Tag Archives: Etiquette

The New York Rules Of Etiquette 120 Years Ago

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

How To Behave And Act Like A Lady – 1847

35 Rules To Be Followed, Etiquette For Ladies – 1847

Book Etiquette For LadiesHow were women supposed to conduct themselves in the middle of the 19th century?

Well for starters; No kissing other women in the presence of men you don’t know; never sing two songs consecutively; if newly married do not display conspicuous public affection; avoid the “horse laugh”; and if you break something at someone else’s house, ignore that you have done it.

Those are some of the suggestions for proper ladies that were laid out 168 years ago by an anonymous woman author.

They are all from the book “True Politeness, A Hand-Book of Etiquette For Ladies” by an American Lady published in 1847 by Leavitt & Allen.

This fascinating book covers everything a proper lady should know when it comes to etiquette, behavior and fashion. Some of the chapters include; Introductions; Recognitions and Salutations; Conversation-Tattling; The Dinner Table; Courtship and Marriage and a dozen other subjects.

How much has life changed in just a century and a half? Read on and discover 35 of these somewhat practical, but many archaic, rules and suggestions to make the present day reader scratch your head and wonder, did women really act like this?

1. It is, in general, bad taste for ladies to kiss each other in the presence of gentlemen, with whom they are but slightly acquainted.

2. If on paying a morning visit you meet strangers at the house of your friend and are introduced, it is a mere matter of form, and does not entitle you to future recognition by such persons.

3. The plainest dress is always the most genteel, and a lady that dresses plainly will never be dressed unfashionably. Next to plainness, in every well-dressed lady, is neatness of dress and taste in the selection of colors.

4. Never wear mosaic gold or paste diamonds; they are representatives of a mean ambition to appear what you are not, and most likely what you ought not to wish to be.

5. Perfumes are a necessary appendage to the toilet; let them be delicate, not powerful ; the Atta of roses is the most elegant ; the Heduesmia is at once fragrant and delicate. Many others may be named; but none must be patronized which are so obtrusive as to give the idea that they are not indulged in as a luxury but used from necessity.

6. Keep your finger-nails scrupulously clean, and avoid the disagreeable habit of allowing them to grow to an unnatural length.

7. It is better to say too little than too much in company: let your conversation be consistent with your sex and age.

8. Avoid pedantry and dogmatism. Be not obtrusively positive in the assertion of your opinions — modesty of speech, as well as manner, is highly ornamental in a woman.

9. Double entendre is detestable in a woman, especially when perpetrated in the presence of men; no man of taste can respect a woman who is guilty of it: though it may create a laugh, it will inevitably excite also disgust in the minds of all whose good opinions are worth acquiring. Therefore not only avoid all indelicate expressions, but appear not to understand any that may be uttered in your presence.

10. Rather be silent than talk nonsense, unless you have that agreeable art, possessed by some women, of investing little nothings with an air of grace and interest; this most enviable art is indeed very desirable in a hostess, as it often fills up disagreeable pauses, and serves as a prelude for the introduction of more intellectual matter. Continue reading