Writing sample: Tea traditions

Tea Traditions – Washington State Magazine

Whether it’s the tail end of the nineteenth century or the middle of the twenty-first, the women of Stevens Hall will sip tea on any given Sunday afternoon. For the past 120 years,thousands of women have called Stevens home at Washington State University and embraced its unique traditions.

“It’s an interesting feeling knowing you’re living in a place where so many people have lived before,” says second-year Stevens resident and senior wildlife ecology student Margaret Kreder. “You have a sense of community with people you haven’t even met.”

In the foyer, it’s impossible to overlook the myriad of tea cups placed in glass cases. The impressive collection is one of the greatest treasures of Stevens Hall.

Traditionally, women contribute a tea cup after big events in their lives such as marriage and graduation. Visitors may also offer a cup. Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan allegedly stopped by for a cup of tea during their 1916 visit. Jacqueline Kennedy may have visited when John F. Kennedy came to WSU as a presidential candidate in 1960.

The tea parties were once a formal affair, but have now adapted to the laidback lifestyle of today’s residents.

“I love the old photos of the ladies at tea in their puffy-sleeved gowns,” says junior biochemistry major Michelle Minton. “And then there’s us today in jeans and t-shirts,” adds Kreder.

Stevens Hall was built in the heart of the small Pullman campus in 1895. The college’s first hall for women was named in honor of Isaac I. Stevens, Washington’s first territorial governor. Only the original Ferry Hall, which burned down in 1897, preceded it as a residence. To ensure that Stevens Hall won’t be demolished, it entered the National Register of Historic Places on March 12, 1979.

“We can look around and see the tubing where the wiring was added later on. Or be reminded that the fireplace was once used for heat, rather than just being a nice touch,” says Minton. “We’ve even found pictures of when Stevens first got running water.”

The brick portion of the exterior was molded in a clay pit behind the building, and has endured the Palouse winters for well over a century. Despite obligatory procedures to keep the building up to code and a few modern touches such as TVs and a kitchen, the picturesque building with the columned entrance maintains its original elegance.

“Some of the furniture is still there from long before I was even there,” says Linda Seal ’73. “There are couches that are the most uncomfortable things in the world but it is tradition after all. You don’t just throw them out and get new ones. It’s part of the charm.”

“If the carpet gets replaced, it has to be the exact same carpet as before,” explains Kreder.

The building is filled with memorable and quaint parts. A hand-carved cherry grandfather clock was given to the women by the men of Old Ferry Hall in the late 1800s as an apology for a “panty-raid,” in the parlance of the time, which damaged some of the women’s furniture. Just around the corner from the clock sits a baby grand piano that was donated many years ago under the condition that jazz never be played on it, as it was the provocative music of the time—and still jazz may only be played on the piano in the basement.

A small replica of Alexandros of Antioch’s famous Venus de Milo is bolted down to a set of drawers in the entryway because it was once stolen by a group of men. The ladies secured the statue to ensure it will never be taken again. Now the small figure is adorned for special events. “After all she is naked lady, and could use some decorations,” Seal laughs.

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Katelyn Orum