America’s women’s suffrage movement, like the 1773 rebellion in Boston, was steeped in tea.

On July 9, 1848, five key members of the American women’s suffrage movement met for tea in Waterloo, New York. The participants in the tea party were Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Mary Ann McClintock, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and hostess Jane Hunt. 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.

Lucretia and Elizabeth had, in London several years previously, vowed to hold a convention about injustices suffered by women, and so while this tea party probably started as a calm affair, it quickly became the launchpad for nothing less than the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights conference in the Western world.

Alva Vanderbilt Belmont’s Chinese tea house in Newport.
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. 

A year later, 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 teacups and saucers of the china as favors. 

Alva Vanderbilt Belmont worked tirelessly for women’s suffrage in America, which achieved its goal of votes for women via the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.

Order your own VOTES FOR WOMEN teapot online.

Read more about tea’s influence on commerce, culture and community in A SOCIAL HISTORY OF TEA by Pettigrew & Richardson, 2014, Benjamin Press.

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