Tea Room History

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Crawfordsburn Tea Room, Crawfordsburn, Northern Ireland, 1890s, albumen print.

The history of tea rooms can in one sense be considered a small portion of the history of restaurants, along with soda fountains, ice cream parlours, and coffee houses. However this viewpoint overlooks or ignores the real importance of tea rooms and what social historians have come to rightfully call "the tea room movement."

You see, in the late 19th and early 20th century, tea rooms were far more than places to sit down for a light lunch or a spot of afternoon tea. They were intimately entwined with some of the major progressive political campaigns of their era, namely, the abolition of slavery; the rights of women to own property, drive vehicles, and vote; the rise of Spiritualism and metaphysics as women-led religious movements; the rights of gay and lesbian people to exist; and the temperance plan to outlaw alcohol as a scourge whose victims were most often women and children abused by violent men.

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catherine yronwode
curator, historian, and docent
The Mystic Tea Room

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