Cigarettes in the Boudoir: Omaha’s Female Smokers in 1889

Nathaniel Currier’s 1847 lithograph depicted a reclining woman smoking a cigarette. NSHS 10645-4273

“From London comes the assurance that the duchess of Marlborough has introduced cigarette smoking in the charmed circle of her select friends,” said the Omaha Bee on October 27, 1889. The Bee went on to inform its readers that the “more than half-naughty fad” was becoming popular among society women in Omaha as well.

The male Bee reporter said of this new class of smokers and their feminine smoking accessories: “In the boudoirs of any number of women in Omaha, a tray of cigarettes, holders and matches has its honored place with no effort at concealment. . . . There are little trays of silver, Benares brass, tortoise shell or porcelain; holders of amber, mother of pearl, or silver again, in instances jeweled and adorned with a monogram; match boxes of rarest workmanship, some of them with miniatures of bygone beauties made to smile at this now-a-day custom; tiny candlesticks to hold the tapers, and a thousand other enticing things which go far toward seducing the feminine mind.”

The Bee believed that “[t]he charm for the fair sex in smoking is undoubtedly the conviction that it is at least venturesome!” Well-known actresses, such as Rose Coghlan and Lillie Langtry, who smoked onstage, were thought to be another cause.

The Bee reporter clearly disapproved of a woman with “a paper covered weed in her dainty fingers and her bewitching face seen through the soft gray curling smoke.” His final advice to Omaha women in 1889 was to avoid the use of tobacco as the source of unpleasant odors, “wrinkles and a lack of repose, that unmistakable seal of good breeding.”

Sixteen years later in 1905 there was a legislative effort in Nebraska to curb cigarette smoking. It did not take long for smokers to challenge the new law in court, with mixed results. The act was finally repealed in 1919, presumably because it was considered ineffective.  – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

State Song Sing-Along

State Song Sing-Along

Robert Ball Anderson’s journey “from slavery to affluence”

Robert Ball Anderson’s journey “from slavery to affluence”

Marker Monday: The Savidge Brothers, Aviation Pioneers

Marker Monday: The Savidge Brothers, Aviation Pioneers

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.