Tuesday, August 11, 2020

19th C. Washington Social Gluttons

Etiquette entitles any person who calls at an afternoon reception in an official household to any evening reception that may be afterward given therein, so that any shrewd gormandizer may make the rounds of Cabinet receptions at least once during the season, and thus obtain a good deal of gratuitous sustenance. I know a certain woman who, from motives of economy, lived off mush and milk last winter, but made up for plain living at home by eating her fill of dainties at cabinet receptions. She understood “the ropes” well enough to get plenty of invitations, and could tell exactly which delicacy each house was noted for.


Gourmandizing at Receptions

Overeating and overdrinking at receptions and parties are among the most common forms of ill-breeding, and the way in which some “swell” people gorge themselves at the supper table would make a cannibal blush. “Please get me another ice and some more wine jelly,” said a pretty girl sitting at my elbow the other night. Her escort looked at her empty plate in astonishment “Really, my dear,” he began, “I should think you would scarcely need anything more after eating four sandwiches, two salads, four creams, and—.” He didn’t finish the list for she checked him with a warning “hush-sh-sh!” Nevertheless he went over to the sideboard and swallowed in succession six glasses of wine, which had been poured out for somebody else. 

It is a fact that some people attack their host’s banquet board with the avidity of free-lunch fiends elbowing each other in the scramble for eatables, as if they were eating at a railway station instead of in a fashionable dining room, where time is no object. There are men and women in Washington who go to public receptions for the express purpose of stuffing themselves to their utmost capacity, and who think it a smart thing to fatten at other people’s expense. Indeed this abuse of hospitality has been carried to such excess by vulgar people that some of the Cabinet ladies last year dispensed altogether with refreshments at their afternoon receptions in order to keep out a crowd of hungry strangers who only called to eat and sup. 

Etiquette, however, entitles any person who calls at an afternoon reception in an official household to any evening reception that may be afterward given therein, so that any shrewd gormandizer may make the rounds of Cabinet receptions at least once during the season, and thus obtain a good deal of gratuitous sustenance. I know a certain woman who, from motives of economy, lived off mush and milk last winter, but made up for plain living at home by eating her fill of dainties at cabinet receptions. She understood “the ropes” well enough to get plenty of invitations, and could tell exactly which delicacy each house was noted for. “I must go to Secretary L—— ’s next week.” she would say, “he always has terrapin for suppers.” Or, “I do love to attend Secretary F—’s receptions; his cook makes the best salad I ever tasted.” — Weekly Calistoga, 1882


Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Basic Edwardian Social Graces


At the “home dinner,” the napkin, if not too soiled, should be placed in the ring to be used again at breakfast or luncheon. —  A Webster Company silver catalog page of all the napkin rings they offer.

  1. A gentleman always rises from his chair when a lady enters or leaves the room. 
  2. On a man's visiting card, only titles that indicate a rank or profession for life, should be used. 
  3. At a ball, one may not refuse a certain dance to one gentleman and then dance it with another. 
  4. A letter to a married woman is directed with her husband’s name or initials and her own as, Mrs. Thomas R. Gibbs or Mrs. T. R. Gibbs. 
  5. To be polite to one we dislike is not necessarily being insincere. Politeness is not so much a manifestation toward others, as an indication of what we are ourselves. We owe it to ourselves to be well bred. 
  6. On formal occasions, no napkin rings appear on the table and the napkin is used but the once. 
  7. At the “home dinner,” the napkin, if not too soiled, should be placed in the ring to be used again at breakfast or luncheon. — Auburn Journal, 1904




Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

Gilded Age Etiquette of the Napkin

A silver plated napkin ring, festooned with cherries and commemorative monograms of dates and initials. — “Napkin rings should be abandoned, or relegated to the nursery tea table.”


