Yesterday I spent the day at the Columbia University Archives looking at the papers of the Association for University Teas. Afterward we stopped in at Philosophy Hall to see what the 21st century graduate student tea is like.
The room hasn’t changed that much in over twenty years but it seemed a lot less grand. That is ironic since the Columbia Graduate School website says the lounge was renovated in1992 “to duplicate its earlier splendor.” The room apparently started life as a space for female graduate students; in the 1950’s it became available to all grad students.
I had a nice conversation with the person sitting there; he has worked there since 1973. The women who poured tea into porcelain cups and placed cookies on real plates were faculty wives. They, however, were not members of the Association for University Teas. These women were a groups of volunteers that a Graduate Student Advisor kept organized.
Like many of women’s every day activities in many communities, the details of this have been lost. The woman who appeared in the papers of the Association do not have names. The only identifier is Mrs. Husband’s Name. So Mrs. Carlton Hayes, Mrs. Allan Nevins, Mrs. John Dewey, Mrs. Rexford Tugwell, among others, belonged to the organization and served tea to alumni, retired faculty and others.
The indispensable yet invisible work these women did deserves to be identified and named.