Tea with Mrs. Low

We recently processed the Faculty Association records. Originally known as the Association for University Teas, the Faculty Association was founded by a group of Columbia wives in 1902 to “further the social life of Columbia families.” For 80 years, the Association hosted events for new faculty families as well as for retirees and widows. And it all started thanks to Anne Wroe Scollay Curtis Low or Mrs. Seth Low.

Handbook for New Faculty Members, 1950s. Scan 5009. Faculty Association records, University Archives.

The Faculty Association was a membership organization with a constitution, elected officials and dues to support their community outreach events. The Association was responsible for welcoming new faculty families (Newcomers’ Party), publishing a guide to the neighborhood, with information about the libraries, area medical services, arts and leisure, housing, schools, and store directories (“Guide for New Comers to Columbia University”). They hosted activities for faculty children, such as a children’s holiday party, field trips to museums and area attractions, and they even held dances known as “Discoteques” for high school students. They also fostered a support network for University retirees and widows with teas, lectures and other social gatherings.

In the very complete set of minutes and presidents’ reports in the Faculty Association records, there is a short and fascinating origin story. The story is recorded by Hazel Provence Mullins in her President’s Report from March 1944. According to Gertrude Huidkoper Smith, wife of Roman law professor Munroe Smith, fifty years earlier (around 1894), an invitation was issued by University President Seth Low to the members of the faculty to attend a “smoker” at his house.

The faculty “thought it a dull and boring affair and showed such a marked lack of interest, that Mr. Low had to abandon his plan. Undeterred, he sought the aid of his wife, whose happy suggestion was to invite the faculty wives to a tea. This was an instant success and the ladies were so pleased with the idea that they voted to meet regularly at the President’s house, with Mrs. Low presiding.”

In 1902, the ladies sought the help of Professor Reed Powell, “a wise and witty member of the Law School Faculty,” who prepared a constitution, based on the British model, for the new and now official Association for University Teas. It is not coincidence that the ladies decided to make a more permanent arrangement that year. Mrs. Low would no longer be as available to host these teas since Seth Low resigned the presidency of Columbia to serve as Mayor of the City of New York.

In light of the upcoming holidays, here’s the Faculty Association’s recipe for Wassail Punch.

Wassail Punch

  • Simmer 1 gallon cider for 20 minutes
  • 6 oranges and 4 lemons } grate rind and squeeze
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon clove
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Stick 3 large red apples and put in punch when served
  • (1 pint rum)