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House Teas Still Drawing Crowds

By Jessie Fredlund ’07

“What house do you live in?”

That’s often the first question asked when Smith alumnae meet current students. For more than a century, Smith’s unique housing system, in which students live together in self-governing residences, has set it apart.

Houses—and housemates—are still important components of life as a Smith student. But today’s Smithies are busier than ever with research projects, student organizations, internships, sports and dozens of other obligations pulling them away from their house. Moreover, dining changes aimed at giving students more meal options allow them to eat in any dining hall on campus.

When do housemates at Smith get to see each other?

Precisely at 4 p.m. every Friday during house teas.

House teas, which have always been central to Smith culture, are now more important than ever, many Smithies remark.

“It’s hard to catch up with people during the week,” explains Molly Gibson ’09, cradling a warm teacup in her hands at a recent afternoon tea in the Hubbard House living room.

“Everyone comes,” adds her housemate Hannah Lemmer ’10.

That’s apparent with one glance around the living room. Not only is every available chair and couch occupied, but most of the floor is as well. The room buzzes with a dozen conversations, punctuated by the clinking sound of spoons in china cups.

Although everyone has come to tea to catch up with friends and relax at the end of the week, Hubbardites have an additional motivation to come downstairs: Hubbard House boasts the best baked goods on campus, thanks to master baker Lori McFarland, a dining services employee who staffs the house kitchen.

McFarland, who started working at Smith in 1988, has no formal training as a baker, but decided to give it a try in her extra time in the kitchen, and soon became locally famous for her delicious confections, which range from classic chocolate chip to elegant Milano cookies.

Students congregate around the platter of McFarland’s cookies, and before long the tray is empty.

Over in Scales House, however, earlier this academic year, attendance was low at weekly Friday afternoon teas, as some of the house’s many athletes often have practices on Friday afternoons, said Scales House President Trudi Cloyd ’07.

To accommodate the athletes, Scales residents decided to move the weekly tea to Sunday afternoons. On a recent Sunday, students filled the living room sharing stories over cheese, crackers and freshly baked brownies.

“I like hanging out with the house,” says Scales resident Carrie Baldwin ’09. “It’s a good chance to take a break in the middle of the day. It’s a good chance to catch up with people and it’s just fun!”

In February, the house held a special Valentine’s Day tea, complete with red and pink paper, scissors and glue for students to make their own cards.

Meanwhile, in the Haven-Wesley two-house complex, tea may be even more important, because even the most house-bound residents in one house often lack chances to connect with their friends in their sister house. Tea, which alternates between the houses, gives the two buildings a chance to get together.

Tea in Haven-Welsey hasn’t changed much in recent years, say residents of the houses. Students gather as usual for an academic break of sharing gossip, discussing their futures and forming their plans for the weekend.

“Its pretty close to the same as my first year,” remembers Jan Arbaugh ’07. “It’s the same turnout, and the same conversations.”

Judging from the turnout, those conversations are not getting old.

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