Etiquette of Calls
Etiquette of Calls
Etiquette of Calls

From “Our Deportment“, 1884

There are calls of ceremony, of condolence, of congratulation and of friendship. All but the latter are usually of short duration. The call of friendship is usually of less formality and may be of some length.


“Morning calls,” as they are termed, should not be made earlier than 12 A.M., nor later than 5 P.M.

A morning call should not exceed half an hour in length. From ten to twenty minutes is ordinarily quite long enough. If other visitors come in, the visit should terminate as speedily as possible. Upon leaving, bow slightly to the strangers.

In making a call be careful to avoid the luncheon and dinner hour of your friends. From two until five is ordinarily the most convenient time for morning calls.


It is sometimes more convenient for both the caller and those called upon that the call should be made in the evening. An evening call should never be made later than nine o’clock, nor be prolonged after ten, neither should it exceed an hour in length.


The lady of the house rises upon the entrance of her visitors, who at once advance to pay their respects to her before speaking to others. If too many callers are present to enable her to take the lead in conversation, she pays special attention to the latest arrivals, watching to see that no one is left alone, and talking to each of her guests in succession, or seeing that some one is doing so.

A lady who is not in her own house does not rise, either on the arrival or departure of ladies, unless there is some great difference of age. Attention to the aged is one of the marks of good breeding which is never neglected by the thoughtful and refined.

It is not customary to introduce residents of the same city, unless the hostess knows that an introduction will be agreeable to both parties. Strangers in the place are always introduced.

Ladies and gentlemen who meet in the drawing-room of a common friend are privileged to speak to each other without an introduction; though gentlemen generally prefer to ask for introductions. When introduced to any one, bow slightly, and enter at once into conversation. It shows a lack of good breeding not to do so.

A bore is a person who does not know when you have had enough of his or her company, and gives more of it than is desirable.

When introductions are given, it is the gentleman who should be presented to the lady; when two ladies are introduced, it is the younger who is presented to the older.

A lady receiving gives her hand to a stranger as to a friend, when she wishes to bestow some mark of cordiality in welcoming a guest to her home, but a gentleman should not take the initiatory in handshaking. It is the lady’s privilege to give or withhold, as she chooses.

A gentleman rises when those ladies with whom he is talking rise to take their leave. He also rises upon the entrance of ladies, but he does not offer seats to those entering, unless in his own house, or unless requested to do so by the hostess, and then he does not offer his own chair if others are available.

A call should not be less than fifteen minutes in duration, nor should it be so long as to become tedious. A bore is a person who does not know when you have had enough of his or her company, and gives more of it than is desirable. Choose a time to leave when there is a lull in the conversation, and the hostess is not occupied with fresh arrivals. Then take leave of your hostess, bowing to those you know as you leave the room, not to each in turn, but let one bow include all.

Calls ought to be made within three days after a dinner or tea party, if it is a first invitation; and if not within a week. After a party or a ball, whether you have accepted the invitation or not, you call within a week.

A lady who has no regular reception day will endeavor to receive callers at any time. If she is occupied, she will instruct her servant to say that she is engaged; but a visitor once admitted into the house must be seen at any inconvenience.

To affect not to remember a person is despicable, and reflects only on the pretender.

A lady should never keep a caller waiting without sending to see whether a delay of a few minutes will inconvenience the caller. Servants should be instructed to return and announce to the person waiting that the lady will be down immediately. Any delay whatever should be apologized for.

If, on making a call, you are introduced into a room where you are unknown to those assembled, at once give your name and mention upon whom your call is

In meeting a lady or gentleman whose name you cannot recall, frankly say so, if you find it necessary. Sensible persons will prefer to recall themselves to your memory rather than to feel that you are talking to them without fully recognizing them. To affect not to remember a person is despicable, and reflects only on the pretender.

Gentlemen, as well as ladies, when making formal calls, send in but one card, no matter how many members of the family they may wish to see. If a guest is stopping at the house, the same rule is observed. If not at home, one card is left for the lady, and one for the guest. The card for the lady may be folded so as to include the family.


