Tea and Middle-Class Women in 19th Century Britain
People may have the image that Britain has been a tea country from ancient times, but in the 18th century coffee was more popular and tea does not have such a long history. In fact, tea only began to spread from the elite to the working class in 19th century. According to Economic History Service, “Per capita consumption per year increased from 1.1 pounds in 1820 to 5.9 pounds in 1900”. Moreover, in this period, the power of middle-class became noticeable and middle-class women’s status raised. There must be some strong connection between tea and middle-class women. Therefore, this paper argues that middle-class women had a powerful influence on the spread of tea. This is because, firstly, middle-class women were becoming important consumers of tea, secondly, middle-class women’s desire for social progress became stronger, and, finally, the middle-class tried to spread tea among the working-class.
In the 19th century, after the industrial revolution, the power of middle-class became strong more quickly and it played an important role in society (McDowall 139). Also, they had the principle of respectability (Inose, Matsuura 136). Based on this, middle-class women had to behave as “Angel in the House”. This means a good wife and they were educated not to work outside their home (Inose, Matsuura 141). Moreover, they were required to spend a large amount of money on expensive things like tea and sugar on behalf of men to show their wealth. (“Afternoon Tea in Britain”: Inose, Matsuura 141).
Therefore, they hold big tea party and middle-class men also joined this tea party, because they tended to put special emphasis on their households since mid -18th century (Inose, Matsuura 160). At the tea party, middle-class women appealed not only their husbands but also themselves by serving tea to their guests (“Afternoon Tea in Britain”). In this way, the more they became wealth, the more tea party they hold. As a result, they contributed to the consumption of tea.
Middle-class women were entrusted completely to control different things like their domestic finance, children and servants, while their husbands went to work. They began to gain the status which was equal to their husbands in their houses gradually. It was so powerful that their husbands could not interfere. As a result, middle-class women hoped to behave freely without any limitation in society as well (Langland 45-49). For example, Catherine Cranston was known for female manager of tea room. She was born to the family which managed a hotel in Glasgow. She set up many tea rooms one after another in Glasgow since her first tea room opening in 1878 (“ The Glasgow Story ”: “TGS-1830s to 1914”). In those days, there was still sexual prejudice, but she continued to work as manager (Yokogawa 58). Thanks to her effort and consideration for women like interior and works of art, her tea rooms became very popular among middle-class women, who wanted to talk to their friends without male company and damage to her reputation (“The Glasgow Story”). Moreover, when her tea room was introduced in the international exposition in Glasgow in 1901, it became popular and many other tea rooms opened in other cities in Britain (Yokogawa 84-89). As this example shows, the social progress of middle-class women was realized with the spread of tea.
In the first half of the 19th century, working-class remained poor, while middle-class developed. Poor workers lived in “slum” areas and they could not afford to get proper drains and clean water (McDowall 140). Moreover, many workers went to pubs and immersed themselves in drinking alcohol especially gin, thus they tended to ruin their health because of gin's strong alcoholic content (“A Social History of the Nation’s Favourite”). As a result, because of this awful environment and diet, cholera infected whole these areas and 31,000 people were killed in 1832 (McDowall 140). Many movements were started to improve this situation. For example, middle-class women visited working-class’s houses and told them how to improve this situation and live healthy (Inose, Matsuura 135-136). Among them, it was the temperance movement that had the most success in improving the life of working-class. The temperance movement was also mainly led by middle-class, because they had the principle of cleanliness and they despised these dissipated life of working-class (Inose, Matsuura 144-146). The temperance movement spread all over Britain and developed as the movement which included not only middle-class but also churches and other class’s women as The British Women’s Temperance Movement was established (“Temperance Society”). People supported the temperance movement recommended tea as the substitution of alcohol. Once tea was introduced, tea became popular among working-class, because people could drink tea with dirty water by boiling it and it had no harmful effect on health (“A Social History of the Nation’s Favourite"). On the other hand, some people say the reduction of tea’s price because of the large-scale cultivation of tea in India by East Indian Company was the direct cause of the spread of tea (“Tea-A Brief History”). It seems wrong, because it is natural to think no matter how great the reduction was, they could not afford to drink tea unless they stopped the bad habit of putting money into drinking alcohol. According to Spartacus Educational, “It has been estimated that by 1900 about a tenth of the adult population were total abstainers of alcohol.” Also, between 1875 and 1914, people could lead better life, because prices fell and their wage doubled (McDowall 151).As a result, working-class began to enjoy dinner time with tea after the work, which led to the custom called high tea. In this way, the custom of drinking tea spread to the whole society.
In conclusion, there were these three backgrounds behind the spread of tea. In 19th century, middle-class women were completely responsible for all domestic things and they began to have a power in their households. They consumed tea on a large scale as a status symbol and they appealed not only their wealth but also themselves. As a result, their desire for social progress became strong and it led to the birth of woman leader like Catherine Cranston and the spread of tea-room. In addition, the temperance movement developed with the aid of middle-class. They told the principle of cleanliness and recommended tea. In this way, tea spread among working-class and everyone began to consume tea regardless of rank. Therefore, middle-class women had a powerful influence on the spread of tea.
“The Glasgow Story: Kate Cranston” The Glasgow Story, n.d.Web. 30 June 2012.
“The History of the International Tea Market, 1850-1945.” Economic History Services, n.d.Web. 2 July 2012.
Kendra, Wilhelm. “Afternoon Tea in Britain” Kendra, n.d. Web. 2 July 2012.
Inose, Kumie and Kyoko Matsuura. Igirisu bunnkashi nyumonn. Kyoto: Showado, 2005.
Langland, Elizabeth. Nobody’s Angels: Middle-Class Women and Domestic Ideology in Victorian Culture. Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1995. Print.
Marver, Irene. “TGS-1830s to 1914-personalities-Kate Cranston” The Glasgow Story, n.d. Web. 30 June 2012.
McDowall, David. An Illustrated History of Britain. Harlow: Longman, 1989. Print.
Simkin, John. “Temperance Society” Spartacus Educational, n.d. Web. 2 July 2012.
“A Social History of the Nation’s Favourite Drink.” UK Tea Council, n.d.Web. 1 July 2012.
“Tea-A Brief History of the Nation’s Favourite Beverage.” UK Tea Council, n.d.Web. 1 July 2012.
Yokogawa, Yoshimasa. Tea room no tanjyo: bikaku no dezaina tachi. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1998.
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