Tea & Sympathy

This weekend, I gave a talk on Salem author Mary Harrod Northend, the Martha Stewart of her day (1904-26), at the House of the Seven Gables and my favorite part (not sure about my audience’s) was her commentary on tea rooms, accompanied by her always-illuminating photographs. In a 1915 article in American Cookery, Miss Northend hails “The Coming of the Tea-House” as a sign of both women on the move and an indication of increasing interest in her beloved Colonial style: even though she admits that tea houses are of Japanese origin those “that are dotted along the automobile routes of New England never fail to give to the tourist the savor of the time when the old coaches drove along the turnpikes, the travelers stopping at ‘ye ordinary’ or inn for crisp waffles, maple syrup and fragrant, steaming coffee” (I really did not know that waffles were colonial fare).  She highlights those that possess such ambiance, and also the social roles of tea houses and rooms, particularly for women: who opened them for respectable “livelihoods” and frequented them at all stages of life: as college students, young mothers, and empty nesters (although she of course does not use that term). Miss Northend seldom indulges in social history so this is interesting in general, and particularly so is her story of the Puritan Tea-House in Beverly, whose owner, “losing her home in the Salem fire, took refuge in a small, homely little house, just a minute’s walk from the station and cornering two roads. It is at the center of a group of all-year-round houses founded by people who had tired of the bustle and confusion of the city. It was an ideal spot for a tea-house and an easy matter to remodel the little old farmhouse to present-day use”. And so this Salem refugee thrived in Puritan-style.

Mary Harrod Northend’s Tea-Houses, c. 1915-1925, courtesy of Historic New England: The Tea House at the Gables, the Fernery and Martha Ann Tea Shop on Essex Street in Salem, and the sign for the Tea Kettle and Tabby Cat in Wenham.

Mary Gables Tea House 2

Mary Gables Tea 3

Mary Gables Tea House

Mary Fernery Tea Room 1913 Essex Street

Mary Martha Ann Tea House 2

Mary Martha Ann Tea House

Mary Tabby Cat Tea Room Wenham


8 responses to “Tea & Sympathy

  • bonniehurdsmith

    Donna, I got so much out of your talk yesterday! I wish the schedule hadn’t been so tight. I imagine Mary motored up to the tea house in Ipswich, also started and run by women. That was a really important point. Women business owners and women customers. https://historicipswich.org/the-ipswich-tea-house-57-south-main-street/

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  • Brian Bixby

    Do I detect Prohibitionist sentiments in Miss Northend’s fondness for tea houses and what from the quotations sound like “dry” colonial inns?

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    • daseger

      Didn’t even think of that! Here again is another indication of my slim knowledge of American history—she’s got a whole book on taverns, will now read more carefully!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Brian Bixby

        Just happened to be reading a history of Prohibition, myself, preparing a course on the 1920s in the U.S. for next month. Women were generally presumed to be more strongly in favor of Prohibition than men, which is why the drys and the suffragettes often made common cause, and why the 18th (Prohibition) and 19th (female suffrage) Amendments were ratified in successive calendar years.

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  • artandarchitecturemainly

    Remember the 1950s film Tea and Sympathy? I loved it back then… I wonder if it would still stand up well now. Deborah Kerr rocked.

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  • M.P.

    Nice post. Love to read and see in pictures what a “TEA HOUSE” is/was. Naturally as an immigrant in this country (almost 40 years ago). I wonder what is tea good for if there is no RUM or other “ingredient” in it. Meanwhile, I agree to be respectful of others’ taste. Yet, drinking tea is rent water for a short time…LOL. Long live our liberties.

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