It is not exactly clear where the word derives from, but “bee” as in “spelling bee” means a gathering or get together. One early case referred to a “spinning bee”, where people would gather to protest purchasing goods from Britain due to the high taxes on those items. Other gatherings that were commonly labeled with “bee” were: apple bee, logging bee, quilting bee, barn bee, hanging bee, sewing bee, and corn husking bee.
Any competition or work gathering, with a specific task in mind,
tended to get the “bee” label added on the end. With many of these
bees being tedious work events, it was also customary to serve
refreshments and provide entertainment at the end of the task.