At places of summer resort, those who own their cottages, call first upon those who rent them, and those who rent, in turn, call upon each other, according to priority of arrival. In all these cases there are exceptions; as, where there is any great difference in ages, the younger then calling upon the older, if there has been a previous acquaintance or exchange of calls. If there has been no previous acquaintance or exchange of calls, the older lady pays the first call, unless she takes the initiative by inviting the younger to call upon her, or by sending her an invitation to some entertainment, which she is about to give. When the occupants of two villas, who have arrived the same season, meet at the house of a common friend, and the older of the two uses her privilege of inviting the other to call, it would be a positive rudeness not to call; and the sooner the call is made, the more civil will it be considered. It is equally rude, when one lady asks permission of another to bring a friend to call, and then neglects to do it, after permission has been given. If the acquaintance is not desired, the first call can be the last.


Only calls of pure ceremony — such as are made previous to an entertainment on those persons who are not to be invited, and to whom you are indebted for any attentions — are made by handing in cards; nor can a call in person be returned by cards. Exceptions to this rule comprise P. P. C. calls, cards left or sent by persons in mourning, and those which announce a lady’s day for receiving calls, on her return to town, after an absence.


Some ladies receive only on certain days or evenings, which are once a week, once a fortnight, or once a month as the case may be, and the time is duly
announced by cards. When a lady has made this rule it is considerate, on the part of her friends, to observe it, for it is sometimes regarded as an intrusion to call at any other time. The reason of her having made this rule may have been to prevent the loss of too much time from her duties, in the receiving of calls from her friends.


When a betrothal takes place and it is formally announced to the relatives and friends on both sides, calls of congratulation follow. The bridegroom that is to be, is introduced by the family of the proposed bride to their connections and most intimate friends, and his family in return introduce her to relatives and acquaintances whom they desire her to know. The simplest way of bringing this about is by the parents leaving the cards of the betrothed, with their own, upon all families on their visiting list whom they wish to have the betrothed pair visit.

On returning home, it is customary that friends should first call upon them. A neglect to do so, unless for some good excuse, is sufficient cause to drop their acquaintance.


Strangers arriving are expected to send their cards to their acquaintances, bearing their direction, as an announcement that they are in the city. This rule is often neglected, but, unless it is observed, strangers may be a long time in town without their presence being known.


A first call ought to be returned within three or four days. A longer delay than a week is considered an intimation that you are unwilling to accept the new acquaintance, unless some excuse for the remissness is made.


In an event of exchange of calls between two ladies, without meeting, who are known to each other only by sight, they should upon the first opportunity, make themselves acquainted with one another. The younger should seek the older, or the one who has been the recipient of the first attention should introduce herself, or seek an introduction, but it is not necessary to stand upon ceremony on such points. Ladies knowing each other by sight, bow, after an exchange of cards.


When it becomes a question as to who shall call first, between old residents, the older should take the initiatory. Ladies, who have been in the habit of meeting for sometime without exchanging calls, sometimes say to each other: “I hope you will come and see me.” and often the answer is made: “Oh, you must come and see me first!” That answer could only be given with propriety, by a lady who is much the older of the two. The lady who extends the invitation makes the first advance, and the one who receives it should at least say: “I thank you — you are very kind,” and then accept the invitation or not, as it pleases her. It is the custom for residents to make the first call upon strangers.


Calls of congratulation are made when any happy or auspicious event may have occurred in the family visited — such as a birth, marriage, or any piece of good fortune. Such visits may be made either similar to the morning or the evening call. Such visits may also, be made upon the appointment of friends to any important office or honored position, or when a friend has distinguished himself by a notable public address or oration.


When persons are going abroad to be absent for a considerable period, if they have not time or inclination to take leave of all their friends by making formal calls, they will send to each of their friends a card with the letters P. P. C. written upon it. They are the initials of “Pour Prendre Conge” — to take leave — and may with propriety stand for “presents parting compliments.” On returning home, it is customary that friends should first call upon them. A neglect to do so, unless for some good excuse, is sufficient cause to drop their acquaintance. In taking leave of a family, you send as many cards as you would if you were paying an ordinary visit.


Visits of condolence should be made within a week after the event which occasioned them; but if the acquaintance be slight, immediately after the family appear at public worship. A card should be sent in, and if your friends are able to receive you, your manners and conversation should be in harmony with the character of your visit. It is deemed courteous to send in a mourning card; and for ladies to make their calls in black silk or plain-colored apparel. It denotes that they sympathize with the afflictions of the family, and a warm, heartfelt sympathy is always appreciated.


