Historical Happy Hour: A Toast to Anna Langford and Marilou von Ferstel

Cheers, Chicago! Our town loves its history as much as its hooch, so we’re back for another round of cocktails that celebrate Chicago’s finest – or most infamous. This summer, we’re toasting 13 women of Chicago’s past with original cocktail recipes.

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Anna Langford (1917 – 2008)
Marilou (Hedlund) von Ferstel (1938 – 2016)

When Chicago’s first two female City Council members were elected in 1971, there was only a men’s room with a urinal (and spittoons) behind the council chambers, so they had to build a restroom for its new alderwomen. Talk about being caught with your pants down.

Chicago’s first alderwomen Anna Langford and Marilou von Ferstel (Hedlund when she was elected) brought fresh perspectives to that august body, which had been all-male since its beginning in 1937. Though they represented opposite sides of town and had vastly different upbringings, both women changed the way the council did business in ways that went far past the restrooms.

Langford, who was born in Ohio, saw firsthand the effects of racial discrimination at an early age. Her African-American father died when she was an infant. When Langford was eight, her mother was rushed to a hospital for appendicitis. The hospital ordered her transferred to a hospital for African-Americans when her biracial children visited, and she died en route from a burst appendix. That experience led Langford to become deeply involved in the civil rights movement after earning her law degree from the John Marshall Law School.

Langford was defeated in her first run at the 16th Ward seat in 1966, but the second time around she challenged the machine, even enlisting members of the Gangster Disciples to hang posters for her (one of them, Hal Baskin, straightened up and went on to become an alderman himself). As a councilwoman, Langford defended not only civil rights on the basis of race, but also sexual orientation at a time when doing so was politically risky.

A liaison to then-Mayor Harold Washington recalled a time when Langford was scheduled to attend a meeting of a gay rights organization but didn’t show up. The meeting went on as scheduled until a nearby gay men’s bar called and informed them that Langford had stopped in at the bar to ask for directions and was having too good of a time visiting with the patrons that she was running behind on the meeting. Martinis over meetings: that’s our kind of lady! When she was called upon to vote on a gay rights ordinance in 1988 after many such ordinances had been voted down, Langford responded, “Yes, proudly.” Langford was honored in 2010 with a school named for her in the Englewood community that she served.

Von Ferstel was abandoned as an infant, but she wound up with a storybook childhood when she was adopted by an older couple who raised her in the glamorous Edgewater Beach Hotel. She was a feature writer and reporter for the Chicago Tribune and later a homemaker until was elected to represent the 48th Ward, upsetting Republican Robert O’Rourke. She managed the feat by appealing to women, promising to address their concerns about safety and affordability in their community. Like Langford, von Ferstel was also a champion of gay rights as well as equal pay for women – but unlike Langford, who frequently battled with Daley, von Ferstel was firmly on the Daley team.

In office, von Ferstel proposed a job elimination that a lot of Chicagoans could get behind – then and now: reducing the number of seats on the City Council from 50 to 17, saying the council was “too large, too unwieldy, too ponderous to do the legislative job that its charter dictates.” And she put her money where her mouth was. After one term, she announced she would not seek reelection, saying that frequent turnover in the council was for the best. She went on to serve on the Democratic National Committee and become a public relations executive in Chicago.

To honor the first women of Chicago’s City Council, we created the Ladies’ Room. Made with smoky mezcal and bright grapefruit juice, it’s sweet but not too sweet, it’s sharp but never bitter, and it’s tough enough to duke it out with the best (or worst) of ‘em. Cheers!

The Ladies’ Room

2 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
2 oz. mezcal
½ oz. St. Germain
2 oz. club soda
Mint for garnish

Stir first three ingredients in glass over ice. Top with club soda and garnish with mint.

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Historical Happy Hour: A Toast to the Everleigh Sisters

July 28: We raise a glass to a pair of sisters who made a fortune as brothel owners in the City of Big Shoulders with a ladylike drink.

Historical Happy Hour: A Toast to Alice Peurala

July 21: For decades, the steel industry forged Chicago’s industrial spine. Now, we forge a no-nonsense drink for the no-nonsense lady who brought the titans of steel to their knees.

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