  • A napkin should never be put on the table a second time until it has been rewashed, therefore napkin rings should be abandoned, or relegated to the nursery tea table. 
  • At a fashionable meal, the guest does not fold his napkin. 
  • At a social tea or breakfast, he may do so if the hostess set the example, but there is no absolute law governing that branch of the subject. 
  • Never fasten your napkin around your neck; lay it across your knee, convenient to the hand and lift one corner only to wipe the mouth. 
  • Men who wear a mustache are allowed to “saw” the mouth with the napkin, as if it were a bearing rein, but for ladies would look too masculine. 
  • Nothing is more unpleasant than a damp napkin. 
  • Never allow a napkin to be placed on your table until it has been well aired. - From Mrs. John Sherwood’s, “Manners and Usages,” 1887


Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

Saturday, August 1, 2020

More Gilded Age Etiquette Humor

During the Gilded Age, much humor was made in newspapers and magazines regarding the niceties of fine dining and wealth. Especially, those in the royal palaces and grand manor houses of the aristocracy and monarchies in Great Britain and Europe, all while a sham aristocracy was growing among the titans of industry in America.
—————
“The custom of drinking out of the finger bowl, though not entirely obsolete, has been limited to the extent that good breeding does not permit the guest to quaff the water from his finger bowl unless he does so prior to using it as a finger bowl. Thus, it will be seen that social customs are slowly but surely cutting down and circumscribing the rights and privileges of the masses.”


Valuable Suggestions as to the Use of the Napkin and Finger Bowl

It has been stated, and very truly, too, that the law of the napkin is but vaguely understood. It may be said, however, on the start, that customs and good breeding have uttered the decree that it is in poor taste to put the napkin in the pocket and carry it away. The rule of etiquette is becoming more and more thoroughly established, that the napkin should be left at the house of the host or hostess after dinner. There has been a good deal of discussion, also, upon the matter of folding the napkin after dinner, and whether it should be so disposed of, or negligently tossed into the gravy boat. 

If, however, it can be folded easily, and without attracting too much attention and prolonging the session for several hours, it should be so arranged, and placed beside the plate, where it may be easily found by the hostess, and returned to her neighbor from whom she borrowed it for the occasion. If, however, the lady of the house is not doing her own work, the napkin may he carefully jammed into a globular wad and fired under the table, to convey the idea of utter recklessness and pampered abandon. The use of the finger bowl is also a subject of much importance to the bon ton guest who gorges himself at the expense of his friends.

The custom of drinking out of the finger bowl, though not entirely obsolete, has been limited to the extent that good breeding does not permit the guest to quaff the water from his finger bowl unless he does so prior to using it as a finger bowl. Thus, it will be seen that social customs are slowly but surely cutting down and circumscribing the rights and privileges of the masses. At the Court of Eugenie, the customs of the table were very rigid, and the most prominent guest of H. R. H. was liable to get the G.B. if he spread his napkin on his lap and cut his egg in two with a carving knife. The custom was that the napkin should he hung on one knee and the egg busted at the big end and scooped out with a spoon. 

A prominent American at her table one day, in an unguarded moment, shattered the shell of a soft boiled egg with his knife, and while prying it apart, both thumbs were erroneously jammed into the true inwardness of the fruit with so much momentum, that the juice took him in the eye, thus blinding him and maddening him to such a degree that he got up and threw the remnants into the bosom of the hired man plenipotentiary, who stood near the table, scratching his ear with a tray. As may readily be supposed, there was a painful interim, during which it was hard to tell for five or six minutes whether the prominent American or the hired man would come out on top, but at last the American with the egg in his eye got the ear of the high priced hired man in among his back teeth, and the honor of our beloved flag was vindicated. —Bill Nye’s Boomerang, 1882


Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

Manners Due Equally to Family

Oh, these “company manners!” They are the ruination of a household. They cannot always be put on and off at will. Traces of the every day discord and lack of harmony will manifest themselves through the affectation of all the mere “company manners” one can assume. Habitual politeness and kindness and gentleness should be the unwavering rule in every house, even on “Blue Mondays.”
photo source, Pinterest 

Good Manners at Home

I know a woman who is always harping about “culture” and “refinement” and “etiquette,” and who does not this minute know the meaning of that old fashioned term, “good manners.” She is always regretting the lack of culture among her neighbors, and there is not one of them who is more polite than she is. I have heard her actually yell at her servants, and storm at her children, and I do not think her husband is the happiest man in the world. 
In society, she is a charming woman. She knows always just what to say and how to say it. I never saw a woman who could excel her in gliding across a room and sinking gracefully into a chair. 

