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This is an entry in our “Random Reference” series, which features interesting discoveries made and reference questions answered by our Archives & Library Reference Services staff. Click the Random Reference tag at the bottom of the post to view more in the series.

The dog days of summer have arrived and what is on everyone’s mind? Well, if you are like me, you are thinking of staying cool and comfortable. Whether it be lounging by the pool or pumping up the AC, I am guessing another thing may be on your mind as well: ICE CREAM! Summertime and cool sweet treats come hand in hand. Ice cream has always been the go-to treat throughout the years, leading to packed soda fountains and ice cream parlors.

Interestingly enough, during the 19th century, restaurants catered to a predominately male clientele. Restaurants were spaces where men went to socialize, chat about the business of the day, and escape their responsibilities. Women were not supposed to dine alone and those who did were likely to be seen as scandalous “tarts” and “trollops”. Unescorted women were often turned away from restaurants and other meeting places deemed masculine. However, in an effort to respond to changes in social norms as the century progressed, restaurateurs began to open their businesses up to single, fashionable women.

As cities like Richmond continued to grow in population, a large demand for ladies’ dining locations incidentally motivated the creation of the ice-cream saloon or parlor.

Black women had even less options for commercial places to gather. There were however at least three ice cream parlors open in Jackson Ward in Richmond, VA in the early 1900s.

Souvenir views: Negro enterprises & residences, Richmond, Va. `{`Richmond, D. A. Ferguson, 1907`}` Pdf. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/74182181/>.

These new “saloons,” as they were often called, allowed well-respected women to dine alone without putting their reputations on the line. The first ice cream saloons were seasonal, often opening during the warmer months of the year starting in April or May. They were small, intimate teashops that served little more than ice cream and pastries, and occasionally even oysters.

“Ladies’ Ice Cream Saloons, &C.”

Richmond Whig, Volume, 33, No. 8, p. 3, 7 May 1845.

Mr. Andrew Pizzini, a confectioner from Corsica and a resident of Richmond City for forty years, owned one such confectionary and ice cream saloon. Originally located on Main Street, it burned during the Civil War. It was relocated to the south side of Broad Street (H Street) and the corner of Ninth Street, opposite the Swan Tavern (and across the street from the current Library of Virginia building). Mutual Assurance Society policies dated 19 March 1844 and 26 November 1851 show the confectionary occupied by Pizzini.

It appears that when Pizzini re-opened his Ladies’ Ice Cream Saloons, &C. for the season in May 1845, he thanked the Richmond community for their support of the “unrivalled perfection to which his Creams have attained—to whom he hereby announces that he has re-opened and added many embellishments to his saloons.”

The Richmond Whig reported on 4 July 1845, “All of his sweets are of the best quality; the arrangement in his store is perfect; and the spacious and beautiful Saloons which he has fitted up for the accommodation of the ladies and gentlemen who are drawn in by his agreeable, but innocent temptations, are to the highest degree admirable and inviting. His Ice Creams are infinitely superior to any others that we have ever lasted, and the politeness of this man is only squalled by the profusion of the delicate luxuries which he places before you.” The Richmond Whig went on to label Mr. Pizzini as the “Napoleon of Confectioners.”

Andrew Pizzini would pass on his legacy to his son, Andrew Pizzini, Jr., who would focus more on the confectionery aspect a few doors down, next to Murphy’s Hotel, but had moved on to bigger things by the late 1890s.

Advertisement for A. Pizzini Jr.'s Confectionaries

Richmond City Directory, 1876.

Many ice cream saloons like that owned by Pizzini would display an air of quaint well-mannered appeal from the outside looking in. However, they would soon develop a more sultry and scandalous reputation. They were in fact one of the few places both men and women could go unchaperoned in public, thus becoming popular destinations for dates and other rendezvous. The Evening Truth (Richmond City), reported,

It is useless for the impecunious but susceptible young man to talk about how many people have been poisoned by ice cream. On the other hand the lady who is annoyed by too many admirers can thin them out by going for ice cream. It is more genteel to run a young man off by the ice cream slide than to hurt his feelings by asking him to stay away.

Scandalous scenes prompted rumors of ice cream laced with impassioned vanilla and leading to the seduction of virtuous women.  Many moralists viewed the new fanciful saloons as “fashionable intemperance.” An article in the Alexandria Gazette on the 17 June 1852, quoted the New York Herald denouncing the ice cream saloon.  The article claimed such places “are the resorts of fashionable ladies in that city, as haunts of dissipation, nurseries of intemperance, and places of intrigue.”

``Fashionable Intemperance``

Alexandria Gazette, Vol 53, No 144, June 17, 1852.

Of course, we all know time passed. Restaurant owners began to realize that serving women (unaccompanied or not!) was a lucrative business. As the 19th century began to wind down, women had more than a small offering of dining options to choose from, including the always fashionable, irresistible, sometimes sultry ice cream saloon.

So tell me, on this hot August day, how many scoops do you prefer?

Editor’s Note: Can’t get enough of Richmond-centric Ice Cream content? Richmonder Rabia Kamara, owner of Ruby Scoops in Northside, is a competitor on the new Food Network show Ben and Jerry: Clash of the Cones which premieres tonight (8/16/21)!

Header Image Citation

Image: Corner of Broad and Ninth Street, Richmond, Va, postcard. Courtesy of Rarely Seen Richmond, VCU Libraries Digital Collections.

Although Pizzini’s was no longer in business at the time of this picture, it most likely occupied the second building from the left, before moving under Pizzini Jr.’s name to the structure second from the left on the opposite end of the block, next to Murphy’s Hotel. A parking garage is currently being built on this location.

Citations

Atlas Obscura, Jessica Gingrich, “The Ornate Ice Cream Saloons That Served Unchaperoned Women,” 22 June 2018; https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/why-is-it-called-an-ice-cream-parlor

Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia, Declarations, Volume 109, Miscellaneous Reel 4137, Policy #12905, City of Richmond, William Fulcher, dated 19 March 1844.

Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia, Declarations, Volume 120, Miscellaneous Reel 4139, Policy #16151, City of Richmond, William Fulcher, dated 26 November 1851.

Beers, F.W., Illustrated atlas of the city of Richmond, Virginia, “Sheet F,” published Southern and Southwestern Surveying and Publishing Co, 1876.

Richmond Whig, Volume, 33, No. 8, p. 3, column 1, “Ladies’ Ice Cream Saloons, &C.” 7 May 1845.

Richmond Whig, Volume 34, No. 4, p. 2, column 3, “Ice Cream Saloon.” 4 July 145.

Evening Truth, No. 3, p. 4, column 1, “The Ice Cream Season.” 3 June 1887.

Alexandria Gazette, Volume 53, No. 144, p. 4, column 1, “Fashionable Intemperance.” 17 June 1852.

Amanda Morrell

Amanda Morrell

Reference Archivist

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