Old etiquette guides act as fascinating windows into the past. Not only do they give insight into how people behaved at the time, but they also show how people back then thought they should behave, which can be just as enlightening—-especially if you’re writing historical fiction! 🙂
The more “talkative” guides, which feature the author’s personal opinion, are the best for this sort of insight, but even the basic guides have their uses. So, if you’re writing historical fiction, doing research on etiquette of the past, or simply enjoy seeing how people dealt with one another back then, this list is for you. Enjoy! 🙂
The following list is of American and English etiquette guides from a wide range of dates. While there’s a focus on the 1920s, naturally, I included other ones for the sake of comparison, for through them you can track how much things change. During the 1800s and early 1900s, etiquette itself was much more elaborate. Notice how the titles for these guides get shorter and shorter, and that there are less of the guides themselves over time? By the 1920s—and the end of WWI, of course—many rigid social rules had relaxed considerably, and this is reflected in the guides themselves.
All these guides can be found in full at the link provided. All of them come from HathiTrust, a site I wholeheartedly endorse. Anyone can make a “friend” account through the University of Michigan for free—all you need is a valid email address—and then you can create and save collections of documents, which are also searchable. As you might imagine, it can be very convenient.
Hope you enjoy this list! 🙂
This guide for men was republished many times. The link belongs to the guide from 1873.
Is your story set in New York during the 1880s? Then this might be useful!
I’m not sure who this “woman of fashion” was, but her guide is very interesting. She felt that American culture deviated enough from England’s by 1898 to require its own etiquette guide. Her guide covers quite a lot, including an entire section on “Treatment of Reporters”!
“Manners are of more importance than laws,” declares the cover of this book. Looks interesting!
~1905 & 1907~
While the title page is wrong—this is NOT a guide to playing bridge, no matter what it says—the rest of the content is enlightening regarding etiquette for young men at the time.
The companion piece to the one for men, though some of the stuff is the exact same.
I don’t know who “Dame Curtsey” was, but in spite of her colorful name, her guide is all business!
Encyclopedia of Etiquette: What to Write, What to Do, What to Wear, What to Say: A Book of Manners for Everyday Use by Emily Holt.
This book comes to two volumes, AND it’s from the 1920s! 🙂
Book of Etiquette by Lillian Eichler
Another two volume set! Eichler’s guides look quite fun, and I can’t wait to read them. Check out her opening line: “Success without culture is like old-fashioned strawberry short cake without the whipped cream. It has no flavor.” She also has a particularly entertaining supplement full of illustrations of different “tricky” etiquette situations—Etiquette Problems in Pictures—and explains how to deal with them. Looks like a lot of silly fun! 🙂
A “dictionary” of social etiquette. Handy if you want a short explanation of something.
Interestingly, this guide has a large section on how to foster good manners in children. If you’re looking for more child-rearing etiquette, try 1877’s Behaving, or Papers on Children’s Etiquette, by the author of the “Ugly Girl Papers,” whatever that is!
Etiquette: the Blue Book of Social Usage and Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home by Emily Post
Emily Post’s first major book on etiquette, the Blue Book of Social Usage, was the number one non-fiction bestseller of 1923. “What would Emily do?” became a common phrase during the era. While I couldn’t find the entire text online for free, sadly, there is this limited search entry from 1928 on HathiTrust, which does allow you to search the book’s index. However, the other title listed here (Etiquette in Society) is also from 1923 and is available in full text for free on HathiTrust. Many reprints of Post’s seminal book exist, however, and can be bought for a price. Try this eBay list for some ideas.
Written by a headmaster of a boy’s school, this book is geared towards young men and saw a reprint in 1944.
This cute little book comes with adorable illustrations!
For another perspective, try Miss Abigal’s Time Warp Advice, which not only covers many aspects of 1920s social life, but covers etiquette guides from anytime prior to 1970 from the blogger’s personal collection. A fascinating site full of lots of fun information!