Clubs provided women a means to promote sisterhood, education, and empowerment. The Blue Tea club, which met at Rose Cottage in Salt Lake City, embodied these ideals.
In the nineteenth century, Utah territory was principally populated by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often nicknamed “Mormons”), and the Church maintained considerable influence over social and political affairs. Consequently, the small population of non-Mormons struggled with limited opportunities for political representation and social engagement; there were few easy ways to meet non-Mormon women when so much of Utah society fell within Latter-day Saint community life. Controversy over the practice of religious polygamy, then endorsed by the Church (though now prohibited by the Church) further contributed to the barrier between practicing Mormons and objecting non-Mormons. Irish immigrant Jennie Froiseth was among this group of anti-polygamists, and she struggled with isolation and loneliness after following her husband, an army surveyor assigned to Utah territory, to Salt Lake City in 1871.
Craving socialization and a sense of culture outside the Church most of her neighbors attended, Jennie established an exclusively non-Mormon organization in 1875. Her home, Rose Cottage, became the site of Utah’s first women’s literary club. Jennie named it Blue Tea in honor of a long social and cultural tradition of tea drinking as well as in commemoration of the Blue Stocking Society, an educational movement for women in mid-eighteenth-century England. On September 21 of the same year, members formalized the club with the purpose to “organize exclusively for women… to promote mental culture.” Like Jennie, members were also looking for a social outlet and an opportunity for self-education, as few had direct access to formal education.
Members met every Thursday afternoon in Rose Cottage to share and discuss research ideas. The first topics focused on London and its history, including the English Parliament, British banking, the architecture of London Tower and Westminster Abbey, the royal family, and London museums, churches, and royal gardens. Through their time together, members of Blue Tea formed bonds of sisterhood, and they celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays together each year. Sorority, greater confidence, and stronger literary and writing skills led to more participation in political activity.
Blue Tea also provided what historian Lola van Wagenen called an “organizational basis for the anti-polygamy movement” in Utah. By November 12, 1878, several Blue Tea members, including Jennie Froiseth, helped found the Anti-Polygamy Society, an association of Utah residents that petitioned for “special legislation from… Congress to compel a cessation of plural marriages” in the territory. The women of the Anti-Polygamy Society, led by Blue Tea members including Jennie, helped produce The Anti-Polygamy Standard newspaper and a book reprinting some of the Standard’s articles entitled The Women of Mormonism, Or the Stories of Polygamy.
Nevertheless, Blue Tea was primarily a cultural and social club. They focused on the pursuit of mental culture outlined in their mission. Rose Cottage provided a space for non-Mormon women in Salt Lake City to join in self-improvement. Members taught each other about American history, politics, government, and economics as well as European culture, art, literature, and music. They gained self-confidence, created networks, empowered each other, and formed lasting friendships.
Blue Tea functioned for eight years, from 1875 to 1883. The last recorded meeting in the Blue Tea minute book was held on May 2, 1883, and the club disbanded sometime thereafter. Several years later, in 1915, Jennie reflected that on recognizing “the larger scope of the [Ladies] Literary Club, [Blue Tea] discontinued [its] organization.” About twenty percent of former Blue Tea members joined the new Ladies Literary Club, although Jennie did not.