Bringing Zest to the Viands: Dinner Giving Advice & Etiquette from 1902

The Victorians had their love of family and chivalry and formal presentation. The Edwardians had their love of nature and get-togethers and burgeoning athleticism. Combine the best elements of those two eras for a dinner party and you get a cacophony of advice on how to throw (and attend) the most enjoyable evening of the year as deemed perfect in 1902.

It’s Thanksgiving week and kitchens are busy across the country as we cook and eat and celebrate the holiday with friends and family. Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we thought it would be fun to pull out the do’s and dont’s list of what was considered proper partying in the first few years of the 20th century to see just how many elements we have retained over the course of 115 years. It’s cliche to say that good manners never go out of style, but do they evolve to fit our modern lives or are we still putting our best Victorian/Edwardian foot forward when it comes to entertaining? In this post, we’ll discover how our ancestors prepared to feed a crowd, how they decorated their tables to reflect a festive atmosphere and how etiquette guided eaters through the event. Is it all that different from what we do today? You might be surprised by the list below. Let’s dive in and see…

Preparing turkey in a kitchen from long ago…

How to Throw A Successful Dinner Party circa 1902…

  1. Send your dinner party invitations by mail or personal messenger at least 10 days in advance. Sending via messenger is more ideal in order to ensure accurate delivery.
  2. Study your guest list. Seat opposites together…  talkers with listeners, strong opinionators with yielding dispositions, etc.
  3. Select a color scheme and harmonize everything on the table within that palette.
  4. Dishes with a background of white appeal to the eyes of all.
  5. Never starch your napkins.
  6. Each table setting requires four forks (placed on the left) and three knives (placed on the right) between each plate. Oyster forks begin the fork parade on the outside. Among the grouping of the three knives, steel knives for meat rest closest to the plate.  Napkins are placed directly in front of each guest and soup spoons lie next to each napkin.
  7. Individual salt, pepper and butter dishes should accompany each place setting.
  8. Ideal flower centerpieces include roses, lilies, carnations, lilacs, ferns and smilax which should be arranged in a low, flat edged cut glass bowl. If you are using roses in your bouquet scatter petals artistically around the table.
  9. Battenburg lace table clothes are the most ideal cloth covering but if you cant afford one- a simple doily style is recommended.
  10. Hang satin ribbons, bows and smilax from your chandelier for a visual effect of fresh, dainty beauty.
  11. Autumn leaves threaded on a string make an eye-catching border when tacked around the perimeter of the entire table.
  12. Any natural bit of vine found in season produces a wonderful opportunity to make a crown for every single guest. Autumn offers the chance to incorporate pumpkin vines in such a manner.
  13. Lighting should be kept to subdued shades. Use of colorful gas lamps and transparent globes produce a dreamland in the dining room.
  14. For a snowy table scene, dip evergreen fir branches in a weak solution of glue and roll in coarsely crushed alum to create an enchanting winter wonderland.
  15. If your dining room is not carpeted, use large rugs to deaden the sound of footsteps.
  16. Dinnertime is most commonly observed at 7:00pm.
  17. Dinner is announced just after the last guest arrives.
  18. It is recommended to have at least one servant available to attend to the needs of every six guests.
  19. Sideboards should be neatly stacked with all the pieces (dishes, cups, glasses, and flatware) needed for the entire meal so that when the servant staff (or hosts) are clearing dishes from a finished course they can easily access the appropriate dishes for the next course without causing undue chaos and uneccsary noise.
  20. Menu guidelines for a  traditional 11-course dinner party are as follows … FIRST COURSE: Contains oysters or littleneck clams. Oysters are only served in the months when the letter “R” occurs. SECOND COURSE: Contains soup along with crackers, bread or celery. Clear soups are most preferred. THIRD COURSE: Contains fish that is either boiled or fried and served alongside small boiled potatoes or radishes. FOURTH COURSE: Contains fancy main entrees that do not require carving. This course is served with bread and small garnishes like olives and nuts. FIFTH COURSE:  Features a roast of beef, veal, lamb, venison, turkey, goose or other wild game and is served alongside two vegetables. SIXTH COURSE: Contains punch or sherbert. SEVENTH COURSE: Features poultry such as chicken or pigeon. EIGHTH COURSE: Contains salad and cheese wafers. NINTH COURSE: Features dessert served either hot or cold like ice cream, pudding, cake etc. TENTH COURSE: Features fresh fruit and bonbons. ELEVENTH COURSE: Wraps the entire dinner up with coffee.
Roast Turkey from Woman’s Favorite Cook Book published in 1902

