to pinpoint the date and place of their wedding, it appears that John and Lovisa married after he was well established in the liquor trade. The couple would go on to have five children, including a son, J. W. McCullough, who upon attaining maturity went to work in the liquor house. Although busy as a housewife and mother, Lovisa seems early have shown some aptitude for business and was kept abreast of her husband’s enterprise.
John McCullough wisely chose a busy thoroughfare, Liberty Avenue, shown here, to locate his liquor house. The street was the center for Pittsburgh’s wholesale produce market, often a scene of chaotic traffic as numerous horse-drawn vehicles carrying people and produce moved haphazardly and vied for parking space. Union and West End street cars passed McCullough’s doors. Over its reputed half-century in operation, the John McCullough Company, “Dealer in Old Monongahela and Pure Rye Whiskies, Foreign and Domestic Wines and Liquors,” never moved from Liberty Avenue, although it changed addresses from 165 Liberty (up to 1873), to 127 Liberty (1876-1877), and ultimately to 139 Liberty (1879-1883). When Pittsburgh renumbered its streets about 1883, the last became the “new” 523 Liberty Avenue, the address on the jug shown here.
The McCullough building at 523 Liberty was a four story structure 20 by 150 feet. According an 1889 volume on the history of the the region, the liquor house was on “…Historic ground, being near Cecil Alley, a point occupied by one of the earliest settlers of the city, a prominent old French family, who lived here before the Revolutionary War, and the building utilized by this business was formerly his residence.”
The building also allowed McCullough not only to stock an extensive lines of whiskeys and wines but also to rectify, that is, blend and bottle his own proprietary brands. Widely known as a “Anglophile,” John named two of his brands “Prince Regent” and “Windsor Castle” in honor of Queen Victoria. In time the company established a large wholesale business throughout Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, maintaining a sizable staff of salesmen and clerks.
In 1886, John McCullough, about the age of 56 and enjoying considerable business success, died and was buried in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Cemetery, Section 10, Lot 175, Grave 1. His will named Lovisa as the administrator of his estate and left the liquor house to her. He had made a wise decision. One Pittsburgh historian said of her: “She is an exceedingly intelligent and well-informed woman, and efficiently manages the affairs of the house in a manner which testifies to her superior business qualifications…” A 1888 Pittsburgh directory under the heading “Liquors, Wholesale,” lists forty-nine such establishments in the city. All of them save one are readily identifiable as male-run companies. The exception is “McCullough, Louisa C.,523 Liberty Av.”
That same year Lovisa became a delegate from Pittsburgh to the historic founding meeting of the International Council of Women (ICW). The idea for such an organization grew from earlier meetings of U.S. suffrage leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton, right, and Susan B. Anthony, left, with women activists in Europe. Upon their return the two planned a large meeting to be held in Washington, D.C. They reached out to a broad constituency, one that included: “…All women of light and learning, to all associations of women in trades, professions and reforms, as well as to those advocating political rights.”
In Pittsburgh, Lovisa McCullough, already having achieved recognition in the utterly male-dominated liquor trade, answered Stanton and Anthony’s call. Although she is not recorded as having spoken to the gathering, Lovisa appeared three times in the minutes of the meeting representing Pittsburgh and contributing cash to the women’s cause. It is a safe bet that she was the only liquor dealer at the convention. How she may have interacted with women attending from prohibitionist organizations goes unrecorded.
Obviously a woman of great energy, Lovisa McCullough threw herself into other causes. A lover of animals, she was a longtime member of the Humane Society and for a time on the board of the Pittsburgh chapter. She also was among women who worked toward buying up and preserving the grounds and structures at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where Gen. George Washington and his troops passed the winter. Lovisa’s grandfather may have been among those soldiers.
Other evidence of Lovisa’s participation in the causes of her day was her involvement with the Chautauqua Movement, an adult education organization that specialized in speeches and seminars on topics and issues of current interest. Headquartered on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in New York State, the outfit leased land for 100 years to adherents to build cottages on the lake. Among them was Lovisa McCullough in 1901. Her cottage is shown here.
Meanwhile the McCulloughs' liquor business was flourishing. Although Lovisa was given much of the credit, her son, J. W. McCullough also received favorable mention as “a young man of excellent business ability,” who was taking “an active part in the management of the business, giving special attention to the wholesale trade and finance.” Shown here is an 1891 ad extolling McCullough’s as “an old reliable house” with a reputation for filling orders promptly and with care. The ad extolled a McCullough whiskey that was sent to Berlin in the early 1870s (often done as a dodge to escape taxes), had been stored there for years, and recently returned to Pittsburgh to be bottled. “It is rich and mellow and very fine, and is being disposed of at a reasonable price.”
Two years later, after more than a half century of operation, the McCullough liquor dealership disappeared from Pittsburgh business directories. Its demise cannot be explained by National Prohibition that still was years away and Pennsylvania was “wet” until the end. Lovisa may have found her passion for feminist and other causes eclipsed her keeping alive her husband’s enterprise. Or it may have been her advancing age. Lovisa died in 1917, about 82 years old, and was buried beside her late husband, John, in Allegheny Cemetery. Their gravestones are shown below.
Lovisa McCullough did not live quite long enough to see the cause in which she fervently believed — women’s suffrage — become a reality. That would occur three years later. Passed by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted American women the right to vote. Earlier, however, the 18th Amendment had abolished the liquor business that Lovisa had sustained so admirably and for so long.
Note: Much of the biographical information on both Lovisa and John McCullough has been gleaned from the “Pittsburgh and Allegheny Illustrated Review: Historical, Biographical and Commercial,” published in 1889 by J. M. Elstner & Co., Pittsburgh.