When Tea Drinkers Were Viewed as Irresponsible as Whisky Drinkers

Cup of TeaA new research paper by Dr Helen O’Connell shows that poor women who drank tea were viewed as irresponsible as whisky drinkers in early nineteenth-century Ireland.

Critics at the time declared that the practice of tea drinking – viewed as a harmless pastime in most past and present societies – was contributing to the stifling of Ireland’s economic growth, and was clearly presented as reckless and uncontrollable.

“Peasant women were condemned for putting their feet up with a cup of tea when they should be getting a hearty evening meal ready for their hard-working husbands.”
Helen O’Connell

Women who drank tea wasted their time and money, it was said, drawing them away from their duty to care for their husbands and home.  It was felt this traditionally female responsibility was vital to progressing the national economy.

Pamphlets published in England at the time suggest that the concerns about tea drinking were also felt widely outside Ireland. Some believed it threatened the wholesome diet of British peasants and symbolised damage to the social order and hierarchies. Reformers singled out tea drinking amongst peasant women as a practice which needed to be stamped out to improve the Irish economy and society.

Helen O’Connell spoke about her research on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 5th December. The programme will be available on listen again for the next week.

Her research paper, “‘A Raking Pot of Tea’: Consumption and Excess in Early Nineteenth-Century Ireland” is published in Literature and History [subscription required]. The research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


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