While the Boston Tea Party is often the most common story of tea’s role in rebellious acts, the beverage found its way into the homes and lives of another group interested in revolution: the American women’s suffrage.
On July 9, 1848, five key members of the American women’s suffrage movement met for tea in Waterloo, New York: Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Mary Ann McClintock, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and hostess Jane Hunt. Over tea, these women expressed their views so passionately that while their meeting had probably started as a calm affair, it quickly became the launch pad for nothing less than the Seneca Falls Convention; this convention was the first women’s rights conference in the Western world and it had started with a simple tea party.
|The Chinese Tea Pavilion at Marble House|
Just over half a century later, tea again linked itself to women’s suffrage. 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.
She had a Chinese tea house constructed in 1913 on her great 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.
In 1914, Mrs. Belmont hosted the Conference of Great Women at Marble House, where she and her daughter Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough, gave speeches to those assembled. J. Maddock & Sons produced sets of porcelain tableware bearing the “Votes for Women” theme as part of a luncheon service for the event.
The dishes were also used at a tea party held at the mansion in July of that year. Both events raised money to support the suffrage movement, and guests received Votes for Women teacups and saucers as favors.
Mrs. Belmont worked tirelessly for women’s suffrage, which achieved its goal of votes for women, the Nineteenth Amendment, in 1920. Without the establishment of the Seneca Falls Convention and Mrs. Belmont’s efforts, the women’s suffrage movement may not have found the fire it needed to succeed as it did. Tea once again proved to be the catalyst needed to spark a revolution.
Read more about tea’s influence on British and American culture in A SOCIAL HISTORY OF TEA by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson. Benjamin Press 2014