How to Master Good Manners at Table circa 1902 –

(As A Guest)

  1. Ladies always take their seats first.
  2. Do not overload your dinner plate.
  3. Never rise from your chair to reach anything, request what you need and then wait for it to be passed.
  4. Never eat anything with a spoon that can be eaten with a fork.
  5. Do not hesitate to take the last piece.
  6. Never overload your fork or spoon.
  7. In the case of restaurant or hotel dining, a lady always rises to greet another lady who has stopped to visit at the table, even though the visitor will not be eating with them.
  8. At the start of the meal, napkins should always be unfolded below the table.
  9. A gentleman folds his napkin in half and places it on his left knee.
  10. Never touch any part of your face with your napkin except your lips.
  11. If food is being carved at the table do not wait to begin eating until all the food is served.
  12. Spread soft cheese on a cracker with a knife. Eat hard cheese with your fingers.
  13. Do not break crackers or bread into your bowl of soup.
  14. If strawberries are served with stems intact, eat them with your fingers.
  15. Never touch potatoes with a knife except to butter them. Forks should be the only utensil involved when eating potatoes of any kind.
  16. Immediately pass anything that is requested (salt, butter, cream, etc) to your fellow tablemates.
  17. Do not refold your dinner napkin when you are through eating.
  18. Never talk with your mouth full and never leave the table with food in your mouth.
  19. Do not spread your elbows when cutting meat, keep them securely tucked at your side.
  20. Do not reach after a knife, fork or spoon that has dropped, instead, ask for another.
  21. When asked what cut of meat you would like answer promptly and confidently. Never leave it up to the host to consider your preference for you.
  22. Do not continue eating after passing a plate for a tablemate until that plate has been filled and returned back to the guest.
  23. Do not twist your feet around the legs of your chair.
  24. Never touch your face or head at the table.
  25. Never take a larger mouthful than will permit you to speak with ease.
  26. Never loll back in your chair or press forward against the table but sit upright to aid digestion and present yourself with controlled decorum.
  27. Never lift a glass by the rim. Goblets should be held by the stem and tumblers near the base.
  28. When addressing anyone at the table or asking for anything to be passed, mention the guest’s name to whom you speak.
  29. Do not leave the table until everyone has finished eating.
  30. When invited to a formal dinner party in which you have worn an evening dress and gloves, do not take your gloves off until you have been seated at the table.
  31. Guests who bring simple, homemade, monogrammed gifts are far more admired by hosts and hostesses than gifts that are expensive, elaborate or store-bought.
This is an Edwardian dinner party photograph from the early 1900s. Even though this is a Halloween photo you can see that they carried the theme in their decorations with a witch hanging from the chandelier, a hanging garland of fall leaves and a low floral centerpiece on the table.

