Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Etiquette and a Vanderbilt Debutante

"In England, the court circle governs society. Its recognition makes a gentleman or lady out of nobody."
Throne Room in Buckingham Palace Presentation Day

Where the Money Counts

Getting Into Swell American Society via London

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From London, May 1896 — This is the particular season of the year when the young American girl whose papa and mamma take her abroad every spring, hopes to acquire the transcendent social distinction of being presented at court. It gives her something to talk about for the rest of her life, and like an heirloom, she can hand it down to future generations of her family as a badge of greatness.

It means much to an English woman to be presented at court, but to an American it can be scarcely any material value. In England, the court circle governs society. Its recognition makes a gentleman or lady out of nobody. A court presentation is an open sesame to society and everything that implies. Naturally it is sought after with great diligence, particularly by people who know that they must overcome mountainous obstacles to reach the acme of their ambition.

London is filled with a class of influential sharks who make a fat income during the season by piloting rich folks into the throne room at Buckingham Palace. It is a sad but true fact that many Americans have permitted themselves to be bitten by these rascals, for the mere pleasure of rubbing shoulders with royalty for a minute or two and seeing a room full of princes, princesses, dukes and people of lesser titles in gala array.

It is a gorgeous show, and it is generally thought to be worth the price of admission. Even if someone need not be feted for obtaining the rare cards of admission, the function cannot be suitably attended at a cost of much less than one thousand dollars. There are innumerable rules of court etiquette which must be complied with, and each rule means the expenditure of a goodly some. 

"The most notable American presented this spring was the young Duchess of Marlborough, but she did not appear as an American, but as an English Duchess."
If the presentation function were established for the benefit of the London shopkeepers, it would serve the purpose nobly, as it stimulates trade to a surprisingly healthy degree. The Queen as yet, has not presided at any of the drawing rooms this season, her place generally being taken by the Princess of Wales.

A Notable Presentation

The most notable American presented this spring was the young Duchess of Marlborough, but she did not appear as an American, but as an English Duchess. Socially her position is one of considerable importance, and she's entitled by right to appear at the drawing rooms as often as she pleases. Her influence is also sufficiently great to secure cards of admission for any of her eligible in New York friends, but unfortunately the one whom she would most like to present is debarred by an edict which is seldom waived. This refers to her mother, Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont, who was divorced from the Duchess' father, W. K. Vanderbilt. One of the few divorced women ever admitted to the royal presence is the Marchioness of Blandford who is divorced from the late Duke of Marlborough. It was she who presented her daughter-in-law, the young Duchess, at court.
Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont, mother of Consuelo Vanderbilt, was barred from cards of admission to London's elite drawing rooms, by an edict which is seldom waived, due to her divorce.
It is a well known bit of gossip that has lived for more than three years that an American millionaire paid $10,000 to an influential, but bankrupt leader of society for drawing room cards for his wife and two daughters. This man had for many years endeavored to enter the fashionable set of New York and had probably spent $100,000.00 in lavish entertainments in an effort to draw the right people to his house. But on reaching home after the presentation of his family, he discovered that it had open the long closed doors. He has never regretted the $10,000, but sees who fixes all these rules, and his assistants see to it that they are rigorously adhered to.

A Powerful Official

All applications for cards are made to the same gentleman. Such applications are invariably accompanied by an endorsement of some person of note and prominence, otherwise they are ignored. Extreme care is taken that no one whose character is at all doubtful is admitted. The most difficult thing to perform is to leave the royal presence by backing out of the room. A twelve foot train impedes graceful progress. Usually this part of the program is rehearsed several times before the presentation is made. Everything else is in stereotyped form and is of such simple character that few people commit blunders. The name is announced, and on entering the drawing room the newcomer makes a bow. She sees a number of ladies standing under a canopy, and group around them sees man in fanciful court costume.The person presenting the visitor walks up to where the Queen is standing, and after bowing, low kisses her hand. Her protégé does precisely the same thing, and then the two back out of the room as gracefully as they can. That ends the function as far as they are concerned. There is no conversation and no loitering about in the drawing room. Only the elect are permitted those privileges.
—The Los Angeles Herald, 1896

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