The tea party initiated by Artur Bea Williams continues at Booker T. Washington

A tradition started by the late Arthur Bea Williams continues to engage and delight the girls at Booker T. Washington Elementary. There, school staff and members of the PTA get together to host an annual tea party that allows girls to dress up as Sundays and enjoy a bit of fantasy.

This year’s event took place on May 17, the first since Williams passed away in November 2021.

More than just a social event, event organizer and longtime educator Rosie Flanigan said the event is first and foremost an exercise in learning etiquette and good behavior.

“The real reason for [Arthur Bea Williams] initiating this was so that young women could be exposed to social graces, appropriate social graces,” Flanigan said.

Flanigan said the opportunity to practice etiquette and social graces included things like demeanor, etiquette, what to talk about, how to eat, and “how to be properly sociable.”

Angela Rooney, director of Booker T. Washington, said the event was a community effort, bringing together educators, the parent-teacher association and students.

“It’s sponsored by the PTA, so it’s really them. It’s happening here at our school, it’s always one of the last weeks of May,” Rooney said.

Beyond just sponsoring the event, members of the community also ensure that it is equally enjoyable for all participating students. It even goes so far as to help girls get dresses suitable for the occasion if they don’t have or can’t afford a nice dress.

“The community really helps, so if there are girls who don’t have a dress, the community that they get into, they have dresses that they can borrow or they can have, or they go to their buy dresses, so all the girls have the opportunity to wear something fancy,” Rooney said.

Students who participate in the event also receive a souvenir teacup and saucer, a tradition that dates back to when Williams still ran the event.

Flanigan said that due to student enthusiasm for the event, she plans to donate more. She told how a student asked her grandmother where the tea was so she could use her teacup, and it inspired the newest addition to the gifts girls receive.

“In addition to giving them a teacup and saucer, we’re also going to give them a tea bag,” Flanigan said.

Rooney said that although Williams, Wichita Falls’ first African-American female councilor and first African-American justice of the peace, is gone, her impact on the event continues.

“Arthur Bea Williams, she was academically focused but she was really focused on the whole person, so she wanted the students to be very well balanced socially and academically and just everything,” Rooney said.

Flanigan said it all came together to create a wonderful experience. Students and organizers enjoy the event and the lessons it teaches.

“It’s so nice, just to see the little girls sit there and act like young girls, all smiles and dressed up,” Flanigan said, adding, “It’s just awesome. It’s a great feeling. And then to see them being so cute and holding their little teacups and their little fingers sticking out is beautiful, just beautiful.

Joseph K. Bennett