(As a Host)

  1. First and foremost, as host, it is your job to ensure that every guest is well cared for and attended to at all points of the evening.
  2. After dinner has been announced at the start of the evening, the host leads the way to the table with the lady guest he wishes to honor. The hostess comes last with the gentleman guest she wishes to honor.
  3. Dinner plates should be arranged attractively. Any part of the meal that includes vinegar should be placed in its own separate bowl or plate. Bread should also be served on its own separate plate but beware of having too many plates on the table. Then it becomes cluttered and takes on the appearance of a boarding house-style meal.
  4.  The task of carving meat at the table is always conducted by the host. If no male host is present, then the hostess may carve the meat herself or select a gentleman guest to do so on her behalf.
  5. Ladies are always served before men.
  6. Do not ask anyone at the table whether they would like “more roast or more salad (or more of anything).”  Instead, ask them if they would like “some roast or some salad, etc” so as not to imply that they are eating too much or that excess effort is being put forth to serve them.
  7.  Never make introductions after the guests are seated. This should have already been done as each guest arrived for the evening before everyone proceeded to the dining room.
  8. Gentlemen who are remaining at the table for cigars following the meal should stand when the ladies rise and stay standing until they have all left the room.
  9. If all dinner guests are leaving the table at once, then ladies should group together and exit the dining room first.

We were surprised to see that so many commonsense manners from the list are still very much in play in regards to today’s table etiquette (is there even such a universal thing as this these days?!),  like serving women before men, not talking with your mouth full, and sitting up straight at the table. But some things seemed foreign like keeping your elbows tucked in when cutting meat, never using knives to cut a potato, tucking into your meal while food was still being carved and not being hesitant to take the last piece. And then there were the more curious bits like selecting guests to honor and escort into dinner and the situation with the ladies and their gloves.  Where did the gloves go once they were removed them at the table? In your lap? Under your chair? In your evening bag? Perhaps we need to re-watch a few episodes of Downton Abbey to see where Mary stored hers!

On the table decorating front it was also interesting to see how white-centered dishes are still popular as well as the notion of incorporating elements from nature into table centerpiece displays. But head garlands and chandelier decorating and extensive place settings are a less common sight these days. So many houses don’t even have dining rooms or chandeliers anymore. Head garlands are fun though – I could imagine that a table full of guests wearing beautiful wreaths of autumn leaves or pumpkin vines would lend a wonderfully theatrical sense of whimsy to the party.

I think having good manners is lovely. I also think in our busy modern lifestyle with so much interrupting us while we eat, it is easier to forget or fall out of the habit of eating deliberating with the company we are keeping. Good table manner etiquette hasn’t really changed all that much in one hundred years but our awareness of it has.

Sometimes, now it seems we pull out our best manners only on the holidays or when eating at a super expensive restaurant or a wedding reception or only when we are trying to impress someone. This is not to say that the majority of Americans now eat like animals at home, but its the fact that there is not as many people looking over our shoulders reminding us to tuck our elbows in or keep our napkins in our lap or to serve the ladies first.  In the Victorian and Edwardian days they had hours to enjoy a meal and socializing was treated like a cultural event that could be extended for days. Now we are not as indulgent with our time and focus more on quick preparations and easy recipes so that we can eat fast in order to get onto the next event or activity filling up our busy schedules.

In 2018 one of our goals in the Vintage Kitchen is to slow down dinner time (at least a few nights a week), so that we can sit down and have a conversation with our dinner mates free of phones and screens and television and outside distractions. Perhaps that will help us practice and keep good manners so that mealtime will feel a bit more decadent in the leisure department and more fulfilling on the socialization front. What do you think dear readers about this topic of manners? Do you employ them at home? Were you surprised by this list? Do you think there is still a place for them in our modern landscape? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

In the meantime, hope your kitchen is full of good food and good friends in the days leading up to Thanksgiving! Cheers to all you, ladies and gentlemen!



News of Titanic: Six Faces Behind A Historic Event

One of the things that Ms. Jeannie appreciates most about antique items is there ability to hold up.

Maybe it’s because we live in such a throwaway society now, where things are made flimsier and not meant to withstand decades upon decades of use. But antique items were built to last. Generally she finds them to be more sturdy, more durable or perhaps it could be that they were just better taken care of.

