Saturday, May 23, 2015

Etiquette for 19th C. State Dinners

The long White House tables, all dressed up, for a State Dinner being held in honor of Admiral Dewey

State Dinner Etiquette
Just What the Host and Guests are Expected to Do 


The usual hour for a state dinner is 8 p.m. As the guests arrive, which should be fifteen minutes before the hour set, they are shown to the rooms for the removal of wrappings, and descend by the private stairway to the grand corridor and proceed direct to the East Room, where the President and lady await them. 
                                     
Benjamin Harrison was the President of the United States in 1890. This is a photo of the "Harrison Presidential china." For more on Presidential china, read our post on The Etiquette of White House Table Service and State Dinners or Etiquette and Dishing on White House China for State Dinners
Each gentleman, upon entering the room, is handed by an usher, a small envelope containing a card inscribed with the plan of the table and bearing the name of the lady he will escort. On the diagram, the number of the seats he and the lady will occupy are marked. After being received by the President, he examines the card and immediately joins the lady he will accompany to the State Dining Hall. The lady whom he has brought remains with him until her escort appears. 
                                            
"The President with the first lady guest, leads the way to the State Dining Room, followed by the remaining guests. The residing lady, escorted by the principal man, close the line." The first lady guest was the female guest of greatest importance. The residing lady was who is now known as the "First Lady" or "FLOTUS." For more who the original "First Ladies"of Washington D.C. society were, read our post on 19th C. Washington Societal Etiquette  Above~ A stereoscopic view of the unset White House tables.






All the guests having arrived at the appointed hour, the steward announces the dinner is in readiness. The President with the first lady guest, leads the way to the State Dining Room, followed by the remaining guests. The residing lady, escorted by the principal man, close the line. The Marine band meanwhile performs a suitable march. In the dining room, the guests find their places and take the seats assigned them by the plate cards, which correspond in location with the diagram handed them upon entering the East Room.
A corner of the East Room, modern day.

There are four services at all State dinners. The dishes in their order are served on silver salvers by waiters, the guests helping themselves. The chief waiter serves the President first, and then proceeds toward the the right, and the second waiter toward the left. The same course is observed on the opposite side of the table, beginning with the presiding lady. No one is ever served twice. The plates of one course are removed as soon as each guest is finished, and the plate for the next is put in its place.
"There are four services at all State Dinners. The dishes in their order are served on silver salvers by waiters, the guests helping themselves."~ The first White House Cookbook was published in 1887. Not only did it have Presidential favorite foods, recipes and the menus from important meals and events held in the Executive Mansion, but it also had "recipes" for cosmetics and cleaners, basic etiquette of the day and tips on child rearing. It really had everything a lady of the Victorian Era ought to know. Its menus, recipes and helpful tips, made this a favorite cookbook of wives across the U.S. 
At the close of dinner, which lasts about three hours, it has been the custom of late years for the gentleman to leave the table with the ladies and not return. The custom during the earlier administrations was for the ladies to have their coffee served in the drawing-room, and for the gentleman to return to drink a single glass of wine to the health of the President. Gentlemen wishing to enjoy a cigar retire during the coffee to the corridor of the foot of the private stairway, but join the ladies when the presiding lady makes the motion to retire. After the promenade through the suite of parlors, the gentlemen surrender the ladies to the gentleman with whom they came, and with their own ladies take leave of the President and his lady. They should receive their wrappings and leave the building quietly and promptly. The last of the guests should have retired within thirty minutes after leaving the table.
 –From the Washington Star, March 15, 1890 

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