Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Washington’s Etiquette Obligations

News photographers crowd in to take photos of the White House state dining room tables set for a formal State Dinner. – Originally, White House tables were very long and rectangular. The round tables were the idea of former First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, who felt round tables spread throughout the room would be more conducive to conversations. They have remained this way ever since.

Social Obligations That the President's Wife Cannot Escape 

The etiquette of Washington life in its official, diplomatic and social phases is truly exacting even to those who keep to the head and front in the obligations of their own small circle. Therefore, how much more puzzling it must of necessity be to one who, like Mrs. McKinley, has been practically transplanted from the environment of invalidism to the position and duties that devolve upon the wife of the President: To her there must come many moments of indecision, and a faux pas committed is heralded from one end of the United States to the other. 

Therefore, it is well for all American women to be told what would be expected of them if some day they should become First Ladies of the land, for in this democratic country there is a chance for all of them to occupy the exalted position into which Mrs. McKinley has just stepped. The wife of the President is the one woman in official life exempt from making a first call, as during her husband’s administration she is the First Lady of the land, upon whom every American as well as every foreigner of distinction.

Washington must pay the mark of respect of a first call. When the wife of an ex-President arrives in Washington she must at once make the first call at the White House. The President's'wife must then return that call within the period of three days. The courtesy is greater when the call is returned the following day. When a member of royalty or person of any exalted rank arrives in Washington, it is etiquette for such person to make a first call at the White House. This ceremonial call generally lasts about five minutes, and in the event of such caller being a woman has to be returned by the wife of the President within three hours. In official circles dinner cards designating the place at table are written with the name of the office of the person for whom intended, as “The Vice-President,” “The British Ambassador,” etc. 

At the beginning of each season, generally in the latter part of December, the official list of dinner parties to be given at the White House is made out by one of the private secretaries after due consultation with the President. The order of official entertainments at the White House is given each season as follows: January 1, the President’s reception from 11 a. m. to 2. p. m. The first State Dinner is in honor of the cabinet. The first state evening reception is in honor of the Diplomatic Corps, from 9 to 11 oclock. The second State Dinner is in honor of Congress and the Judiciary. The third State Dinner is in honor of the Supreme Court. The third state reception is in honor of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. The fourth evening reception is in honor of the public. For this reception, no cards are issued. 

At the State Dinners, invitations are generally sent to a limited number of the resident society of Washington or other large cities, such as may be selected by the President or his wife for the dinner. An invitation to a State Dinner is equivalent to a command, in as much as it should be accepted, even if in so doing another previously accepted invitation has to be declined. When, on account of illness, death in the family or absence from the city, it is found impossible to attend a State Dinner, the reason should be stated in the reply to the invitation. At State Dinners, the President does not make his appearance in the East Room, where the guests are received, until the exact hour at which the dinner takes place. The President's wife, on such occasions, precedes him to the East Room five or ten minutes in advance of the time set for the dinner, in order to greet the guests as they arrive. 

When the signal is given for the company to pass down the corridor ito the State Dining Room, the President leads with such guest of honor as has been selected in accordance with the requisite official rank necessary for the occasion. The President always leads the way at any dinner or entertainment he may attend. The President's wife always walks last at a State Dinner, her partner having been selected with the same due regard to rank as prevailed in the selection of the President's dinner companion.– Sacramento Daily Union, 1897

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

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