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A Look at Women and Cigars:
From the 19th Century to the 1990's.

"A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a Smoke." Rudyard Kipling, from The Betrothed.

Women and cigars mutually exclusive? An incendiary notion if ever there was one. Rudyard Kipling, the embodiment of 19th Century British Colonialism, just didn't get it. The connection between woman and cigars is legendary.

 Most of our grandmothers & great grandmothers smoked their cigars in private!More than 2,000 years ago the ancient Mayans took up smoking. Historically, they were the first people known to roll a good cigar. Anthropologists conjecture that Mayan women were just as likely as men to roll dried tobacco and take a puff. From the Mayan culture, the use of tobacco spread throughout the Americas. At least 1,000 years before Christopher Columbus landed on San Salvador, the native Indians were smoking rolled tobacco in religious ceremonies to invoke courage and healing. Aztec women were known to smoke. The insignia for an Aztec midwife or doctor back in the 1300s was a tobacco gourd or pouch carried for medicinal purposes. The first "modern" connection between women and cigars came from the Spanish conquistadors who reported seeing women cigar smokers in the interior of Peru around 1500.

The Spaniards who took tobacco back to Europe were ultimately responsible for improving the quality of the tobacco and the configuration of the cigar itself. Ironically, it was Spain's monopoly on tobacco that made the country rich. Tobacco proved far more valuable than the gold Queen Isabella sought when she financed Columbus' voyage in 1492. The association between wealth, social status and cigars was soon established. It was not uncommon for Spanish royalty, countesses and duchesses alike, to smoke cigars. The first tobacco factory in Europe was established in Spain in 1620.

cigarsIn England, early literary references to women and tobacco go back to the 1600s. Legend has it that Sir Walter Raleigh persuaded Queen Elizabeth to try a pipe. (This was, of course, Elizabeth the First; the queen who reigned during Shakespeare’s time. Not the prim and proper reagent who governs England today.) Her majesty apparently enjoyed her smoke for, according to Sir Walter’s biographer, she zealously insisted that the Countess of Nottingham and all her maids "smoke out a whole pipe among them." Tobacco "soon became of such vogue in Queen Elizabeth's court, that some of the great ladies, as well as the noblemen therein, would not scruple to take a pipe sometimes very sociably."

To satisfy the smoking craze in Europe, the earliest American colonists put their backs into growing tobacco. In 1612, John Rolfe introduced a new variety of tobacco seed to the Virginia Colony. Sweeter than the native Virginia plant, this new seed from Trinidad quickly caught on. By the year 1617, 20,000 pounds of leaf tobacco, of a grade suitable for pipes, were shipped from Virginia back to Mother England. On arriving in the Colony that year, the new governor, Captain Samuel Argall, was informed by Captain John Smith that he would find that 'the marketplace and streets and all other spare places [were] planted with tobacco."

CigarsHalf a century later (1686), an English traveler to the American Colonies commented that religious services in one remote settlement incorporated an unusual ritual: "The minister and all the others smoke before going in. [When] the preaching [is] over they do the same...everybody smokes, men, women, girls and boys from the age of seven."

Tobacco was imbued with other mystical properties in the 17th Century as well. Doctors seemed to feel that there was link between feminine health and tobacco. Both cigars and pipes were frequently prescribed for their female patients. As the French botanist, Paul de Reneaulme, observed, "How many women have I seen almost lifeless from headache or toothache or catarrh restored to their former health by the use of this plant?"

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