Isabel Cooper-Oakley, the ‘personification of the New Woman of the eighties’, founded her Dorothy Restaurants in the late 1880s. A theosophist who attended Girton College in Cambridge, Cooper-Oakley started the restaurants when her millinery business founded. These restaurants were for women only. One of the restaurants was for ladies and the other was intended to be for working women.
The first Dorothy Restaurant on Mortimer Street, decorated with cream-coloured walls, Japanese fans and umbrellas, may have been the one for shop girls and other women who were employed in the city. Here they could eat cheap, wholesome fare, after paying an eightpenny dining ticket at the entrance.
The exotically-dressed and beautiful Constance Wilde and other celebrated women attended the opening of the second Dorothy Restaurant on Oxford Street in 1889. Many of them apparently smoked while they waited to enter. This restaurant was much more lavish. It was decorated with rich Indian curtains, a deep red ante-room and it also featured a large luncheon room with tables covered with pristine white tablecloths and vases of fresh flowers. Obviously the one for ladies!