Just this week, Ms. Jeannie added two paper items to her shop, which are both around the 100 year age mark…

Early 1900’s Lowney’s Chocolate and Bonbons Paper Box
Original May 3rd, 1912 Virginian Pilot Newspaper

These two are  just amazing to Ms. Jeannie… century old paper that is still usable in one form or fashion today!

Let’s take a closer look at the newspaper. Fascinating on many different levels but possibly most enjoyably relevant  now that we are coming up on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic on April 14th, 2012. This newspaper edition came out just 3 weeks following the epic diseaster. Having never learned about the Titanic in school,  Ms. Jeannie gained knowledge of the event, primarily from two cultural arts experiences.

The first was a play, called the Unsinkable Molly Brown…

The Unsinkable Molly Brown Broadway play poster

And the second was, of course, the movie starring Leo & Kate. Somewhat sheepishly, Ms. Jeannie admits to seeing this movie five times in the theater.

One of Ms. Jeannie’s favorite scenes from the movie.

Each time, she enjoyed it for something different… the costumes, the acting, the history, the romance, the weight of the drama. But let’s face it, Ms. Jeannie is a loyal romantic and when something moves her… she’s committed.

Years following the movie, Ms. Jeannie attended a lecture at her local library presented by one of the divers who helped unearth Titanic artifacts from the ocean floor. The artifacts went on tour as part of the  traveling Titanic exhibit.

In the lecture, the diver talked about the physical aspects of the job…the long hours…the tedious technical process… the beaurocratic red tape that had to be sorted through just in order to be able to dive)… the excitement of meeting and working with James Cameron…and the vast amount of state of the art equipment they were able to use to explore the site.

He also discussed the emotional impact the dive had on him. The most surprising aspect for him was the amount of shoes that he saw down there in the sand.  Hundreds upon hundreds. Mens, womens, childrens. Party shoes, work books, slippers. These turned out to be taboo items. It was agreed by all parties involved, that the shoes should remain at the bottom of the ocean. Somehow they seemed too personal, too human, to bring to light again.

After the lecture, Ms. Jeannie dove  into lots of research regarding Titanic, learning the whole story from construction to destruction. Having been on one luxury cruise liner as a teenager, herself (The Queen Elizabeth 2, which also sailed from New York to Southampton, England) Ms. Jeannie could really understand the excitement behind the whole cruise experience. The QE2 was  not quite as opulent as Titanic, but it was a pretty luxurious experience all the same.

The Queen Elizabeth 2, considered to be one of the last great transatlantic ocean liners.

It was one thing to read about the Titanic as an event that happened in the past, with the ability afforded of 100 years of condensed research. But it is something entirely different to read about the events surrounding Titanic as they were occuring.

The articles from Ms. Jeannie’s original Virginian Pilot newspaper add a personal glimpse of the aftermath as events were unfolding.  In this edition, light is shed on the lives of six people involved with Titanic that rarely get mentioned, with the exception of one,  in regular news features.

There are primarily five articles that reference the Titanic in this edition, which was published, May 3rd, 1912,  just three weeks after the sinking.

Two articles appear on the front page. The first one is in relation to a memorial service for Major Archibald Butt that was attended by President Taft.

President William Taft

Archibald Butt (1865-1912) was a military aide to both President Taft and Theodore Roosevelt.

Major Archibald Butt

He also held a career in journalism and was in the Spanish American War. He died on the Titanic at the age of 46, along with his partner, painter Frances Davis Millet.

Francis Davis Millet

Francis’ body was recovered from the wreck site but Archibald’s never was.  In 1913, a memorial fountain was constructed for both Francis and Archibald in President’s Park, the gardens that surround the White House.

The article in the newspaper…

THERE WERE TEARS IN TAFT’S EYES AS HE PAID TRIBUTE TO MAJ. BUTT                                                                      Guest of Honor at Augusta on Occasion of City’s Memorial Service to Memory of Victim of the Titanic Disaster 

Self Sacrifice A Part of His Nature

Augusta, Ga., May 2 – Coming as a friend to pay tribute to the memory of a friend President Taft spent today in Augusta as the guest of honor for the occassion of the city’s memorial service to the memory of Major Archibald Butt, one of the victims of the Titanic diseaster of April 14.

