A Manual of Etiquette with Hints on Politeness and Good Breeding

Manuals of etiquette and behavior were incredibly popular during the 19th Century and covered every aspect of life from infancy to mourning. In this excerpt, some of the gendered expectations placed on a well-bred traveler are recounted in detail.


It has been said, that when two Americans meet in any public place or conveyance, they will stare at each other by the hour, but will not enter into conversation; thereby imitating our English cousins. This is a decided slander upon our national sociability, and we must denounce it as such. As a race, we are far more social than the English; and most Americans are very ready to carry on a civil and easy conversation with persons whose appearance warrants such a courtesy.

Yet appearances are proverbially deceitful, and we cannot think it desirable for young ladies while travelling alone, in cars or steamboats, to permit gentlemen of even the most respectable outward seeming to enter into social conversation with them. White hairs and old age may be allowed such favors sometimes, but we must council a reticent demeanor in young lady travellers.

Elderly ladies can suit themselves about such matters. They are presumed to have some knowledge of human nature, and can tell a gentleman by his eyes, lips, and the general contour of his face and figure, while they can also, by their subtle intuitions, detect the villain under the finest of broadcloth and white linen.

But we do especially dislike to see a young lady receive the overtures of an acquaintance in the cars -- from stranger young men, whose lips breathe dissipation and its attendant vices. If young men offer you their cards while travelling alone, do not receive them, but politely decline the civility.

Travelling once with an attractive young girl, some gentlemen in front of us endeavored to enter into conversation, which we politely declined by answering in monosyllables all questions offered.

After a few hours they left the cars, and then our little friend said: "Why wouldn't you talk with them? They were handsome and well dressed, and papa always speaks to gentlemen in the cars, and lets me talk with them also."

There comes in the difference. A gentleman can talk with other gentlemen while travelling, and allow his daughter to do the same, and feel assured that no harm could result from her so doing, for he is her protector, and usually an all-sufficient guardian. A well-bred courtesy, or the lack of it, is always discernible while travelling, and one often sees that neither costly trappings, nor high position, nor even education constitutes an agreeable travelling companion; but he must possess a kindly heart, native politeness, and an unselfish spirit, joined to a quick recognition of the needs of others, and also of equal rights in the public conveniences of both cars and steamboats.

Mr. Pullman, of "Palace Sleeping Car" fame, was asked, "why he did not provide more private toilette arrangements for ladies on the most frequented Western routes of travel? and why there were not locks or bolts upon the ladies' dressing rooms?" He replied that were he to furnish these, but two or three ladies (?) in a sleeping car would be able to avail themselves of the conveniences, for they would lock themselves in, and prevent all others from sharing them."

Does this reproof fit the shoulders of the ladies who constitute the travelling public upon our great thoroughfares?

The gentleman or lady who deposits his or her luggage upon three seats in a car, and then takes possession of the fourth, and persistently reads either book or newspaper while others look in vain for a seat, is far more ill-bred than those who laugh and talk noisily, and scatter shells of nuts and rinds of fruit upon the floor, utterly indifferent to those around them.

They are guilty only of a solecism in good manners; the others take what does not belong to them, and are, in truth, guilty of robbery.

Decent politeness demands that seats be given up to those who enter the cars, and passengers should never be forced to relinquish their rights to them. A due sense of courtesy should prompt every one to offer a vacant seat, however desirable it may be to have it to yourself.

Summer and winter, travel in cars and boats is an excellent test of politeness, patience and inborn refinement and delicacy. It has been often remarked that there would not be nearly as many unhappy marriages in the United States, if lovers would journey together before the all-important vows are made. Then they would know each other without disguise; would, if they possessed the least particle of observation, detect the flaws in heart and education; and could then judge whether their love would overbalance them.

There are many little nameless courtesies which are offered instinctively to fellow-travellers by well-bred and refined strangers, and also by those possessing native politeness and tact without the refining influences of society, which greatly enhance the comfort and pleasure of either a long or short journey.

An English writer in a late London Magazine says: --
"One is apt to hear in this country unfavorable comments upon American manners, and it is true that they may often be found not altogether consonant with the highest grace or finish; but a stranger may travel from Maine to California, or from the great lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, with very tolerable certainty that he will never encounter the slightest wilful impoliteness unless he himself gives occasion for it."

This is a high meed of praise, and comes from a source not apt or inclined to bestow it upon us.

About this Document

  • Source: Manual of Etiquette
  • Author: Daisy Eyebright
  • Publisher: David McKay
  • Published: , Pennsylvania
  • Citation: pages 39-42
  • Date: 1868