- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2008

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) | U.S. presidents and their wives knew a cup of tea could change a country, says Beulah Munshower Sommer, Frederick resident and co-author of the book “Tea with Presidential Families.”

When Miss Sommer began her research, she intended only to write an article for co-author Pearl Dexter’s magazine, Tea.

“When [Miss Dexter] came to my house and saw the piles of information I’d found, she said, ‘We don’t have an article; we have a book,’ ” Miss Sommer recalls.

From George Washington to Bill Clinton, each president has a story with tea playing a key role.

The duty of a politician’s wife used to be to maintain the home and family, but she also took care of the social calendar. The parlor, or drawing room, was not just a place to relax or chat with friends after a meal. It was a place to discuss ideas or political aspirations, or to influence people for a campaign.

Dolley Madison, fourth first lady and James Madison’s wife, sometimes served tea three times daily - at breakfast, in the afternoon and after an evening meal. She also invited guests for a cup of tea in the evening, Miss Sommer said.

After John and Abigail Adams moved into the Presidential Mansion - now called the White House - society ladies called on her for invitations to tea. Mrs. Adams returned as many as a dozen calls in one day.

One advertising campaign featured a president having tea. In 1897, a painting of William McKinley, the 25th president, and Queen Victoria of England, was used to sell Indian tea. That same year, the U.S. Tea Importation Act was passed, setting a government regulation on tea quality and standards and prohibiting the import of counterfeit tea.

Many first families received tea sets as gifts. “A tea set was the proper gift from a foreign diplomat,” Miss Sommer said.

After a tea and picnic with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in 1939, Prince Olav and Princess Martha, of Norway, sent an art deco tea set made by David Andersen as a gift, Miss Sommer said.

Mrs. Roosevelt enjoyed tea so much that she might have had several teas in a row. In what may have been one of the largest American tea parties ever, 4,000 guests were served sandwiches and cakes with gallons of tea on Inauguration Day in 1941, Miss Sommer said.

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