Evening visits are paid only to those with whom we are well acquainted. They should not be frequent, even where one is intimate, nor should they be protracted to a great length. Frequent visits are apt to become tiresome to your friends or acquaintances, and long visits may entitle you to the appellation of “bore.”

If you should happen to pay an evening visit at a house where a small party has assembled, unknown to you, present yourself and converse for a few minutes with an unembarrassed air, after which you may leave, pleading as an excuse that you had only intended to make a short call. An invitation to stay and spend the evening, given for the sake of courtesy, should not be accepted. If urged very strongly to remain, and the company is an informal gathering, you may with propriety consent to do so.


A person should keep a strict account of ceremonial calls, and take note of how soon calls are returned. By doing so, an opinion can be formed as to how frequently visits are desired. Instances may occur, when, in consequence of age or ill health, calls should be made without any reference to their being returned. It must be remembered that nothing must interrupt the discharge
of this duty.


Among relatives and friends, calls of mere ceremony are unnecessary. It is, however, needful to make suitable calls, and to avoid staying too long, if your friend is engaged. The courtesies of society should be maintained among the nearest friends, and even the domestic circle.

There are times and seasons when a person desires to be left entirely alone, and at such times there is no friendship for which she would give up her occupation or her solitude.


If a lady is so employed that she cannot receive callers she should charge the servant who goes to answer the bell to say that she is “engaged” or “not at home.” This will prove sufficient with all well-bred people.

The servant should have her orders to say “engaged” or “not at home” before any one has called, so that the lady shall avoid all risk of being obliged to inconvenience herself in receiving company when she has intended to deny herself. If there are to be exceptions made in favor of any individual or individuals, mention their names specially to the servant, adding that you will see them if they call, but to all others you are “engaged.”

A lady should always be dressed sufficiently well to receive company, and not keep them waiting while she is making her toilet.

A well-bred person always endeavors to receive visitors at whatever time they call, or whoever they may be, but there are times when it is impossible to do so, and then, of course, a servant is instructed beforehand to say “not at home” to the visitor. If, however, the servant admits the visitor and he is seated in the drawing room or parlor, it is the duty of the hostess to receive him or her at whatever inconvenience it may be to herself.

When you call upon persons, and are informed at the door that the parties whom you ask for are engaged, you should never insist in an attempt to be admitted, but should acquiesce at once in any arrangements which they have made for their convenience, and to protect themselves from interruption. However intimate you may be in any house you have no right, when an order has been given to exclude general visitors, and no exception has been made of you, to violate that exclusion, and declare that the party should be at home to you. There are times and seasons when a person desires to be left entirely alone, and at such times there is no friendship for which she would give up her occupation or her solitude.

Never allow young children, dogs or pets of any sort to accompany you in a call.


A gentleman in making a formal call should retain his hat and gloves in his hand on entering the room. The hat should not be laid upon a table or stand, but kept in the hand, unless it is found necessary from some cause to set it down. In that case, place it upon the floor. An umbrella should be left in the hall. In an informal evening call, the hat, gloves, overcoat and cane may be left in the hall.

A lady, in making a call, may bring a stranger, even a gentleman, with her, without previous permission. A gentleman, however, should never take the same liberty.

No one should prolong a call if the person upon whom the call is made is found dressed ready to go out.

A lady should be more richly dressed when calling on her friends than for an ordinary walk.

A lady should never call upon a gentleman except upon some business, officially or professionally.

Never allow young children, dogs or pets of any sort to accompany you in a call. They often prove disagreeable and troublesome.

Two persons out of one family, or at most three, are all that should call together.

It is not customary in cities to offer refreshments to callers. In the country, where the caller has come from, some distance, it is exceedingly hospitable to do so.

Calls in the country may be less ceremonious and of longer duration, than those made in the city.

A person making a call should not, while waiting for a hostess, touch an open piano, walk about the room examining pictures, nor handle any ornament in the room.

If there is a stranger visiting at the house of a friend, the acquaintances of the family should be punctilious to call at an early date.

Never offer to go to the room of an invalid upon whom you have called, but wait for an invitation to do so.

