About "Pink Tea"

‘Pink tea politics’ presently connotes an insouciant and disingenuous engagement with material political change, particularly among women of the upper echelons of society. Historically however, gatherings known as ‘pink teas’ were an essential forum for women to organize and strategize about the pursuit of women’s rights.

The tradition developed over a century ago when women throughout the British Empire – including Canada – used pink teas to engender solidarity among female suffragists.6 The Famous 5 Foundation confirms that these gatherings were executed in hyper-feminine guise, often featuring ‘frilly decorations,’ such as pink doilies, and rose-coloured tea. They also explain that:

As a result, the opposition, who were usually men, felt uncomfortable about attending a tea, particularly a Pink Tea, and would generally avoid interfering in order to avoid embarrassment. But perhaps even more important, the good-hearted men, who genuinely feared for the safety of their wives at political meetings, were far more comfortable about their loved ones attending a Pink Tea.

Furthermore, a pink tea offered the disguise of a frivolous social affair in order to accommodate women subject to reprove and resistance from their peers and relatives who often forbade them from attending political gatherings.

Various sources report that The Famous Five held ‘pink tea meetings’ in the months preceding their appeal to the British Privy Council. Indeed, the radical possibilities contained in afternoon tea casts a revolutionary light on the otherwise polite pekoe celebration taking place on Parliament Hill. The subtext of the tea party depicted in Women Are Persons! speaks volumes about clandestine political meetings; it is hardly an image of passivity. Although the monument envisions the women celebrating,
rather than plotting their victory, the representation of a tea party evokes the inventive means these industrious women adopted to further their cause.

Despite the pejorative connotation now attached to ‘pink tea politics,’ it is crucial to recognize the significance of ‘well-born’ women in the struggle for sexual equality. As Canadian historian Ramsay Cook explains, leadership in the suffragist movement and subsequent campaigns had to (and did in fact) come from the “educated, reasonably well-paid, professional woman in late nineteenth century Canada.” Consider, for example, Henrietta Muir Edwards who was born into a wealthy family. In a 1975 article for the Calgary Herald, author Brenda Cheevers writes that Edwards’s upbringing “offered her every opportunity and excuse to indulge in nothing more than a whirlwind of social life.” Instead she studied art in New York and pursued a career as an artist. In fact, the Canadian government commissioned Edwards to produce a ceramic work for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Edwards used profit from the sale of her ceramics and oil paintings to purchase a printing press and with her sister Amelia launched Women’s Work in Canada, the nation’s first magazine for working women.

Source: virtualmuseum.ca

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