Dec 7, 2022
In July 2022, Miller Lite hosted an event in Philadelphia where the brand released a special-edition can. It used beer history to convey a simple message: "There's no beer without women."
The can celebrated Mary Lisle, a woman who owned and operated a brewery in the early 1700s. According to Miller Lite–and many of the books and articles you might find on American women's beer history–Lisle was the first documented woman brewery owner in colonial American history.
Celebrating Lisle was a way to spotlight the countless ways women have sustained, elevated, and even saved the American brewing industry. That was true in colonial times, and it’s true now. The acknowledgement is overdue: women's contributions are regularly diminished or overlooked entirely among beer’s commonly-accepted narratives.
This history isn't just dusty trivia that's nice to know. It helps us understand why statistically few women, especially single women and women of color, own breweries today. It helps reveal the social and economic barriers behind those statistics as the injustices they truly are. Putting Mary Lisle's story on a beer can, especially one as high profile as Miller Lite, helps do that. And we're fans.
Mary Lisle wasn't the earliest known woman to own a brewhouse in colonial North America. That's a misconception that just happens to get repeated a lot. The messy history of the early colonial beer trade actually contains lots of evidence that women brewed and sold beer professionally before Lisle–so many that we don't personally know who was first! But rather than worry about firsts or historical nitpicks, we're going to focus on another woman brewery owner: Sarah Frankes.
Frankes brewed beer for her own tavern in 1670s Boston, some 50 years before Mary Lisle took the reins in her own brewhouse. Again, Frankes wasn't the first any more than Lisle was, but we chose her because her life and career reveal not just her own contributions to American beer, but those of her entire generation. They also reveal the omnipresent, shapeshifting barriers that women brewers have faced since America's earliest days.
This episode is a conversation about what we've found, and what it means today.
We spoke to several women across the U.S. who own, or hope to own, their own breweries. Even though there are plenty of differences between Sarah Frankes' 17th century world and our own, their stories overlap in places. The past and present barriers hindering women in the beer trade have more in common than they should.