Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Proprieties and Usages of Good Society — Lesson VIII. Proper Street Deportment

Proprieties and Usages of Good Society — Lesson VIII. Proper Street Deportment

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 31, 2010

VII. Table Manners
IX. Shopping

VIII. Proper Street Deportment

It is the constant boast of missionaries and other travelers from this people that there are no girls so bright, so beautiful and so superior in many ways as are the daughters of the Latter-day Saints. But there is one defect we must guard against, for it spoils the most beautiful face or mars the finest character; it is the lack of good breeding, or the failure to observe the small, delicate points of behavior which mark the lady.

Gentle, lady-like manners are easily acquired, and it was a favorite saying with Sister Eliza R. Snow, quoted, we believe, from the Prophet Joseph Smith, that any man or woman who had the Spirit of the Lord is refining and beautifying to the extent that we will permit it to operate upon ourselves.

Let us inquire somewhat into the proper conduct of our young girls upon the street, premising our lesson by saying that there is no intention to rob our vivacious girls of their frank spontaneity nor of their girlish innocence and charm of manner; but the place for fun and frolic, noisy chatter and gay behavior is certainly not upon the street. At home the girl may be as frolicsome as she pleases; but in the street reasonable people require that she shall be modest and quiet, and especially must she talk in the low tone of voice which good breeding demands of women in public places. Observe, if you will, a lady who has attracted your attention as possessing elegant manners, and you will see that her behavior on the street is decorous and modest in the extreme.

No matter what fashion may dictate, it is considered bad taste to wear any article of clothing specially conspicuous on the street. At theatres and in carriages more elaborate costumes may be worn without comment.

Dark dresses, escaping the ground, with neatly fastened shoes, well blacked, if they are not new, a dark cloth jacket or wrap, and a modest little walking hat, are the proper items for a lady’s business and morning street costume. Gloves are worn by all fashionable ladies; but the economical woman suits them to her costume, and does not wear new, glossy kid gloves with a shabby dress, nor old gloves with a new and dainty costume.

It should be unnecessary to say that gloves in which the fingers have all come unsewn should not be worn on any occasion until they have been mended. Many eastern travelers as well as European ladies, wear strong, well made lisle thread gloves for ordinary street use.

Shoes with high French heels have no place on the street; certainly they are not to be worn by any girl who cares for her health or her future well being.

And now, when a girl is properly dressed, making sure that there are no gaps in the back of her skirt nor between her waist and belt line, that her collar is properly adjusted at the back, and that her appearance behind is as attractive as the front of her costume, let her go forth upon the street, not putting on her gloves as she walks, but having adjusted them in her own room before starting out. Would it were possible to persuade our girls to think much and often about the carriage of their bodies. Head erect, chest forward, well over the toes, and hips back, is the proper standing position for any girl to take. A slouching ungainly gait not only annoys and disgusts the onlooker, but it also has a very deleterious effect upon the girl herself. The pace should never be too rapid nor too slow. ‘The ball of the foot, and not the heel, should strike the ground first. As a rule the lady takes the inside of the sidewalk.

If there is a crowd upon the street, follow the line of march taken by those who are going in the same direction as yourself. Above all things do not ogle, or stare, or wink at men you may meet or pass upon the street. A rapid glance will convince you at once whether you know a gentleman who is approaching or not, and if you do not know him, turn your head resolutely away and do not exchange glances in any way with strange men. If girls could hear the remarks made by strange men, many of them drummers for business houses east and west, they would shrink with horror from giving an opportunity for such men to speak lightly of the daughters of Zion, and their behavior.

Desirable acquaintances are never made upon the street, in chance ways or in some forsaken walk; novels and romances to the contrary notwithstanding.

The girl who has been properly trained to seek the Lord for her future companion in life, will not be found walking upon the street winking at strange men nor trying to attract their attention in any way.

Another bad practice among young girls is to gather in little groups laughing and talking loudly and boisterously, nodding and glancing at every one who may pass their way. In a small country town, where there are few strangers, or none, no especial harm might come of girls gathering in innocent groups and standing temporarily upon the street, though it is not to be recommended even there.

Avoid loud talking and laughing upon the street under every condition and circumstance. Certainly no young lady would be guilty of shouting across the street, snapping her fingers, helloing or making any other noise to attract the attention of some one over the way or at some distance from her.

