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  • Writer's pictureCat T. Gardiner

Creative Tea, 1943-style

Hi-di-ho, my friends! Today I'd like to share with you my experience at the membership recruitment luncheon (2/16) of my local chapter of The National Leauge of American Pen Women (NLAPW.) If you're anything like me, you had never heard of NLAPW. Blessedly, my mother, a retired, professional artist has been a Pen Woman for over thirty years. She sponsored me with motherly pride and I was overjoyed and humbled to be accepted last year as part of a family of talented women. The League represents and fosters three creative facets: Art, Letters, and Music. I have been certified in "Letters."

History – Pen Women

On a humid Saturday evening in June of 1897, William McKinley enjoyed a quiet dinner at the White House. Three months earlier, he had declared in his inaugural address that, “…equality of rights must prevail.” A few blocks away on Rhode Island Avenue were seventeen women to whom those words rang hollow. It was not the vote, however, that occupied these ladies, but problems peculiar to “the writer’s craft:” libel and copyright laws, plagiarism and the inequality with which professionals of “the fair sex” were treated by their male counterparts.

This first meeting of The League of American Pen Women was organized by Marian Longfellow O’Donoghue (yes, Henry’s niece), who wrote for newspapers in Washington D.C. and Boston. She invited fellow journalists Margaret Sullivan Burke and Anna Sanborn Hamilton to join her in establishing a “progressive press union” for the female writers of Washington. “The Dauntless Three“ brought together seventeen women: writers, novelists, newspaper women, a teacher, a poet and an artist.They hoped that these “active pen women” would find in the group, “mutual aid, advice, and future development” for each other and their careers (quotes from The League Minutes, 26 June 1897). ~NLAPW Official Website

So how does the tea and the League relate to my 1940s Experience?

First off, its important to tell you that I shy away form any form of public speaking, so don't let the smile on my face fool you into thinking that I'm some outgoing extrovert. In fact, I'm rather timid about these sort of things, and as an author, I'm absolutely content to remain in the world of my creation, writing and doing everything on this side of the computer screen. But I have to challenge myself to be more - do more - partake more, make friends, and get out there! (That must have been mamma's wisdom in sponsoring me.) The ladies of the Tampa Branch of NLAPW make it so easy with their encouragment and welcoming warmth at each monthly meeting.

So I volunteered (gasp!) to host a table for the second annual recruitment luncheon. A simple task, really: provide a centerpiece themed to my desire, provide teapot and cups, serve tea, welcome potential members/guests. Okay, that sounds really easy, right? Nothing to give me stomach cramps or a fit of nerves. Oh, but the thing is .... I never do anything in halves.

In total, there were four tables, all lovely, all unique and all hosting new faces whom we hope will join the Tampa Branch!

I chose my 1943 LIBERTY TEA theme for three very specific reasons: Inform our guests what Pen Women did during WWII. How did they use their gifts to help the cause for victory? What was the League's call to its members at a time when their sons and husbands were going off to fight?

The second reason was to focus on the three creatives of the League: Letters, Music, and Art -during 1943!

And the third: to make the centerpiece a conversation piece, using it as a learning tool, an opportunity to take the guests to another time when women came together in camaraderie and strength.

Those who have read my books know that I LOVE to share my research and everything at the table was meant to inspire.

Why 1943? - Well, coffee had just come off the ration and this was a tea. LOL I served both beverages at the table with a little history of tea and coffee printed out.

I dressed in vintage - of course! The 1943 hostess couldn't be wearing blue jeans. LOL With a new hair snood and at least four laughable practice sessions of victory hair rolling under my belt I was passable. Pinned and sprayed stiff, the rolls stayed until dinnertime! At last minute, I tore apart a floral display in my house for a suitable flower to tuck behind my ear, then pinned my lovely Sweetheart brooch (a cherished vintage find,) and managed to get into seamed stockings! The frock is authentic, too!

Secretary, Debra O'Reilly, Me, President, Bonnie Phillips

The table centerpiece's anchor was a 1941 Zenith radio that my father and I had restored. Surrounding it were authentic pieces of life from 1943: love letters, music quietly playing from the radio, "Manhattan Serenade" sheet music, ration book and coins, photographs, silver wings, and vintage, illustrated greeting cards. Each tea set piece had been procurred especially for this luncheon: 1940s Lefton "To a Wild Rose." The highlights, in my opinion, were a poem about the flag, written by a member in 1943 and six NLAPW "Official Bulletins" from 1942/1943. These were provided by the League's Archivist, Sandra Michel in D.C.

From the December 1942 Bulletin, I read aloud (Yes, I had to get up in front of 22 lovely ladies. Another gasp!) the League's mission that "Every Pen Woman is a Minute Man!"

"The fiction writer has it in her power to create the story which gives relief and respite from the sufferings of a war-torn heart.

The feature writer bolsters up morale when her story of some phase of American power puts iron into the wavering faith of the man who had questioned the strength of his America.

Pen Women artists send out their messages of courage and love of country through their posters. The adage which was that 'A thing of beauty is a joy forever', is true even in war time. Americans continue to enjoy painting and sculpture. Long, after three years of war, England still has its art exhibits!

The power of the marching song, the song of the love of country, the battle cry to Victory in music, even when Victory was far off, has helped to win more than one battle. Composers among our Pen Women are already arousing the ardor of our American Service men.

Yes, 'carrying on' is courage. It increases our own courage and gives courage to others. The Pen Woman who serves others by her creative work, serves herself."

So did I survive my little presentation of Letters and 1943? I did! And I had a wonderful time. I am so thankful to have found the Pen Women and to learn their stories, rejoice and share in their creative and personal successes. I hope more talented women discover the League. There is a whole generation of creative young ladies who need to carry on the tradition started in 1897, helping to support and build - to LIFT UP- and give courage to our peers and the world. The 1942 words above are as relevant today as they were then. It is symbolic of what the arts can do for humanity, and we are the instruments that God uses.

Now, one last thought, and I'll let you go: as an follow-up to my January 3rd post, and THE WWII LOVE LETTER. Mr. S's letter to his new wife was proudly displayed on the table. The week before I sent two separate correspondences in social networking to his daughter whose Pinterest has a lovely image of her father in remembrance. However, after reading my correspondence to return the letter to her family - free, of course - she chose not to reply. :(

Thanks for stopping by! And remember Keep 'Em Flying!

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