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.

11. It is not good taste for a lady to say “Yes, Sir,” and ” No, Sir,” to a gentleman, or frequently to introduce the word “Sir” at the end of her sentence, unless she desires to be exceedingly reserved toward the person with whom she is conversing.

12. Never introduce your own affairs for the amusement of the company ; such discussions cannot be interesting to others, and the probability is that the most patient listener is laying the foundation for some tale to make you appear ridiculous.

13. It is not contrary to good-breeding to laugh in company, and even to laugh heartily when there is anything amusing going on; this is nothing more than being sociable. To remain prim and precise on such occasions, is sheer affectation. Avoid, however, what is called the “horse- laugh.”

14. Never laugh at your own remarks; it may be a very agreeable excitation, but it invariably spoils what you are saying.

15. A morning call should not exceed from a quarter of an hour to twenty minutes in duration; the most proper time for such visits is between eleven and two o’clock; if your friends are people of fashion, from twelve to three will be the best hours. If the persons called on be not at home, leave a card for each person to whom the visit was designed, or beg the servant to mention that you inquired for so many persons.

16. When a lady visits another for the first time, her visit should be returned within a week.

17. Upon the death of any member of a family with which you have associated, visits of condolence should not be personally made until after a week or two has elapsed.

18. Never go early to a public ball; and do not be frequently seen at such. When you do attend, do not dance from the time you enter the room until you leave; it may leave the impression that you have few opportunities of dancing except at such balls.

19. If a gentleman presumes to ask you to dance without an introduction, you will of course refuse. It is hardly necessary to supply the fair reader with words to repel such a rudeness; a man must have more than ordinary impertinence if he was not satisfied by your saying, “I must decline, sir, not having the honor of your acquaintance;” and recollect that his previous rudeness ought to be punished by your refusing to be introduced.

20. The members of an invited family should not be seen conversing often together at a party.

21. Never exhibit any particular anxiety to sing or to play. You may have a fine voice, have a brilliant instrumental execution ; but your friends may by possibility neither admire nor appreciate either.

22. If nature has not given you a voice, do not attempt to sing, unless you have sufficient taste, knowledge, and judgment, to cover its defects by an accompaniment.

23. Never sing more than one or two songs consecutively.

24. Ladies do not wear gloves during dinner.

25. Soup must be eaten from the side, not the point of the spoon ; and, in eating it, be careful not to make a noise, by strongly inhaling the breath : this habit is excessively vulgar ; you cannot eat too quietly.

26. Do not ask any one at the table to help you to anything, but apply to the servant.

27. Should your servants break anything while you are at table, do not appear to notice it. If they betray stupidity or awkwardness, avoid reprimanding them publicly, as it only draws attention to their errors, and adds to their embarrassment.

28. Newly married persons should abstain in public from every mark of affection too conspicuous, and every exclusive attention.

29. It is extremely impolite to write upon a single leaf of paper, even if it is a billet; it should always be double, although we write only two or three lines. Envelopes are now used almost as much as the paper itself is.

30. Never give away a present which you have received from another; or at least, so arrange it, that it may never be known.

31. In entering any public room with a gentleman, let him precede you and obtain a seat.

32. If at another’s house you should break anything, do not appear to notice it. Your hostess, if a lady, would take no notice of the calamity, nor say, as is sometimes done by ill-bred persons, “Oh! it is of no consequence.”

33. Do not beat the “devil’s tattoo,” by drumming with your fingers on a table. Never read in an audible whisper; it disturbs those near you.

34. You should never take the arms of two gentlemen, one being upon either side.

35. A lady ought not to present herself alone in a library or museum, unless she goes there to study or work as an artist.

4 thoughts on “How To Behave And Act Like A Lady – 1847

  1. Katrien

    Have any info on how women greeted each other in this time period–not in the presence of men? A hug? A handshake? Kisses on either cheek?

    1. B.P. Post author

      Good question.

      Interestingly it is generally not addressed in any of the books I checked. There is information on first introductions: “When introduced to another lady you may say, ‘I am happy to make your acquaintance.'”

      The is one thing I read regarding greetings:

      “Always bow when meeting acquaintances in the street. To curtsy is not gracefully consistent with locomotion.”

      In the privacy of the home I could not find anything about how women would greet one another.

      From what I am inferring, in public women would generally not touch one another when greeting each other. They would say the person’s name as in “good morning Mrs. ____ ” to acknowledge a woman they knew when passing in the street.


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