Introductions are sometimes made on the street, but they are not good form as a rule. If your companion stops to speak to an acquaintance, walk slowly on till she joins you or stop at some shop-window while she is talking to her friend. Should it be necessary to make an introduction on the street, the same rule would hold good as in any other introduction – the gentleman is always introduced to the lady, and the younger person to the elder. A simple formula is, “Mrs. Smith, let me introduce my friend, Miss Jones,” or “Miss Brown, may I have the pleasure of introducing Mr. Harvey.” It is still allowable to shake hands on an introduction, although the offer to do so should come from the elder lady to the younger or from the lady to the gentleman, never vice versa.

The necessity of being quiet and good-natured is intensified greatly when in a crowd. It is better to sacrifice a seat or a good place in a public gathering than to rudely crowd and jostle people in trying to secure your coveted seat. Better be a lady than to be comfortable, would be a proper maxim here. If you are a lady you are nearly sure to get a seat. It is the rude, boisterous, crowding woman to whom men dislike to relinquish their seats or places. By the way – do not expect everything on earth simply because you are a woman.

If you have made an undesirable acquaintance, in a ball room or at any other promiscuous gathering, you are at perfect liberty to cut such acquaintance, for cause, by quietly refusing to acknowledge the person when next you meet on the street. To look a person straight in the eye without a bow or formal sign of recognition is spoken of as the “cut direct,” and this is almost the only weapon a woman has to rid herself of undesirable acquaintances. It is always a woman’s place to speak first to a gentleman, and if he is a gentleman he will certainly wait for her to do so. Speaking about this, though, reminds one of the busy, absent-minded people whose minds are working out some problem or fashioning some story mentally while they are walking upon the street. Such students are often forgetful, and sometimes near sighted, and pass their friends by without a sign of recognition. Be charitable to such, for no offense is intended, either, if a notable or a prominent person, who may have been introduced to you, forgets to recognize you. Or if Brethren and Sisters, who travel all over the State, meeting many hundreds of people, should fail to recognize you after they have met you; remember that it would be impossible for them to recollect all the people they meet. If you wish to retain the acquaintance of such persons, go up and speak to them, telling them where they met you and who you are. Even a young girl may do this with an older woman or with some man of prominence and age.

Some women who have very good manners in other places, forget them when they enter a street car. No man on a car is obliged to get up and give a lady a seat – he has paid for his seat and he is perfectly justified in retaining it; therefore, if he should show you the courtesy of resigning his seat to you, the least you can do is to say “Thank you,” and in a sufficiently audible tone of voice for him to hear you. The curt form of “thanks” is not only bad English, but bad form: “I thank you,” is the correct and suitable form in which to express your gratitude. It is unladylike to talk loud upon street-cars, or to make much of an effort to attract the attention of a chance friend who may be across the way. It is exceedingly rude to enter into conversation with the conductor, or anybody else, as to your own business affairs. Even if a conductor be an acquaintance, it is against the rules of the company for him to talk with the passengers, excepting such conversation as is necessary to give them information, which he is always bound to do. It is not only rude, it is dishonest, to try to pass outlawed transfers, or in any way defraud the company out of your fare. If the conductor should happen to forget to put you off at the place where you ask to be set down, do not get angry and scold – he is only mortal, and cannot always remember everybody’s direction. Likewise, if you should happen to be carried past your destination inadvertently, keep your temper and be a lady. The friction of getting angry will cost you more in effort than would the extra block’s walk.

In riding in carriages and buggies upon the street, if you are driving yourself, you will know, of course, that you are always to turn to the right, that is in this country – in England, the rule is “Keep to the left.” You will also know that foot passengers have the right-of-way, always, everywhere. If a foot passenger saunters slowly across the road while you are waiting to get across with your restive horse, remember that he is at perfect liberty to do so, and you only show bad manners if you exhibit resentment for it. If you want to drive fast horses or run races, go out onto the race-track, where such exhibitions belong. It is optional with a lady, when she is driving, whether she will speak to foot-passengers or not, as it is also with a gentleman. No offense is taken if you fail to recognize your friends when you are out driving, for your attention is necessarily diverted in other ways.

Above all things, remember to be quiet, modest and civil, while you are out upon the street, whether walking or driving.


