I found the following tips in a 1919 book, Searchlight for Health. As far as I can tell, the etiquette of paying calls did not change significantly from Jane Austen’s time to the Edwardian era, or from having crossed an ocean. Here then, are the rules as outlined in this Project Gutenberg book:
In the matter of making calls it is the correct thing:
- For the caller who arrived first to leave first.
- To return a first call within a week and in person.
- To call promptly and in person after a first invitation.
- For the mother or chaperon to invite a gentleman to call.
- To call within a week after any entertainment to which one has been invited.
- You should call upon an acquaintance who has recently returned from a prolonged absence.
- It as proper to make the first call upon people in a higher social position, if one is asked to do so.
- It is proper to call, after an engagement has been announced, or a marriage has taken place, in the family.
- For the older residents in the city or street to call upon the newcomers to their neighborhood is a long recognized custom.
- It is proper, after a removal from one part of the city to another, to send out cards with one’s new address upon them.
- To ascertain what are the prescribed hours for calling in the place where one is living, or making a visit, and to adhere to those hours is a duty that must not be overlooked.
- A gentleman should ask for the lady of the house as well as the young ladies, and leave cards for her as well as for the head of the family.
Another book, Mrs. Astor’s New York by Eric Homberger (2004), gives a glimpse of what a call might look like for young ladies of quality in New York at the turn of the 20th century. (Edith Wharton does this so well.) The art of social climbing remained quite strict and, in fact, was probably stricter as a result of the Victorian era. Keep in mind that this book and the one above were written in the U. S. about Americans:
So simple a matter as paying a morning call was hedged around with complications. A male escort or female companion was not needed if a lady went in a carriage, but a gentleman was expected to accompany a lady walking on foot. It was permissible for two ladies walking together to make a call without male escort. When paying a call, female guests were expected to remain seated in chairs or benches lining the perimeter of the room, waiting for servants to pass refreshments in sequence. A hostess alone had the freedom to stand and cross the room. Larger social events, variously termed ‘routs,’ ‘conversaziones,’ and ‘squeezes,’ were less rigid in the assignation of gender roles, and the provisions of tables for chess and cards, or music for dancing, greatly increased the variety of entertainment.
For a truly comprehensive chapter on paying morning calls during the latter part of the 19th century, click on this link to read the chapter, Etiquette for the Caller, from The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, Florence Hartley, 1872. Again, this is an American etiquette book.
Click here to read my other post on etiquette:
- The Etiquette of Using Calling Cards
- Update: In September, 2008 the Jane Austen Centre featured this post about calling cards: The Ritual of Paying Social Calls.