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Women Who Smoke Pipes: A Tribute

Women smoke cannabis in pipes all the time (well maybe not all the time). Indeed, for centuries, women of all colours and classes smoked hookahs and hand-held pipes. It was only in the spoilsport Victorian era of the 1800s that tobacco pipe smoking became firmly gendered: men smoked pipes, respectable women did not. But of course all sorts of wonderfully non-respectable women continued to smoke pipes.

Ancient Hash Pipes

Archaeologists date the first smoking pipes, made of copper, to Egypt circa 2000 B.C. Romans, Greeks, Celts, and Nordic tribes also smoked pipes. 

Most likely the ancients were smoking hashish, one of the oldest ways to enjoy cannabis. No doubt this is why the Greek physician Hippocrates, known as the father of modern medicine, prescribed “smoking herbs in a pipe” to treat female maladies. Still works today! (To learn how easy it is to make hash, check out What is Kief and What Can You Do With It?)

From First Nations to Colonizers

Smoking tobacco through a pipe is indigenous to the Americas, and derives from religious ceremonies of ancient priests in Mexico. Many other FIrst Nations across the Americas used cerimonial tobacco pipes.

Once the Europeans colonizers got a taste for tobacco, smoking and cultivation spread rapidly throughout the word. By the early 1600s, tobacco was grown in India, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and West Africa. 

The advent of inexpensive clay pipes made tobacco accessible to the masses across Europe. By the end of the 18th century, Dutch towns such as Gouda could support 350 pipe manufacturers, thanks to the smoking culture of the day.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, European women of all classes enjoyed pipe smoking. Madame de Pompadour, (1721 – 1764), the favourite mistress of Louis XV, is said to have owned over 300 pipes. In Old Masters paintings of the 1600s, Dutch women frequently smoke pipes. Below is “A Woman Seated Smoking a Pipe,” a Dutch painting circa 1650-1667.

A Woman Seated Smoking a Pipe,” a Dutch painting circa 1650-1667

Pipe Smoking Goes East

When pipes were introduced into Asia, they were quickly adapted and made from materials as diverse as wood, bamboo, jade, ivory, metal, and porcelain. Geishas were often painted leisurely smoking a pipe. The print below is “The Courtesan Ariwara of the Tsuruya Seated by a Smoking Chest,” from the mid-1790s.

The Courtesan Ariwara of the Tsuruya Seated by a Smoking Chest,” from the mid-1790s.

Arab communities took up the hookah, or water pipe, and smoking became a shared activity. The hookah spread throughout Persia (present-day Iran) and into India, reaching China, Southeast Asia, and many parts of Africa by the end of the 17th century.  Below we see an upper class Indian woman, circa 1650, enjoying a hookah while being attended by servants. The worker in the foreground is turning the burning coal to make the hookah last longer.

Here we see an upper class Indian woman, circa 1650 enjoying a hookah while being attended by servants. The worker in the foreground is turning the burning coal to make the hookah last longer.

Still She Persisted

As noted, the killjoy English Victorian era frowned on female pipe smokers. But of course that would not stop a determined woman.

The woman dubbed the “first female smoker of England” and often portrayed smoking a pipe is Mary Frith (1584 – 1659), alias Moll (or Mal) Cutpurse, a notorious pickpocket and fence in the Eastend London underworld. Mary often dressed as a man, and had a long (for the era) and colourful life.  The woodblock below shows Mary smoking her pipe.

Mary Firth smoking her pipe.

The gorgeous and enigmatic movie star Greta Garbo (1905 – 1990) once said : "I have been smoking since I was a small boy." Garbo loved to smoke cigarettes, cigars and pipes. Here she is glamorously inhaling.

Greta Garbo smoking a pipe

She kicked a four-pack habit (no mean feat) but back in the day, political activist Angela Davis was a prolific smoker of cigarettes and pipes. Feast your eyes.

Angela Davis smoking a pipe.

Weed Pipe Renaissance

Choosing to smoke cannabis from a pipe is now a personal preference, unrelated to gender. Pipes make it easy to monitor your intake, and can mellow the flavour of weed, making it less harsh to inhale than when smoking rolled joints. 

Flower Stampede offers pipes for serious and casual users. For the cannabis enthusiast, the Magnetic Spoon Pipe is a marvel of engineering. Held together by strong magnets, it comes apart for easy cleaning. And when it’s time for a stealthy toke about town, the adorable Lipstick Pipe converts from a lipstick case to a pipe in seconds.

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