The Suffrage Movement in America was propelled by five women who came together for a tea party on July 9, 1848.
The setting was that of just another tea party in Waterloo, New York. It was not. The meeting of five women over tea on July 9, 1848, changed the course of history as we had come to know it. A chance for women to be a part of the electoral process. Every woman’s right to vote! For it was at this tea party, that the American women’s suffrage movement came together for the first time.
The tea party hosted by Jane Hunt was attended by Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Mary Ann McClintock and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. As Bruce Richardson — a leading tea expert involved in tea’s American renaissance for over 20 years — shares, “The setting was the Hunts’ house, modest yet comfortable, with a red velvet sofa, a map of the United States on the wall, six parlor chairs drawn around the tea table and Jane’s best teapot, cups and saucers.”
Hunt House (Courtesy: Westside News New York)
Why a tea party? Until then, attending a tea party was the only socially acceptable form of gathering allowed for women. It is hard to believe that today but the 19th century was not a very good time to be a woman in America. The Suffrage Movement paved the way for women’s right, to vote, to equal pay among several others.
Richardson explains, “Just over half a century later, tea again linked itself to the women’s right to vote movement. One of the legendary hostesses of Newport society was Alva Vanderbilt Belmont; she and first husband William Vanderbilt set the standard for grand homes on fashionable Bellevue Avenue when they opened Marble House in 1892 at a cost of $11 million. The couple divorced in 1896 and Mrs. Belmont kept the mansion. In 1913, Alva had a Chinese tea house constructed on her back lawn overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The red and black lacquered building seated over 100 guests at fundraising teas benefiting her new passion, women’s suffrage. “
The Chinese Tea House at the Marble Mansion
“Tea and theatre were instrumental in effecting political change and getting women the vote,” says Lisa Kelly of the University of North Carolina. “Every theatrical benefit performance for the suffrage cause was followed by a tea, in which the female attendees would gather to discuss the production they had just seen, and often where wealthy patrons were asked to contribute to the cause, to become financial patrons of the suffrage movement.”
“Many tea events held by suffrage groups likewise would have, as their entertainment, a reading of a popular suffrage play, or at least dramatic poems and monologues by local or famous actresses. These entertainments increased attendance at suffrage teas and meetings, and emotionally motivated the attendees to political action.”
The Suffrage Movement spread across America and UK with tea events remaining at the heart of the movement wherever it went.
The Yellow Rose of Suffragate Productions
Jane Pettigrew, celebrated author of A Social History of Tea, says, “In 1907, the Young Hot Bloods (the younger members of the Women’s Social & Political Union, founded in 1907) met at a tea shop in the Strand. And Alan’s Tea Room at 263 Oxford Street regularly advertised the free use of its large function room for members of the Women’s Social Political Union.”
“Records show that the room was used in 1910 by the Tax Resistance League and in 1911 by the Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society for its inaugural meeting. In 1913, at the end of the ‘pilgrimage’ to London by the NUWSS (the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies), some of the women (a few from the 50,000 who attended the rally) went to Alan’s for dinner and no doubt for several restorative and well-deserved cups of tea!”
By the time that the World War 1 ended, Canada, Russia, Germany, and Poland recognised women’s right to vote along with Holland. Propertied British women over 30 had the vote in 1918, Dutch women in 1919, and American women won the vote on 26 August 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment. Yes, thanks to tea women have won their right to vote but the long journey to equal rights across the world has yet to see its day.
And that journey will need a lot more tea!
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