From the Homestead Kitchen: Tea Parties and Politics

by Gennie Truelock

When you think of the words “tea party” what comes to mind? Fragile cups? Uptight women in pearls? Perhaps little girls in frilly dresses? If I add the word “Boston” in front of it, you might now be thinking of protests, civil unrest, and the slogan, “No Taxation without Representation.” But what do you think of when I put the word “Suffrage” before tea party? Take your time and think about it…I’ll give you a minute.

What did you come up with?

If you were living in the Los Angeles region in 1911, and not supportive of women gaining the right to vote, an image of a suffragist heading to a tea might have looked like this:

Both the depiction of the woman in this card and the poem written underneath are meant to illustrate that suffragists are the “wrong type of women.” This was one common tactic utilized by anti-suffragists, that only unfeminine women sought the right to vote. Anti-suffrage postcard, ca. 1900s, from the Homestead’s collection.

However, if you were in support of the movement, perhaps something more like this came to mind:

Dressed in Revolutionary War garb, the young, attractive suffragist with musket in hand sets off to defend her rights. Cover of Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, October 28th, 1915. From the Homestead’s collection.

Regardless of which image you pictured, suffrage teas played an important role in the 1911 campaign to enfranchise women in California. How this came to be is something that I will delve into a bit more during Something’s Brewing! Women & Tea in 20th Century Los Angeles that will take place this Sunday, May 9th, at 2:00 p.m. You can sign-up here, but for those who are interested in a sneak peak, here’s a little background.

A movement begins

On July 9, 1848, four women gathered at the home of Jane Hunt in Waterloo, NY, for a tea party. Jane, a Quaker, was looking forward to hosting visiting reformer and abolitionist Lucretia Mott and her sister Martha Wright. To the party she also invited Mary Ann McClintock and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Over the course of the gathering, the women discussed a variety of topics including the abolition of slavery, and it is during this conversation that Mott and Stanton explained how they had met eight years prior in London, when both attended the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention. They also shared that during the London meeting they were barred from speaking at the convention because of their gender. Stanton later stated in her book, Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences 1815-1897, that during the tea gathering when she was recalling that moment of dismissal at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention, she began to think about, “all I had read of the legal status of women, and the oppression I saw everywhere, together swept across my soul, intensified now by many personal experiences. It seemed as if all the elements had conspired to impel me to some onward step. I could not see what to do or where to begin–my only thought was a public meeting for protest and discussion.”

That evening the women began drafting the “Declaration of Sentiments,” and ten days later the first Woman’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY.

Progress is slow

For the next 21 years, women across the US continued to push for a constitutional amendment acknowledging women’s right to vote. When that did not seem possible, a state-by-state approach was taken. Wyoming was the first to enfranchise women, initially as a territory in 1869 and again in 1890 when it became a state. This was followed by Colorado in 1893 and Utah in 1896. Seeing the progress that was being made in other Western states, California women mounted their own campaign, and in 1896, a measure to provide votes for women was put on the ballot; it failed. After spending time regrouping and watching how other organizations were able to pass suffrage in their states (Idaho-1896, Washington-1910), women in California once again sought their opportunity. In January 1911, State Senator Charles Bell of Pasadena sponsored the Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 8 (Proposition 4), which would grant women the right to vote. The proposition was placed on the October ballot. Women in California now had just ten months to sway enough male voters in their state to make their dream a reality.

Los Angeles suffragists and tea

Among the many campaign and fundraising efforts led by women in the region, one of the more unusual and clever ideas was the marketing of a “Votes for Women” tea.

The tea was packaged in a black and yellow wrapper (seen in the center image) designed by Frances Holmes (top left photo), a member of the California Political Equality League. The design featured reasons why women wanted the vote on one side of the package, and quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Samuel Gompers, and others about why women should have it on the reverse. From the Los Angeles Evening Express, July 7, 1911.

The tea’s creation was funded by the California Political Equality League and distributed by one of its members, Nancy Tuttle Craig, who was the head of R.L. Craig & Company, a wholesale grocer in Los Angeles. Craig had taken over the business after the death of her husband Robert in 1901, and was pivotal in getting the tea to market.

It seems that the sale of the tea was popular in Southern California. Along with twice-a-week teas being held at Choral Hall, the headquarters of the California Political Equality League, the brand was marketed to restaurants and hotels as well as housewives. A brand of tea was also sold in the northern half of the state, marketed as “Equali-tea.” From the Los Angeles Evening Express, July 27, 1911.

Over the next several months, local papers are filled to the brim with articles and announcements for suffrage teas held by or in honor of LA suffragist leaders including Mary Foy, Clara Shortridge Foltz, Maria de Lopez, and many more.

This is an example of the many articles published about suffrage teas being given in Los Angeles. This one was hosted by Maria de Lopez, president of the College Suffrage League, at her home in honor of Fannie Bixby, a fellow member. From the Long Beach Telegram, July 28, 1911.

Were these teas the sole reason why the suffrage ballot measure passed in the state on October 10, 1911? Probably not. But this historically feminine-associated act of gathering for tea provided a safe space for women to come together, air their grievances, and plan their protests in order to create the change they wanted to see in the world.

If you want to hear more about how tea and tea parties changed the life of women in Los Angeles, or perhaps get a recipe for an Angels’ Cake from another suffragist fundraising effort which we’ll taste during the program, then please join us this Mother’s Day.

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