Foreword: On June 19, 2017, I posted an article featuring five women who had found success in the liquor trade before the imposition of National Prohibition in 1920. Subsequently I have found four other stories of women in that era who had important roles in the management and success of organizations dedicated to alcoholic beverages. All of them came from modest family backgrounds and had limited opportunities for formal schooling but possessed a native intelligence that allowed them to succeed in business.
“Beer and whiskey were involved,” reported San Francisco Daily Alta newspaper about the shooting death of Daniel Hanley, founder of a saloon and local store that specialized in sales of alcohol. Left with three small children to raise, Mary Sullivan Hanley, shown right, proved to have “the right stuff.”
In October 1877, during a raucous party at a neighbor’s house, a dispute broke out between Hanley and another Irishman. Both sides had firearms and shots were exchanged. Hanley was shot through the right thigh. The assailant and an accomplice were arrested on a charge of assault to murder. After lingering for six months Dan, only 37 years old, died of blood poisoning and the charge became manslaughter.
Seemingly without skipping a beat Mary Hanley took over management of the family grocery, liquor sales and the saloon. A widow who never remarried, her success in business for some two decades allowed her to feed, clothe and educate the three Hanley children.
When her eldest son John reached seventeen, he was tasked with working in his mother’s enterprises, thereby learning the liquor trade, later opening his own liquor house and issuing a Hanley brand of whiskey. A younger son, James, was able to go to law school, became a prominent San Francisco lawyer and eventually was appointed the city’s assistant district attorney.
“George Dickel” is a familiar name to anyone who has ever bought a bottle of whiskey. As shown above, his brand appears on the labels of a variety of Tennessee whiskeys that are displayed on store shelves from coast to coast. Few people realize that Dickel’s reputation belongs in equal measure to his wife, Augusta Dickel.
Born in Tennessee, Augusta was twenty-two years younger than George when they wed. They would have no children. But unlike many September-May marriages, Dickel had made a wise choice. Augusta was a canny business woman and skilled at finance. As the reputation of Dickel’s Cascade whiskey spread well beyond Tennessee, the company experience explosive growth.
Then in 1888, the entire picture changed. Dickel was severely injured in a fall from a horse and invalided. He was forced to withdraw from the management of the liquor house he had founded. Augusta took over and never missed a beat, working closely with her brother-in-law, V.E. Shwab. After suffering for six years with his injuries in 1894, Dickel died at age 76.
In his will, and likely orally as well, George instructed Augusta to sell the business upon his death at the “first favorable opportunity.” Her own woman, she paid no heed to that admonition and maintained her interest in the liquor enterprise. While Shwab took care of the day to day operations, including the Cascade Distillery, Augusta had the money and time to travel around the U.S. and abroad. With a flare for advertising she used those opportunities to boost Dickel whiskey to audiences wherever she went.
In his book on women in whiskey, author Fred Minnick paid her this tribute: “Although Augusta was only an owner on paper, she could have sold her shares to a competing whiskey company, or interfered with operations. She may not have changed the whiskey world, but Augusta certainly made an impact by not listening to her husband.”
In 1958 the liquor giant Schenley rebuilt a distillery at Tullahoma, Tennessee, very near the site of the original Cascade Distillery. At the entrance is a large bust of George Dickel. A statue should also be erected there of Augusta, in a major way responsible for her husband’s fame.
Flora Doble Neale, the proverbial “farmer’s daughter,” a girl with limited education, ultimately became Boston’s “First Lady” of liquor sales. Born on a farm in Oxford, Maine, in 1846, while still in her teens Flora was wooed and won by Otis S. Neale, a Civil War veteran. On June 14, 1866, they were married and took up housekeeping in Boston. Early in
the 1880s Neale became the sole proprietor of a major liquor house.
Meanwhile, Flora was playing the role of dutiful wife and mother. The couple had a single child, Albert. In the 1880 census her occupation was given as “housekeeping.” There is no indication that she was playing any part in her husband’s rapidly expanding commercial activities. Dubbing himself “Doc” Neale, Otis was selling a “fine old private stock” whiskey under his own name, as well as a line of liquors called “Outing Club” that included whiskeys and cocktails.
Suddenly in 1898 Otis Neale died, only about 52 years old. Seemingly in an instant Flora Neale was thrust forward into running the Otis S. Neale Company. As the 1901 billhead that opens this post indicates, she assumed the titles of both president and treasurer of the company, the only woman in Boston with that distinction. Although aided by a manager, evidence is that Flora was an active participant in the business from 1898 forward.
The “Blue Book” of Boston, a directory of the rich and powerful took due notice of the widow, Mrs. Otis T. Neale. She was listed, along with several neighbors, living in one of the area’s luxury apartment houses. Shown here, Richmond Court likely was the first in the Northeast made to resemble an English Tudor manor house. On the National Register of Historic Places today, it was then a highly fashionable place to live. Flora, the former farm girl, made herself at home.
With limited educational opportunities, Glenna Stengel Joyce came to maturity as a seamstress, making clothes for wealthy clients in Columbus, Ohio. After an early failed marriage, her fortunes changed when she met William Henry “Will” Joyce, an Ohio-born entrepreneur seventeen years older than she. Joyce owned the Milbrook Distilling Company; prosperous liquor dealerships in Columbus and Covington, Kentucky; co-owned a Columbus brewery, and created the Wyandotte Pop Company to make and sell soft
Despite Glenna’s lack of formal education, Joyce had made a good decision. She proved to have a penchant for business. Her husband consulted her regularly on their liquor and soft drink interests. When the coming of statewide prohibition in 1916 forced him to shut down his liquor stores and Columbus brewery, Joyce expanded his soft drink holdings and brought Glenna into company management. When Will Joyce died at the age of 60 in November 1933, Glenna became a major stockholder and First Vice President of Joyce Products, a position she would hold for several decades.
Today the former seamstress is know as one of Ohio’s historic philanthropists. Before Glenna died in 1960, she established a scholarship program that over the past 57 years through the Joyce Trust have distributed tens of millions of dollars toward the college education of more than 800 students at Ohio State and Notre Dame Universities. As further testimony to Glenna Joyce’s business acumen, fund assets currently are in excess of $28 million and the number of recipients have been increasing every year.
Note: Longer vignettes on each of these women can be found elsewhere on this blog: Mary Sullivan Hanley, May 5, 2018; Augusta Dickel, July 2, 2014; Flora Doble Neale, March 12, 2018; and Glenna Stengel Joyce, September 22, 2018.