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John Grygo - November 4, 2016

Often, nostalgia for the roaring twenties evokes images of a certain type of woman. An image such as the iconic flapper twirling the night away dancing the Charleston or possibly the seductive stare of a silver screen vixen from Hollywood’s golden years.  But absent in such popular notions of women during this era are the stories of women who excelled in the male-dominated profession of bootlegging.  Here are just a few of the women bootleggers who made names for themselves during prohibition. In making whiskey and operating speakeasies, these women challenged gender roles in a way that is rarely examined or recognized.

“Moonshine Mary” Wazeniak. — Chicago Tribune historical photo

In 1923 Polish immigrant,“Moonshine Mary” Wazeniak, killed a man by serving him lethal moonshine at her La Grange Park home which she had converted to a speakeasy. She was the first woman to be sentenced under a Illinois law for selling poison liquor. She was sentenced to one year-to-life. 

Stella Beloumant was responsible for one of the largest bootlegging operations in Nevada. In one seizure, 820 gallons of Beloument’s wine were confiscated from her base in Elko. This amount is equivalent to 4,140 bottles of wine.

In 1933, Bertie (Birdie) Brown was killed when her still exploded. Until then Ms. Brown was said to have the “best moonshine” in the country. Besides being a woman bootlegger, she was also one of the only African American women to homestead alone in Montana.

Josephine Doody in front of her cabin – The Missoulian

Josephine Doody, was the Bootleg Lady of Glacier Park. She was forced to go on the lam from federal agents after killing a man in a dance hall. The killing was rumored to have been committed in self-defense. Ms. Doody absconded to McCarthyville, Montana, but was kidnapped by Dan Doody, one of the first park rangers at Glacier National Park, who brought her to a remote log cabin on the Middle Fork Flathead River. Here, Ms. Doody recovered from an opium addiction and discovered that she could tolerate Dan. The two would later marry. Ms. Doody was notorious for ferrying moonshine across the river and for supplying trainmen with alcohol in the wilderness of Glacier National Park. Once, a park ranger confiscated 18 ½ gallons of moonshine acting on orders from revenuers.


“The Battle over Booze — Chicago Tribune.” http://galleries.apps.chicagotribune.com/chi-prohibition-chicago-20140725-photos/

Baumler, Ellen. “Montana Moments: Birdie Brown.” Montana Moments, October 16, 2013. http://ellenbaumler.blogspot.com/2013/10/birdie-brown.html.

Joyce, Jaime. Moonshine: A Cultural History of America’s Infamous Liquor. Zenith Press, 2014.

Minnick, Fred. Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey. University of Nebraska Press, 2013.

Scott, Tristian. “Doody Homestead Housed ‘Bootleg Lady of Glacier Park.’” Missoulian.com. http://missoulian.com/lifestyles/territory/doody-homestead-housed-bootleg-lady-of-glacier-park/article_55a14a20-d2c0-11e1-ae32-0019bb2963f4.html.