Stuk van het Jaar 2018: Every Tea Bag Counts!

20 September 2018

Vote here for the Expatriate Archive Centre in this year’s Stuk van het Jaar competition!

Stuk van het Jaar, or Piece of the Year, is an online public event showcasing the diversity in archives across the Netherlands. This year’s theme of “Revolt” had us stretching our imaginations to find an item in our collections that would best fit the bill. We have chosen a simple but effective letter from the EAC’s holdings of the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas (FAWCO). FAWCO is an international network of independent organisations for American women abroad and focuses on education, the natural and human environment, multicultural understanding, and international goodwill.

In addition to the individual and family collections that form its core, the EAC has a number of supplementary collections that give context and additional insight into expatriate life. Among these supplementary collections are archives from several different organisations that are related to expatriates in some way, whether because they are comprised of expatriates or provide services to them. The FAWCO holdings include scrap books, conference reports, financial documents and audio-visual material, as well as publications and material about FAWCO events and activities — and they can all be accessed at the EAC.


Within the FAWCO collection is a letter with a tea bag attached at the top corner.

The letter was a crucial tool in the grassroots campaign of Americans abroad who were appealing to the U.S. Congress to eliminate the domicile and residence requirements as preconditions for voting in federal elections. Why a tea bag, though? The tea bag itself and the mention of a tea party are a connection to the Boston Tea Party of 1773, a revolt of the Thirteen Colonies against Great Britain that was a catalyst of the American Revolution. The campaigners no doubt intended to inspire patriotic action by including the tea bag as a reminder of that original American ideal: no taxation without representation.


Before this letter was sent to Congressional representatives, the campaign was not successful. A bill sponsoring the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act had gone generally unsupported, floundering in committees and going through hearings yet never coming to a vote. Supportive testimonies from former ambassadors, including future U.S. President George H. W. Bush, were countered by the Justice Department, who opposed the bill, citing the potential for voter fraud.

From September to December 1975, the Association of American Residents Overseas liaised with FAWCO and any American organisations that could be located to shore up support and action for the bill. In this era before personal computers, emails, and cell phones, the organisation and effort made in this brief time is remarkable: the chairman of the House Administration Committee said the mail his office received in support of the bill exceeded by five or six times the mail received on any other issue that year. The Senate first passed their resolution, which the House of Representatives voted in favour of by a wide margin — 374 to 43. On 2 January 1976, President Gerald Ford signed the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act into law, granting American citizens abroad the right to vote.

The EAC’s contribution to Stuk van het Jaar not only recalls an important historical revolt, but also postures the term to frame the concerted, sustained effort of American expatriates to assert their right to democratic representation in government as its own kind of revolt. The letter is physical proof of a successful revolution waged from afar.

Today an estimated 9 million American citizens live abroad, and there are political groups who engage those of voting age to exercise that right. No election result is considered complete until absentee ballots have been counted. Several federal elections have been determined by absentee ballots, most notably the election of President George W. Bush in 2000.

Vote here for the Expatriate Archive Centre in this year’s Stuk van het Jaar competition!

If you need a little help with Dutch-language voting instructions:

1. Click the STEM button at the bottom-right of the webpage.

2. Provide your email address for verification purposes. Only one vote is permitted for each email address. Press “verstuur” to send.

3. Check your email inbox. If you have not received an email with the subject line “Jouw stem voor Stuk van het Jaar” within a few minutes, check your email’s Spam or Junk folder.

4. Inside the email click “bevestig je stem” to confirm your vote.

The Expatriate Archive Centre thanks you for your vote!


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