The memorial services were followed by an informal reception at the commercial club, where Taft met many of his old friends and afterward the President was entertained at the home of Landon Thomas. He left on his return to Washington at 3:50 p.m.

Tears in His Eyes

The President was  visibly affected by the tributes paid to Major Butt. There were tears in his eyes as he called upon memories of the man who was his aide ever since he entered the White House and who had traveled thousands of miles with him.

Mr. Taft made only a short speech but he came near breaking down twice. ‘Never did I know how much he was to me until he was dead,” said the President. “Lacking nothing of self – respect and giving up nothing he owed to himself, he conducted himself with a singleness of purpose and to the happiness and comfort of the President who was his chief. To many fine qualities he added loyalty and when he became one of my famoily (typo) he was as a son or brother.”

Why He Never Married

Mr. Taft told how he met Major Butt, first in the Phillipines and later as aide to President Roosevelt. He dwelt on Maj. Butt’s devotion to Mr. (frayed edges along the fold marks make this part of the article difficult to read)…

…President “that Archie never married because he loved his mother so. The greatest sorrow of his life was when she left him.”

Mr. Taft concluded with a word more as to Mr. Butt’s spirit of  self-sacrifice. “Self sacrifice,” he said “had become part of his nature. If Archie could have selected his time to die he would have selected the one God gave him.”

The second mention of Titanic…  a photo, clip and article about Guglielmo Marconi,  the inventor of the of the wireless telegraph used to transmit messages from the Carpathia regarding the details of the Titanic sinking.

Guglielmo Marconi

Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) was an Italian born inventor and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics. In 1897, he founded the Wireless Telephone and Signal Company, (later renamed Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company) which set off a string of events that led to his pivotal connection with Titanic.  It was his wireless telegraph system that allowed for outbound ship communication to land-based wireless stations. Also, it was his Marconi employees that operated the radio equipment aboard Titanic and his equipment that sent the distress signals.

Underneath his picture in the newspaper, begins the following caption:

“G. Marconi, the noted wireless telegraphy inventor. He posed for the above photograph just before sailing for Europe  on the Kaiser Wilhelm III., after having testified before the Senatorial Committee regarding the conduct of the Marconi wireless stations during the attempts that were made to secure definite information from the rescue ship Carpathia regarding the details of the Titanic tragedy…” This caption is followed by an in-depth article of speculation surrounding Marconi’s involvement in the distress messages sent from the ship.

To read Marconi’s full testimony before the United States Senate, along with other key characters, visit the fascinating Titanic Inquiry Project here

A third article on the front page (tied into the senate hearing details surrounding Marconi) titled “The Search for Bodies Abandoned at Present”  details how the  Western Union Cable ship, Minia,  would be returning to Halifax with 15 bodies after searching the waters around Titanic.

Western Union Cable Steamer, Minia. photo courtesy of

Here is the article in full:

THE SEARCH FOR BODIES ABANDONED FOR PRESENT                     Minia En Route to Halifax with Fifteen of Dead — New York Investigation Yesterday Failed to Reveal New Facts

New York, May 2 – The Western Union cable steamer Minia which has been searching the scene of the Titanic wreck for bodies is returning to Halifax with 15 bodies and will dock Monday, according to a wireless message received here this afternoon by the White Star Line. This means, officials of the line state, that the search for bodies has been abandoned for the present and may be postponed indefinietly.

The message states that the Minia found the bodies widely scattered over a great area, so that search became daily more difficult.

Most of the bodies now on the Minia it is believed are those of members of the Titanic’s crew.

