An Overview of Etiquette

An Overview of Etiquette

by Miss Jo Shelby

An important part of the impressions we portray is the etiquette and interactions between the gentlemen and the ladies. Military protocol and courtesies are practiced and drilled (and quite nicely by the 9th might I add) but there is the other side of life, the interaction with civilians. Prior to becoming a soldier, you would have been a typical citizen, familiar with the etiquette of the period. The ladies would also be versed in the proper behavior. To us comes the challenge of learning these commonplace behaviors and demonstrating these to the public. In the 1860s there were strict codes of etiquette to be followed in society regardless of your station or class. The ultimate goal was to be polite, to make others feel comfortable and important, and put the other person first. Two excellent sources for studying etiquette are Civil War Etiquette Martine's Handbook and Vulgarisms in Conversation and Routledge's Etiquette for Conversation. This article will attempt to cover a few important points.

1. Ladies should refer to gentlemen as Mr. ________, not by their first name, even their husband (in public).

2. When addressing the Military, a Lady should say Captain, Lieutenant, Sergeant etc. if she is sure of the rank of the person addressing. When in doubt she should play it safe and say Mr. ________. Example: Captain Dunlop or Mr. Dunlop.

3. In similar fashion gentlemen should address ladies as Mrs. ________ (if married) or Miss ________ (if unmarried). Example: Mrs. Dunlop or Miss Smith. In public, the gentlemen should even refer to his wife in conversation as Mrs. ________, not her first name.

4. It is polite to always look at the person who addresses you and while speaking to them in reply.

5. Never walk away from someone or a conversation without first saying "excuse me" or "I beg your pardon."

6. While in public, when a gentleman sees a lady he knows, he should tip his hat and nod a greeting to her saying "good day Ma'am" or "Ma'am" or "Good day Mrs. Alison." It is then up to the lady if she desires to return the courtesy with either a nod or stopping to engage in conversation with the gentleman.

7. A gentleman never shakes a lady's hand in public unless she offers her hand first.

8. If a lady has a veil drawn over her face (whether widows weeds or a fashionable traveling veil), a gentleman would know that she is not interested in idle conversation and should respect her privacy by simply nodding, lifting his hat and walking on.

9. If you see a lady carrying parcels or baggage, offer to carry them for her even if she is a stranger. It will then be up to the lady if she wishes to recognize you, should you meet again.

10. If traveling, and all the seats in the carriage, train, boat, etc. are full, and a lady approaches looking for a seat, it would be polite to rise and offer her your seat.

11. A gentleman should offer to get a chair for a lady or pick up a dropped object. It is always polite to offer assistance.

12. Ladies should NEVER smoke in public; it is shocking and unheard of!!

13. Gentlemen should always protect the ladies, who are considered to be the fairer sex. It is always polite to offer to escort an unescorted lady to her destination, such as the ticket office or dining hall.

14. When walking with a lady, always see to it that she is placed to the side away from the street in order to protect her from harm, and always offer your arm to her. The lady would rest her arm on the top of the gentleman's arm, not linking through the elbow.

15. If walking with a lady through an eating hall or crowded walkway, a gentleman should always walk in front of the lady to clear her path of obstacles and also help her find a seat.

16. If a gentleman is taking a flight of stairs with a lady, he should step in front of her and say "pardon me," thereby able to break her fall, should she stumble and so he won't step on her gown.

17. If a gentleman is in a hurry and needs to pass in front of a lady, he should tip his hat and say "pardon me" or "with your permission."

18. If a lady directs a question of a gentleman, he should lift his hat as an acknowledgment of her and answer her question at once. If he does not have the requested information, he should express his regrets by saying "I regret I do not have the answer Ma'am."

19. A special note to remember: If in the course of conversation, a lady repeatedly interjects the word "Sir" at the end of the sentence, she is being exceptionally reserved toward the gentleman. It is usually a sign that she does not desire his acquaintance; she is merely being polite.

I hope this brief overview enriches all of our impressions and presentations to the public. In future articles I will address other bits of etiquette so that we can interact properly and have fun at the same time.

Return to the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves Home Page. For further information write to 9th Pennsylvania Reserves,c/0 1887 Old Ramsey Rd., Monroeville, PA 15146.
July 1998