Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Proprieties and Usages of Good Society — Lesson II. Visitors in the Home

Proprieties and Usages of Good Society — Lesson II. Visitors in the Home

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 01, 2010

preliminary statement
Lesson III. Dress (to be linked when posted)

Lesson I of this series for YLMIA girls from early in the 20th century is an overview of the principles of decorous behavior and good society. Rather than begin with another introduction in addition to the preliminary remarks already posted, let’s dive right into one of the substantial lessons and save the introduction as a review at the end — we might discuss how well the series lived up to its billing.

II. Visitors in the Home.

While it is true that anyone who chooses to invite friends within the home can make them reasonably comfortable and happy with a little unselfish attention to their wants, it is no less true that a knowledge of some of the little points which pertain to good society will add much to the comfort of the guest within the home, as well as making things easier for the home itself. The first thing that a guest should do who intends to visit a friend in a distant city is to write and find out if her visit will be convenient and acceptable to her hostess. She may have received many invitations to visit her friend and might be welcome at many times, and under some circumstances; and yet a visit at one particular time might cause infinite annoyance and trouble which could be avoided by a little preparatory correspondence.

A hostess certainly has a right to be asked if a visit will be acceptable, and we, in this community, should pay a little more attention to our social rights and duties and not impose on each other as we do. If a written invitation be sent from a hostess to her friend, the writer should state how long the proposed visit shall be. She can do that gracefully and without any offense, asking her to spend a day, two or three, or a week, as may be convenient and pleasant for the hostess. If the friend should write to the hostess, she should indicate how long she may wish to stay in the same manner, so that there shall be a distinct understanding as to how long the visit is going to be. There is nothing so disastrous to friendship and future hospitality as the unannounced, unrequested visit of a friend who comes apparently to stay a day, and who lengthens out her stay to weeks of uncertain time, because she is enjoying herself with other people. Frankness, mingled with tactful sweetness, is a very necessary part of that politeness which marks the breeding of a lady. Some hostesses meet their guests at the trains; while others, equally well-bred, assume that the guest will take a conveyance and drive at once to the house of her hostess.

When the guest has arrived within the home, it is the duty of the hostess to show her at once to her room and to provide suitable arrangements for any toilet preparations that the guest may desire to make. If the hour of arrival be between the regular meal times, the hostess would naturally inquire if her friend would like any refreshments before the regular dinner hour. It would also be her duty to state to her guest at once how many meals were served in the house each day and at what hour they occur. If the guest be an invalid, the hostess would always be willing to make any extra provision for her comfort; otherwise the guest must conform to the rules of the house, even if they depart a little from her own chosen hours and regulations. The admonition of St. Paul was born of that innate sense of gentility, coupled with his own fine breeding, which taught him the laws of gentle behavior. He tells us, you remember, to eat what is set before us and ask no questions for conscience sake. That perfect gentleman also instructs us that it is part of the duty of a Saint to be all things to all men. So that if a guest find herself within a home where quiet and stillness are the order of the household, let her endeavor to restrain undue confusion or noise on her part, and save the nerves of her hostess while resting her own.

After a guest has learned the hours of meals and of retiring, it is extreme bad taste to be late one minute by the clock, at the appointed meal hour. Punctilious promptness is the duty of every guest in the home of a friend. The hostess may be indulgent, or even careless, on the point of punctuality herself, but the duty of her guest is none the less imperative to be prepared and on tie for any appointments in the home. Unless there be several servants in the house, a guest is always expected to attend to her own chamber, and if her hostess be without a girl, or with but one, the guest should at once quietly offer to participate in the labors of the house, not only by offering to do so but by actual appearance in the dining room or kitchen with her apron on, thus announcing herself ready for marching orders.

The habit which young girls have of visiting their companions in other cities, taking no part in the home work, leaving their beds unmade and toilet articles in confusion, lying abed in the morning, going away without consulting the mother of the house as to where they are going and when they will return, – all this is of the rudest possible behavior. And some of our girls are even more reprehensible than this, in that they will arrive at a friend’s house prepared to stay a day or a week, and actually bring with them another girl who may be a perfect stranger to the hostess and her family. No matter how close the ties of kinship or friendship may be, no one can be justified in inviting another person to the home of any other person without asking and receiving cordial permission to do so. It would not even be permissible to invite a friend to a meal in any home but one’s own, no matter what relationship might exist between the friend and her hostess for the time being. When our girls receive an invitation from a girl friend to pay a visit to them, the girl’s guest should make sure that the mother of her friend seconds the invitation before she accepts it; and every rule laid down here, in this lesson, for her behavior is necessary if she would be known as a lady, and especially if she would wish to be welcomed at a second visit.