1. What is the boast of missionaries and travelers from the Latter-day Saints?
2. Why is this boast not an idle one? But what detracts from its full force?
3. What do you think of a young lady who is rude and boisterous on the street?
4. What is the difference between vivacity and boisterousness?
5. How should street and walking costumes be characterized?
6. What do you think about wearing new gloves with a shabby costume; or a dainty dress with soiled and ragged gloves?
7. What can you say about high-heeled shoes?
8. What should be the carriage of the body while walking?
9. How should you conduct yourself when on a crowded street? At other times? Is there any difference; if so, what is it?
10. What can you say about flirtation? What objection is there, or what danger?
11. What can you say about girls congregating in groups on street corners, laughing and talking boisterously?
12. Is it ever admissible for a well-bred young lady to talk and laugh loudly on the street?
13. What can you say about street introductions?
14. What should be your conduct in a public place? What about trying to secure a good seat or a good place then?
15. How should you act on a street-car? what do you think about gentlemen resigning their seats to ladies on a car?
16. How would you act towards a g34ntleman whom you had met, but did not wish to know further?
17. What is the “cut direct”? Why is it so powerful a weapon in the hands of a woman?
18. What about busy, absent-minded people? When may a young girl properly speak to a gentleman who has not recognized her?
19. What about riding on cars without paying?
20. What of driving?



  1. “What can you say about flirtation?” Quite a bit, but I’ll refrain from saying it here…

    There’s almost too much in this essay to choose one or two things to comment upon. But the thing which really caught my eye was the statement:

    By the way – do not expect everything on earth simply because you are a woman.

    This was in the days before women’s suffrage, before equitable laws on women’s property, before equitable laws on employment and family rights. Women in Utah tended to be more politically progressive than other groups in the United States, so is it too much of a stretch to read this as an anti-suffrage statement?

    Comment by Researcher — March 31, 2010 @ 7:23 am

  2. Better be a lady than to be comfortable

    I’m more glad than ever before that I was born in the 20th century after reading that statement!

    The explanation of “cutting” is new to me, and certainly illuminates some of the books I read as a child, such as the Susan Coolidge ones. Fascinating stuff, Ardis, an excellent insight into a bygone age.

    Comment by Alison — March 31, 2010 @ 9:52 am

  3. the constant boast of missionaries…
    I didn’t realize missionaries used LDS women as a talking point in conversation. Is there any examples of this in contemporary accounts?

    Comment by Caroline Sturdy — March 31, 2010 @ 10:42 am

  4. I’ve seen two classes of missionary behavior that might support this claim, Caroline, although I haven’t taken notes that would allow me to give you specific citations.

    The first is that missionaries from before and after this period were encouraged to take photographs of their families with them to show to contacts in their missions as evidence that they were family men, not men on the prowl for girls to capture and take back to Utah harems, as the charges so frequently ran. Bruce Crow at Amateur Mormon Historian recently posted an example of just such a photo with a granddaughter’s explanation as to why Elder Hickenlooper carried that photo. Human nature — and homesickness — being the same then as now, I suspect that there were a lot of comments from the missionaries about how beautiful their sisters and wives and mothers were whenever those photos came out.

    The second class of activity would be references in missionary letters published in the Millennial Star and Liahona, and in the Church News, to public lectures elders had given concerning the women of Utah, designed to counteract reports that women were enslaved, downtrodden, and ignorant. Such lectures referenced (depending on era) the Relief Society program, women doctors, the nurses’ training program, the “indignation meetings” of a generation before this 1902 deportment lesson where women gathered by the hundreds and sometimes thousands to defend their way of family life. Again, human nature being what it is, I’m sure there were many references in those lectures to the fine qualities of the Latter-day Saint girls.

    I’ll have to watch for and collect some of those statements for a possible future post. I’m sorry that I can’t point you to any particular source at the moment.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 31, 2010 @ 11:20 am

  5. Oh, this is great! I love this series.

    Like Researcher says, there are too many things where I could comment. However, I would never be able to be an example of the way to walk:

    The pace should never be too rapid nor too slow. ‘The ball of the foot, and not the heel, should strike the ground first.

    I have always been a very fast walker. I guess that if I put the ball of my foot down first, instead of my heel, I could learn how to slow down.

    Comment by Maurine — March 31, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

  6. Most missionary diaries I have read of the period spoke highly of their wives, Elder Hickenlooper is only one example.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — March 31, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

  7. Missionaries still do the photo thing except these days the companion is more likely to say ‘dude your sister is hot!’ which may well be the modern equivalent?

    Comment by Anne (UK) — April 1, 2010 @ 4:49 am

  8. The girl who has been properly trained to seek the Lord for her future companion in life, will not be found walking upon the street winking at strange men nor trying to attract their attention in any way.

    That paints a fantastic mental image. Aren’t we counseled against that same sort of permissiveness in For The Strength of Youth and in General Conference? Don’t wink online to skeevy strangers.

    Comment by MarenM — April 10, 2010 @ 8:11 pm

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