Etiquette of the Era
Social teas were popular among the contemporaries of Olive Ruby Henty (ORH). These events brought people together to meet and socialize. But what is a tea? And what was expected of the hosts and the guests who attended?
According to Emily Post, there were several kinds of social teas. The first, simply a "tea," was a formal event, much like a reception but "nevertheless friendly and inviting" (Post). Ladies were not necessarily expected to attend a "tea" in church clothes, but the object of the tea was to see one's friends and to be seen by them.
Another type of tea was the afternoon tea with dancing. This was specifically given to bring out a daughter or to present a new daughter-in-law. The arrangements were not as elaborate as for a ball, but afternoon teas with dancing were often held in ballrooms or private drawing-rooms. Guests were greeted by a chauffer or butler and had their names announced upon arrival. The daughter or daughter-in-law acted as the hostess and, along with her mother or mother-in-law, was responsible for "receiving" all guests as they arrived. After the guests shook hands with the hostess, the younger ones had the opportunity to dance while the older ones took tea. The menu was limited. Generally, only tea, bouillon, bread, and cakes were served. "Bread and cake" could mean any number of tea sandwiches, hot biscuits, crumpets, muffins, or sliced cakes, depending on the creativity of the caterer. Nothing else could be served, however, or the event became a "reception" rather than a tea.
If sandwiches were served, they were meant only as hors d'oeuvres. They were made by buttering the end of a loaf of bread. The filling was then spread, the end was cut off, and the next, unprepared slice was cut to make the other side of the sandwich. Then the preparer cut off all the crust, creating a square, which was then cut diagonally into two triangular sandwiches. These were not sandwiches to indulge the hungry!
A third type of tea was the afternoon tea without dancing, which was generally given for new neighbors or engaged couples, or as a house warming. Generally, this type of event was more informal than other teas, with tea and chocolates passed on trays serving as the only refreshment.
Finally, there was the garden party, which was an afternoon tea given outdoors. These teas could range from simple to quite elaborate affairs with a tent, dance floor, and orchestra. Tables were generally set up under umbrellas. In addition to the tea and chocolates, iced coffee and colorful pitcher drinks were also served. Since these events were popular in summer, berries with cream was often included on the menu. The hostess stood by the door to greet all guests and her husband or daughter looked after them.
ORH had invitations to attend quite a few teas during her time at Simmons, and probably had a good understanding of all these rules of social engagement.back to top
Post, E. (1922). Etiquette. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. Retrieved November 23, 2007 from http://www.bartleby.com/95/13.html