When a guest receives an invitation to attend any public place of amusement or any private social function, it is considered necessary in good society that her hostess, or if she be a young girl, that the daughter should receive a similar invitation, or the guest would be in duty bound to send a letter of regret and decline to go. If a young girl visiting in the home of a distant friend should receive an invitation from a young man to attend a party or a theatre, she should at once consult the mother of the house, and with great delicacy and tact, ascertain the mother’s wishes and counsel, following the same implicitly. For the time being the mother of the house acts in the place of a mother to the young guest within her portals, and she has a right to be consulted as to all the movements, not only of her own daughter but as well of the young guest who resides temporarily with her.

It is supposed, of course, that a guest departs promptly at the time set for her departure, unless some circumstance has caused the hostess to press her guest to remain longer; and even then the greatest caution must be exercised about accepting such an invitation.

On the arrival of the guest at her own home, she should at once write to her hostess, speaking of the little events of the journey, noting her safe arrival at home and expressing cordial gratitude for the hospitality which she has received. To neglect this is to be guilty of a very serious breach of etiquette.


1. What is the key-note to attention due to hostess as well as guest?
2. What should an intending visitor do first before startling on a visit to a friend?
3. How would you word such a letter of inquiry?
4. How would you explain a necessity for asking an intending visitor to postpone a contemplated visit?
5.What thing mentioned in this lesson is so disastrous to friendships?
6. When do you think you should, and when do you think you need not, meet a coming visitor at the railway station?
7. What is the first duty of the hostess on arrival of the guest?
8. What is the first duty of the guest on arrival?
9. What have you to say about a guest accommodating herself to the rules of the house she is visiting?
10. When is it the duty of the hostess to specially consider the conveniences of the guest?
11. What have you to say about promptitude in attending to meals, etc.?
12. What is your idea of attending to your chamber when you are a guest in the house of a friend? And when may you be exempt from such attention?
13. What have you to say about inviting persons to the house of a friend, when the person so invited is a stranger to your friend?
14. May any person at any time be properly invited to the house of a friend? If so, when and under what conditions?
15. What are the duties of a guest towards her hostess with respect to outside enjoyments and social pleasures?
16. What are the duties of the hostess towards her guest in a similar case?
17. What have you to say about the closing incidents and duties of a visit?
18. What should a guest do immediately on arrival at her own home?



  1. Pretty good rules to follow even today, though no doubt not well followed. I have had a few house guests. . .

    Comment by Eric Boysen — February 1, 2010 @ 7:33 am

  2. When I read a lesson, anywhere, that says “Don’t Do X,” I have to suppose that no matter how bizarre X is, the line was included because there were people who *did* do X. Typing this lesson reminded me of my mother once telling me about certain relatives who used to drop by her mother’s house (Grandma was almost the only sibling who lived in the city, which was a big draw to her country-dwelling siblings in the ’20s and ’30s) unannounced, and who would stay for indeterminate, usually lengthy, times, expecting to be waited on as if they were staying at a hotel and fed as if there were no Depression. I don’t know how Grandma finally cured her relatives of this bad habit — I suspect that Depression hunger probably forced her to be blunt — but this part of the YLMIA lessons rings true to me as something the girls were familiar with for which they needed a better, more courteous model.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 1, 2010 @ 9:30 am

  3. these guidelines could have been spoken by my mother to me virtually unchanged. i don’t know that visits longer than overnight were particularly common for us growing up in the last half of the 1900’s, but for the most part this is the way it was for us.

    i wonder when it was that young ladies no longer needed a chaperone to go out alone. it must have been right in this era somewhere.

    Comment by ellen — February 1, 2010 @ 7:58 pm

  4. The writer uses the subjunctive and modes so well. How far down the ladder we (with the exception of Ardis) have descended.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — February 2, 2010 @ 10:03 am

  5. One or two of the pieces in this set do talk about chaperones, ellen, but others concern women traveling alone — I think you’re right about this being the era for that change, with the expectation of chaperones being limited to activities like dancing and canyon outings where young people of both sexes were out and about together after dark. I haven’t identified any writer for these lessons (I actually think they were written by different women, due to some subject overlap and different writing styles), but the overall tone reminds me of Catherine Hurst of the Girl Query department, with the rules being generally common sense and hardly ever based on arbitrary, pro forma rules.

    You’re right, Stephen, I’m a sucker for the subjunctive!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 2, 2010 @ 11:34 am

  6. Timeless, but unfortunately not innate. If it were, we wouldn’t have to worry about an invitation for one turning into 12, or people randomly turning up on our doorsteps with train cases and rottweilers.

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — February 2, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

  7. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 2, 2010 @ 4:35 pm

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