Saturday, November 27, 2021

Gilded Age Etiquette for Family Dining

“Serviette Complete” — Popular publications like Godey's Lady's Book often included tips on etiquette and entertaining, including instructions like these on elaborate napkin folding. From "Dinner Serviettes," Godey's Lady's Book (Philadelphia) 88, no. 525 (March 1874), Special Collections, Michigan State University Libraries.

Finger bowls are not a general institution, and they seem to be quite as needful as the napkin, for the fingers are also liable to become a little soiled in eating. They can be had quite cheaply, and should be half filled with water and placed upon the side table, or butler's tray, with the dessert, bread and cheese, etc. They are passed to each person when the dessert is placed upon the table. A leaf or two of sweet verbena, an orange flower, or a small slice of lemon, is usually put into each bowl, to rub upon the fingers. The slice of lemon is most commonly used. The finger tips are slightly dipped into the bowl, the lemon juice is squeezed upon them, and then they are dried softly upon the napkin. At dinner parties and luncheons, they are indispensable.

In many families there is no waitress, then everything should be placed upon the table before the family are called, and the dessert can be put on a little table at your right. Always make your eldest daughter set the table, and do it neatly. Lay the cloth straight, and put the salt cellar and the butter plate, with the tumbler or cup, at the right hand of each person. Have crocheted macramé twine mats to keep the table cloth from being soiled, and at the head and foot of the table place a napkin cornerwise to the centre, or straight as one prefers. This will prove a great saving of table cloths, and the napkins can be retrieved often. 

Then tell her to look carefully over the table to see that not one thing is omitted. Look at your place, and see that there are enough cups and saucers placed neatly at the left hand, for breakfast or tea, and that the sugar bowl is well filled, and the cream and milk pitcher are prepared for use. Have a stand of metal at the right hand, to hold the coffee or tea pots, and the water pot, and a spoon cup should be placed beside the sugar bowl, with the tea spoons and sugar spoon in it. Also see that the carving knife, fork and steel are laid beyond the plates at your husband's seat. And have these plates well heated, and all the food as hot as possible. It is a decided annoyance to have this child, or that one, asked to leave the table to procure needed appliances, that ought to have been upon it.— From “Hints Upon Etiquette and Good Manners,” In Ladies Home Journal, by Mrs. S.O. Johnston, 1886

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

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