The Extremely Formal & Somewhat Strange Greetings and Salutation Rules Of New York City Etiquette In 1899
A gentleman opens a door for a strange lady, holds it open with one hand and lifts his hat
with the other, while she passes through in advance of him. He always offers her the precedence; but he does it silently, and without resting his gaze upon her, as if he would say,
” You are a lady and I am a gentleman. I am polite for both our sakes. You may be young
and charming, or you may be old and ugly; it is all the same to me. I have not looked at you
to discern, but I am certain that you are a lady.” – Social Etiquette of New York – Abby Buchanan Longstreet (D. Appleton & Co. – 1899)
“Ladies and gentlemen.” We’ve heard those words countless times, but what is it to be a lady or a gentleman? A century ago it applied to people who followed proper etiquette.
A society dinner c.1899
In the 19th and early 20th century etiquette was taken pretty seriously by some Americans. It was a time when etiquette meant proper behavior, civility and deportment. Manners and politeness were taken to heart. The rigid rules and lessons were adhered to not just by wealthy society, but those who aspired to be true “ladies” and “gentlemen.”
If you were unsure of certain situational behavior, scores of books were written on etiquette. Some books specifically concentrated on New York City etiquette.
“Everything which refines the habits of a people ennobles it, and hence the importance of
furnishing to the public all possible aids to superior manners.”
The sentiments are those of the doyenne of proper behavior, Abigail Buchanan Longstreet (1833-1899) who wrote a number of books on good manners during the 19th century.
Longstreet’s book, written anonymously, Social Etiquette of New York, went through many editions and revisions between 1879 -1899, the year of Longstreet’s death.
Depending on how you look at it, you will see these rules as antiquated nonsense or quaint and dignified guidelines that are delightful to contemplate.
Today almost all of these forms of etiquette have been completely discarded or heavily modified.
Here are just a few of the rules for greetings and salutations. From the rules of Social Etiquette in New York:
A gentleman always lifts his hat when offering a service to a lady, whether he is acquainted with her or not. It may be the restoration of her dropped kerchief, or fan, the receiving of her money to pass it to the cash-box of a car, the opening of her umbrella as she descends from a carriage — all the same ; he lifts it before he offers his service, or during the courtesy, if possible. She bows, and, if she choose, she also smiles her acknowledgment ; but she does the latter faintly, and she does not speak. To say ” Thank you ! ” is not an excess of acknowledgment, but it has ceased to be etiquette. A bow may convey more gratitude than speech.
Two ladies may extend hands to each other, and so also may two gentlemen, although hand-shaking is not so common as formerly. Continue reading