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As a new school year begins, take a look back at one of Curtis's oldest rituals - Wednesday Afternoon Tea..

A note from the Curtis Archives detailing the early years of Wednesday TeaWhen the Curtis Institute opened in October 1924, students entered into an environment of great formality and propriety, dictated in part by the era as well as by the desires of the school’s founder, Mary Louise Curtis Bok.  Herself the product of a privileged upbringing, she enacted a strict dress code (starched shirts, three-piece suits, dresses, silk stockings, white gloves, and hats), language and etiquette were monitored almost as closely as a students’ musical study, and, every Wednesday at 3:00, students were expected in the Common Room to attend Tea.

Irene Serkin serves tea alongside daughter JudithGreeting each student by name before serving them tea with the finest bone china service, Mrs. Bok herself always presided over the weekly gathering.  From her place behind the elaborate brass samovar she could readily observe the more relaxed interactions between students, faculty, and staff, something she felt was essential to offset the more rigid structure of the music studio or the classroom.  The teas were also of further benefit to the students who, in the years before mobile phones and social media, relied on these weekly meetings to socialize and catch up with friends.

Longtime piano faculty and alumna Eleanor Sokoloff presides over a recent Wednesday TeaNow, some 90 years later, the tradition has not much changed.  During the school year tea is still served within the cozy confines of the Graffman Common Room at 3:00 on Wednesdays, providing an opportunity for the Curtis community to come together to chat and relax.  The only real difference is who fills the role held by Mrs. Bok. After her passing in 1970, “Curtis First Ladies” Irene Serkin, Andrea de Lancie, and Naomi Graffman took her place, while today it is held by 104 year old pianist (and longest serving Curtis faculty member) Eleanor Sokoloff.

As the beginning of 2018/2019 school year rapidly approaches, students both new and old, faculty, and staff are encouraged to take part in this long standing tradition, which, though its formality has lessened, nevertheless still serves its original purpose of fostering friendship, encouraging collaboration, and promoting discourse - all while enjoying a nice cup of tea.


Kristina Wilson, archivist

For more information on Curtis history, visit the Curtis Archives.