Her little boys can tip their hats so prettily to ladies on the street; her little girls can enter a room with toes properly turned out and with the grace of little queens; and, alas! both the little boys and the little girls can be as impertinent and display the worst manners of any children I ever saw. And they literally fight among themselves. They are not taught to be polite to each other. Their mother seldom favors them with her own properly chosen words and graceful manners when they are alone with her. Discord reigns until the door bell rings and then the entire household must put on good manners. “If we don’t,” one of the children said, “we catch it when the company’s gone!” 

This is an extreme case, but do we not all have our “company manners?” Do we speak just as gently and sweetly to our children, to our husbands and wives, when we are alone with them as when in the presence of the chance caller? Do we say to a transgressing Johnnie or Katie, “Don’t do that, dear,” or, “Stop that this minute, I tell you!” Which is it? Do we say “please” and “thank you” to each other and to our servants at all times, or are these pleasing little words held in reserve with the rest of our “company manners?” Is it only in the presence of strangers that we smilingly overlook or gently chide the trifling faults of our children? 

Oh, these “company manners!” They are the ruination of a household. They cannot always be put on and off at will. Traces of the every day discord and lack of harmony will manifest themselves through the affectation of all the mere “company manners” one can assume. Habitual politeness and kindness and gentleness should be the unwavering rule in every house, even on “Blue Mondays.” — -Zenas Dane in Good Housekeeping, 1888

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

Of Money and Manners in 1907

“Garish vulgarity taints what is regarded, commonly at least, as the ‘best society.’ How much richer may we get before degenerating into utter savagery?”      ———— Mark Twain’s and Charles Dudley Warner’s 1873 novel, “The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today,” satirized the era from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. It was a period of great division in the United States, between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ — a period when serious social problems and changes were marked by a thin vermeil gilding, amid great wealth inequalities.

A Gilded Age Lament

We of this blessed country have more money and less manners than any other people on earth. The more money the more neglect of manners. We rush through life in such a hurry these days that there is little time or thought for the refinements and courtesies that, in the good old days of our grandparents, were considered necessary elements of good breeding. We have cut courtesy out of business hours. We have come to regard it as a time-consumer and a waste —an indefinable and rather boresome something in the way of an affectation, which we may put on with our best clothes for weddings, parties and other such affairs, but not to be carried about with us on ordinary occasions.

The man or woman who has really good manners, nowadays, we distinguish as being of the “old school.” Unfortunately, the old school is passing away and there is no new one to take its place. So far have we sunk, that the man of genuine courtesy and polish must balance it with some sort of coarseness or be damned as a “sissy.” Maybe it is ill-mannered to say such things, but the fact, no less than the ill-mannered assertion of it, fits the times. Garish vulgarity taints what is regarded, commonly at least, as the ‘best society.’ How much richer may we get before degenerating into utter savagery?— Indianapolis Sun, 1907



Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

Etiquette and Affecting Superiority

A “gentleman” or French “gentilhomme.” —
“It is true that a cook maybe as much of a lady as any other woman, or a porter as true a gentleman as a President of the United States.”


Everybody reads the advertising columns of the newspaper. Advertisements are always worth looking at. They are a reflex of the business and social needs at the time, and of the manners and customs of the people. Here is a peculiar announcement cut from the columns of a California contemporary: 
‘Wanted—Situation by a middle-aged man and wife; the lady is a first class cook; the gentleman can do all kinds of out-door work; wait on table or act as porter; parties are colored, and late arrivals from the East.’ 
This reveals a rather ludicrous affectation in the use of the words “lady” and “gentleman,’’ where “man” and “woman” would be properly employed, although it is true that a cook maybe as much of a lady as any other woman, or a porter as true a gentleman as a President of the United States. 

Color does not figure in the case at all. Why should people be reluctant to call themselves men and women? No one speaks of Adam as the “first gentleman” or Eve as the “first lady.” But perhaps affectation will some day get to that pitch. —The Marysville Daily Appeal, 1889




Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia