First of all, do you know there is a branch of the National Archives in Chicago? There is, at 7358 S Pulaski (Pulaski and W. 75th Place). This story is featured in the current (February 2012) edition of their newsletter.
In 1951, the City of Chicago enacted what was called the 'barmaid ordinance.' It prohibited women from "pouring, mixing, or drawing intoxicating liquors" unless they owned the tavern or were related as wife, sister, or mother to the owner. Chicago wasn't unique. The article mentions a similar law in Michigan.
Women could waitress. The first Playboy Club opened in Chicago in 1960. But they couldn't make the drinks. A woman couldn't even draw a beer.
Enforcement of the barmaid ordinance didn't begin until 1961. Dozens of women were arrested and hundreds lost their jobs. Early attempts to sue the city on behalf of female bartenders were unsuccessful. It was only in 1968, in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, that a federal lawsuit began to gain traction.
Many of the affected women were unionized but their unions, dominated by men, supported the ordinance. At trial, a business representative for the Bartender’s Union Local 278 questioned whether a woman could handle the job, "physically and emotionally." Could she tap a keg or "maintain an orderly house," he wondered.
Lawyers representing the city claimed that female bartenders would cause morality problems. "It is the city’s position that there is a danger to the public health, safety and welfare and that morals are in fact going to be endangered." They argued that female bartenders would "hypnotize" and "mesmerize" their male patrons, causing them to drink too much and cause trouble.
How many times has that happened to you?
In March, 1970, Judge James Parsons ruled that "sex is not a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the business of tending bar in the City of Chicago." The barmaid ordinance was dead, but it had stood for nearly 20 years.
So, yes, it is ridiculous that women in Saudi Arabia aren't allowed to drive a car, but don't feel too superior. Forty-two years ago, in Chicago, they weren't even allowed to draw a beer.