Advice and Etiquette Books | Virginia Museum of History & Culture Advice and Etiquette Books
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Advice and Etiquette Books

Gentleman's Science of Etiquette and Guide to the Usages and Habits of SocietyA Book Every Body Should Possess. This simple statement, presumably a publisher's marketing ploy to sell copies, highlights the importance placed on advice and etiquette books in the nineteenth century. The social upheaval of both the French and American Revolutions provided many low- and middle-class individuals social mobility. Education was an important vehicle for self improvement, and it was not limited to the esoteric. How people learned to negotiate the social obligations and interactions was equally important in their struggle to improve their conditions.

Studying etiquette books offers researchers a glimpse of how people interacted and how they adapted to their changing world. In his 1843 Gentleman's Science of Etiquette and Guide to the Usages and Habits of Society, Count Alfred D'Orsay appeals right away to men engaged in the pursuit of learning by evoking the science of etiquette. Important to D'Orsay were introductions, deportment at dinner, dress, dancing, conversation, and cards (calling cards and playing cards). In his notes of general society, D'Orsay describes at length how a man should acknowledge a lady of acquaintance in the street. He emphasizes that only if she acknowledges him should he then bow or take off his hat. If he acknowledged her first and she ignored him, which is her prerogative, "there would be no remedy."

This is part of our Take a Closer Look series. This regular feature offers a behind-the-scenes view of some of our hidden treasures in our library and what they reveal about our shared past.

Young Lady's Own Book (1834) Enter Fullscreen More information
Young Lady's Own Book (1834)
The Young Lady's Own Book, published in 1834, is advertised as a manual of intellectual improvement and moral deportment. This book details how women should spend their time, what education they should have, how to write letters, the practice of drawing, the evils of card playing, their duties (female and filial), how to keep house, and female moral deportment. According to the author, a young lady's library should contain books on history, biography, poetry, travel, and moral and religious works. For the convenience of the reader, more than seventy titles or authors are listed, including biographies of Virginia's George Washington (by John Marshall) and Patrick Henry (by Parson Weems). (VHS call number: BJ1681 Y7 1834)
Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms (1885) Enter Fullscreen More information
Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms (1885)
During the heyday of the Horatio Alger rags-to-riches stories, Thomas E. Hill found success with his illustrated publication Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms. In the chapter the "Etiquette of Introduction," Hill illustrates three ways of clasping hands—one preferred by the snob; another preferred by the cold-blooded, languid person; and the final preferred by the generous, frank, whole-souled individual. (VHS call number: AG105 H6 1885 [p. 147])
A calling card of Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy Enter Fullscreen More information
A calling card of Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy, the second husband of Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy
The Woman's Book (1894) demonstrates the flux of female roles in the late nineteenth century. Greater flexibility is allowed for women to work outside the home as indicated by the first two chapters offering advice about occupations and business affairs—topics not broached in advice books a few decades earlier. In social and domestic situations, however, the book's content deviates little from earlier books. Virginia's own Constance Cary Harrison of Belvoir House in Fairfax County wrote the chapter "Society and Social Usages" in which, among other topics of entertaining, she describes the etiquette of calling cards. For instance, if a bachelor visits a house, he should leave two cards, one each for the master and the mistress. And should he be calling for a young lady in the house, the card left for her mother will suffice, evocative of the rigid rules of courtship from earlier decades. (VHS call number: Mss1 R5247 c 190-192)
As the Safety Director Sees It by Fred O. Seibel Enter Fullscreen More information
As the Safety Director Sees It by Fred O. Seibel
Emily Post's Etiquette, considered a standard today, was printed in sixty-four runs between July 1922 and February 1945. Thus, in a twenty-three-year period, during which the country experienced an economic depression and a world war, the public demand for this one title was voracious. In her 1945 edition, Mrs. Post details at length rules for social engagements, including chapters for debutantes and weddings. Perhaps the most interesting are the sections devoted to newer inventions, such as the telephone (always offer to pay for calls you make from a friend’s house, even if they are local), air travel (never tip the registered nurse who is part of the cabin crew), and motorists (always use arm signals to note left or right turns or if you are stopping; and make certain not to make such false signals as sticking your arm out the window to shake ashes off your cigarette.) (VHS call number: TL152 F5 1937 [p. 88])
Young Lady's Own Book (1834)
Young Lady's Own Book (1834)
Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms (1885)
Hill's Manual of Social and Business
A calling card of Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy
A calling card of Prince Pierre Troubetzko
As the Safety Director Sees It by Fred O. Seibel
As the Safety Director Sees It by Fred O.

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