It was, in 1923, declared to be “the biggest business field yet discovered” for women who wanted to open their own business.
The business? Tea rooms.
Marian Hale, in a nationally syndicated newspaper story, declared that tea rooms gave women the financial independence to pay mortgages and educate their children, “without loss of social position or subjecting themselves to the grind and sacrifices of the wage-earner’s life.”
Seeing the opportunity, women in western Montana jumped in.
Missoula had the Blue Parrot and the Blue Moon, while Kalispell had the Temple, to name a few.
The business model centered around what could be sold during prohibition: non-alcoholic beverages like tea and comfortable home-cooked meals.
Back east, Miss Helen Woods established the “first school solely devoted to teaching tea room management.”
She said, “Before prohibition no woman could hope to compete with hotels and roadhouses where drinks were served. Today there is ample patronage for the myriad establishments that deal in nicely cooked home foods and palatable beverages devoid of alcohol.”
Critics agreed: “Such establishments are uniformly more artistic and tasteful in setting and appearance than the roadhouses of an earlier day, as well as more decent.”
Missoula’s first tea house was the Blue Parrot at 515 University Ave. – and it was popular.
Fans of Yale and Harvard football gathered at the Blue Parrot the afternoon of November 22, 1924, to hear the latest “play-by-play returns of the game.”
The “Yale Club of Western Montana” had paid for a direct wire to be installed at the tea house so they could have near-real-time results. “The playing field was diagrammed on a blackboard. Then, by drawing lines of progress, the game was shown.”
Local social and professional groups regularly used the tea houses for their meetings. The Missoula Business and Professional Women’s Club held their dinner meetings at the Blue Parrot.
When area dentists held a 1923 seminar at the Florence Hotel, their wives held their own banquet at a local tea room.
The Chimney Corner tea room would host the regular meetings of the “As You Like It” club, as well as luncheons for wives of newly arrived University professors.
In Kalispell, the Temple tea room hosted everything from birthday and anniversary parties to bridge club meetings.
Every now and then, one of the tea rooms would change ownership, which generated news coverage.
The Carbon County News reported that Mrs. Roger J. Fleming of Red Lodge departed that city in early September 1927, headed to Missoula with her two daughters, Helen and Katherine. Mrs. Fleming had purchased the Blue Parrot tea room. The two daughters planned to attend the University.
Four years later, presumably with daughters graduated, Mrs. Fleming put the Blue Parrot up for sale.
Tea rooms were created to fill a void during the dry years.
So it was not unexpected that when prohibition ended in December 1933, it would spell the gradual end to tea rooms – and it did.
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at email@example.com. His new book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is now available at harmonshistories.com.