America Was Changed by 342 Tea Chests and 5 Cups of Tea
Updated: Aug 18
The fight for America’s independence and for women’s right to vote began with tea.
On December 16, 1773, in the growing darkness of evening, more than 100 men boarded the Eleanor, Beaver, and Dartmouth ships in Boston Harbor. In what later became known as the Boston Tea Party, these men poured the contents of 342 tea chests into the water.
Earlier that day, merchants and tradesmen Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, John Hancock and others met at the Old South Meeting House.
There, these Sons of Library voted against paying the English tax. Instead, they decided to dump all the tea as a visible and powerful statement of sentiments.
Throwing tea overboard...
...was one of the early acts of defiance that led to the American revolution. Colonists used the tea to demonstrate their refusal to pay taxes without representation in government.
Just a few months before that fateful evening, the English Parliament, under a provision of the Tea Act, imposed a tax on all tea that the British East India Company brought to America where colonists drank more than 1.2 million pounds each year.
5 Cups of Tea 75 Years Later
Move forward 75 years to July 9, 1848, and tea is again the focus for a second revolution for independence: Women’s.
Imagine a parlor in Jane Hunt’s home in Waterloo, New York. Look around and you see a red velvet sofa, a wall map of the 30 US states, and five chars encircling a wood tea table set with bone china teapot, cups and saucers.
The women arriving to fill those chairs are Lucretia Mott and her sister Martha Wright (who Lucretia was visiting), Elizabeth Cady Stanton from the neighboring village of Seneca Falls, and Mary Ann M’Clintock (McClintock) who (with her husband) rented a home from Jane Hunt’s husband.
Discussions quickly turned to moral and political injustices that women faced in their everyday lives. But words were not enough. They agreed to hold a convention where they could gather women and men to organize and to advance the cause of women’s rights.
They brought paper and pen to the tea table and wrote an advertisement to be placed in the Seneca County Courier. The ad invited readers to Seneca Falls 10 days later for “a Convention to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of women.”
7 Days After the Tea Party
Time passed quickly. The five women did not know how many people would attend nor did they have a clear agenda. Because women were not allowed leadership positions, they had no experience organizing and running a large meeting.
But They Knew They Needed a Statement of Purpose
The questions were:
Who would write it?
What would it say?
In the M’Clintock home with the other four women standing nearby, Elizabeth (Cady Stanton), using the Declaration of Independence as her model, wrote what became known as the Declaration of Sentiments. It said, for example:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…’
“The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman,
“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations…”
HAPPY 174th ANNIVERSARY - SENECA FALLS CONVENTION
On July 19, 1848, (174 years ago)…
With anticipation building, the Seneca Falls Convention was held on July 19 and July 20 in 1848. It attracted more than 200 women and men who, after much discussion, passed the Declaration of Sentiments. This was a major step forward securing rights for women.
But we weren't there yet. It seems more tea (and marching, and educating, and legislating) was needed.
And Yet More Tea … 65 years after Seneca Falls
Progress for rights is slow. And all social movements require money for publicity, petitions, travel, and more. In 1914, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, a legendary hostess, opened the Chinese tea house built on the lawn of Marble House, her mansion in Newport, Rhode Island to suffragettes. The red and black lacquer pavilion seated more than 100 at a tea called the Conference of Great Women.
It was there that white with blue “Votes for Women” porcelain dishes were given to guests as a thank you for their support of the suffrage movement.
Suffragists Continue the Effort Over Decades
Through the hard work of tens of thousands of women (and men) who marched, petitioned, lectured, and educated, the Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified on August 18, 1920. This was 72 years after the Seneca Falls Convention.
Both White and Black Women Worked for The 19th Amendment
Although more white women are known for their work as suffragists, many Black women also marched, petitioned, lectured, and educated. One example is Nannie Helen Burroughs and we feature her in our series of Amazing Women suffragists along with Victoria Claflin Woodhull. Both of these women provide inspirational messages for our own lives even today.
... it was not until 45 years after the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment, on August 6, 1965 that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. Yes, theoretically, the 19th Amendment meant both white and Black women could vote. But it took 45 additional years before barriers to voting were lowered for Black women.
The next time you sip on a cup of tea, think of the history of America and how long it has taken us to achieve any progress for the rights of women. Appreciate the rights we do have and be willing to work for more.
My tea preference? I'm a green tea fancier and especially enjoy green Hyson -- the highest valued tea aboard the three British ships in 1773. Fifteen of the 342 tea chests, held 1,134 pounds of Hyson. All these chests were broken open and dumped into the Boston harbor on December 16.
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