In receiving morning calls, it is unnecessary for a lady to lay aside any employment, not of an absorbing nature upon which she may happen to be engaged. Embroidery, crocheting or light needle-work are perfectly in harmony with the requirements of the hour, and the lady looks much better employed than in absolute idleness.

A lady should pay equal attention to all her guests. The display of unusual deference is alone allowable when distinguished rank or reputation or advanced age justifies it.

A guest should take the seat indicated by the hostess. A gentleman should never seat himself on a sofa beside her, nor in a chair in immediate proximity, unless she specially invites him to do so.

A lady need not lay aside her bonnet during a formal call, even though urged to do so. If the call be a friendly and unceremonious one; she may do so if she thinks proper, but not without an invitation.

A gentleman caller must not look at his watch during a call, unless, in doing so, he pleads some engagement and asks to be excused.

Formal calls are generally made twice a year; but only once a year is binding, when no invitations have been received that require calls in return.

In calling upon a person living at a hotel or boarding-house, it is customary to stop in the parlor and send your card to the room of the person called upon.

When a person has once risen to take leave, he should not be persuaded to prolong his stay.

Callers should take special pains to make their visits opportune. On the other hand, a lady should always receive her callers, at whatever hour or day they come, if it is possible to do so.

When a gentleman has called and not found the lady at home, it is civility on the part of the lady, upon the occasion of their next meeting, to express her regret at not seeing him. He should reciprocate the regret, and not reply unthinkingly or awkwardly: “Oh, it made no particular difference,” ” It was of no great consequence,” or words to that effect.

After you have visited a friend at her country seat, or after receiving an invitation to visit her, a call is due her upon her return to her town residence. This is one of the occasions when a call should be made promptly
and in person, unless you have a reason for wishing to discontinue the acquaintance; even then it would be more civil to take another opportunity for dropping a friend who wished to show a civility, unless her character has been irretrievably lost in the meantime.


The custom of New-Year’s calling is prevalent in all cities, and most villages in the country, and so agreeable a custom is it, that it is becoming more in favor every year. This is the day when gentlemen keep up their acquaintanceship with ladies and families, some of whom they are unable to see, probably, during the whole year.

Of late it has been customary in many cities to publish in one or more newspapers, a day or two before New Years, a list of the ladies who will receive calls on that day, and from this list gentlemen arrange their calls. For convenience and to add to the pleasure of the day, several ladies frequently unite in receiving calls at the residence of one of their number, but this is usually done when only one or two members of a family can receive. Where there are several members of a family, who can do so, they usually receive at their own home.

Gentlemen call either singly, in couples, by threes or fours and sometimes even more, in carriages or on foot, as they choose. Calls commence about ten o’clock in the mourning, and continue until about nine in the evening. When the gentlemen go in parties, they call upon the lady friends of each, and if all are not acquainted, those who are, introduce the others. The length of a call is usually from five to fifteen minutes, but it is often governed by circumstances, and may be prolonged to even an hour.

Refreshments are usually provided for the callers, and should always be offered, but it is not necessary that they should be accepted. If not accepted, an apology should be tended, with thanks for the offer. The refreshments may consist of oysters, raw or scalloped, cold meats, salads, fruits, cakes, sandwiches, etc., and hot tea and coffee.

When callers are ushered into the reception-room, they are met by the ladies, when introductions are given, and the callers are invited to remove their overcoats, but it is optional with them whether they do so or not. It is also optional with them whether they remove their gloves. When gentlemen are introduced to ladies in making New- Year’s calls, they are not thereby warranted in calling again upon any of these ladies, unless especially invited to do so. It is the lady’s pleasure whether the acquaintance shall be maintained.

In making New-Year’s calls, a gentleman leaves one card, whatever may be the number of ladies receiving with the hostess. If there is a basket at the door, he leaves a card for each of the ladies at the house, including
lady guests of the family, provided there are any. The New-Year’s card should not differ from an ordinary calling card. It should be plain, with the name engraved, or printed in neat script. It is not now considered in
good taste to have ” Happy New Year ” or other words upon it, unless it may be the residence of the gentleman, which may be printed or written in the right hand corner, if deemed desirable. A gentleman does not make calls the first New-Year’s after his marriage, but receives at home with his wife.

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