The Correct Thing

I found a delightful little book in the stacks today while trying to air myself out. It is The Correct Thing in Good Society by Florence Howe Hall, published in 1902. As you can deduce the book is an ettiquette manual. There are chapters according to subject, like “In the Street” or “At a Wedding.” On the left hand page are the “Do’s” and the right hand page are the “Don’ts.” Here is an example:

[It is the Correct Thing…for a lady]

  • To take a gentleman’s arm in the evening unless her hands should be fully occupied with her muff, or in holding up her dress.
  • To bow first to a gentleman.
  • Where two ladies are under the escort of one gentleman, for one of them only to take his arm, the other lady walking by her side.

[It is not the Correct Thing…for a lady]

  • To wear a breastpin on a coat or other outside garment.
  • To take a gentleman’s arm in the day time, unless it be in a crowded thoroughfare, on a slippery pavement, or under any other circumstances where it may be necessary for protection or support.
  • For two ladies to take each an arm of the same gentleman.
  • For one lady to take the arms of two gentlemen, unless she be learning how to skate.

Ettiquette manuals have fascinated me for two reasons. First, I love social order, rules and expectations. That is probably an autistic quality of mine. If I know what to expect, I’m less fearful of social situations. On the flip side, I can also know how to react when someone (or myself!) makes a blunder. And, I can know that what I just said or did was a blunder!

Second, the manuals are a historical glimpse of culture. People probably did not know all of these customs delineated in a book, but the values and virtues undergirding them were widely known. Valuing a woman in this society means a man helps her and protects her through offering his crooked arm to hold at night or in possibly dangerous circumstances.

I encourage you to look for these older ettiquette manuals in antique stores and learn about how people respected each other in days gone by.


3 Responses to “The Correct Thing”

  1. 1 Amy August 14, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Oh Anna these are a love of mine too! I actually have a collection of them! When I see one I have to buy it!!

    I love all the old style manners and “proper” things!
    I should find the box I have them in and dig them out!


  2. 2 Ginger August 14, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    I love to read the old books for the same reason as you!!

  3. 3 Dawn August 16, 2007 at 7:33 am

    I am with Amy and Ginger! I love books like these and the older they are the better! I will have to put this on my list for eBay. 🙂

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"I can't say I don't believe in your God, but I don't believe He meant the world to be as it is." ~Nicholas Higgins. North and South.

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