Seven dead bodies buoyed up by life belts together with parts of the wreckage of the Titanic were passed on April 26 in latitude 41.13 and longitude 49.34 by the steamer Gibraltar, which arrived today from Middlesboro.  When the bodies were sighted the Gibraltor was stopped but no signs of a living person could be seen and the steamer proceeded.

May Abandon Search

Halifax, N.S.,  – May 2 – White Star Line officials here had a lengthy conference today with Captain Lardner of the Mackey-Bennett, discussing the utility of a proposal  to send out a third steamer, the Seal, to search for further bodies of  Titanic victims.  Captain Lardner expressed the conviction that it would not be possible to find any more. The idea, it is likely, will be abandoned.

The bodies of the fifty-nine unidentified victims, seven of them women will be buried tomorrow. Fifty-six will be placed in one common grave in Fair View cemetery and three, who were Catholics, will be interred in Mount Olivet.  Twenty-seven have been shipped to friends. Eleven more will go tomorrow.  This will leave ninety-three bodies still at the morgue, claims for which a majority of which have been sent in.  Some of these will likely be buried in Halifax.

At the funeral services tomorrow 100 seamen from the Niobe will assist in the services.

Here is a photo of Captain Lardner and his crew…

Captain Lardner is in the second row, third from the left. Photo courtesy of

According to an interior article in the newspaper, funeral arrangements were also being made for John Jacob Astor who was the wealthiest person on the Titanic to perish. His body was recovered on April 22nd,  by the Mackey-Bennettt crew.  His pregnant wife, Madeleine survived.

John Jacob Astor IV (1864-1912)
Madeleine Astor (1893-1940)

From the newspaper…


Rhinebeck, N.Y. , May 2 – The body of Colonel John Jacob Astor arrived at Ferncliffe, the Astor estate near this village, this afternoon and funeral services will be held here from the Church of the Messiah of which Colonel Astor was a warden, at 12′ o’clock Saturday.

Every f lag in the village was at half mast, when the body arrived, accompanied by Vincent Astor. The services will be conducted by the Rev. Ernest Saunders, pastor of the Church. A special train will bring a large funeral party from New York.

Ferncliffe, later renamed Astor Courts. Photo courtesy of

On a side note, Astor Courts, was the venue for Chelsea Clinton’s recent wedding.

Underneath Astor’s funeral notice is a photo of Natalie Harris Hammond, wife of John Jays Hammond, who was a prominent mining engineer, diplomat and philanthropist. Natalie was appointed secretary of the  committee of prominent capital women organized to raise funds for a Titanic memorial.

Natalie Harris Hammond, wife of John Jay Hammond

Not much is written about Natalie Harris Hammond, except what Ms. Jeannie found in the newspaper above. There was a monument erected in 1931 in honor of the men who gave their lives so that women and children could escape in lifeboats, but there is no specific mention of Natalie Harris Hammond’s name in association with the sculpture or memorial. Most likely this is the cause that Natalie was appointed to. The memorial was made possible through donations given by women across the country, usually in small denominations, $1.00 or $2.00 at a time.

Here’s a photo of the memorial, which was designed by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and sculpted by John Harrigan.

Women’s Titanic Memorial in Washington DC made possible by the Women’s Titanic Memorial Association

It is lovely to see how just a little bits of contribution can turn into something remarkable.

The last mention of Titanic in this newspaper edition is that of Mrs. Louise Robins, wife of Victor Robins who was manservant to John Jacob Astor aboard Titanic.

From the paper:


New York, May 2 – Papers in the first suit for damages brough (typo) by a relative of a Titanic victim were filed in the Federal District Court here today. The suit, in admiralty, is brought by Mrs. Louise Robins, a widow of Victor Robins, Col. John Jacob Astor’s valet, and is the suit in which the testimony of J. Bruce Ismay and officers of the sunken steamer is desired. It charges negligence on the part of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company and asks for $50,000 damages and costs.

Ms. Jeannie couldn’t find any follow-up info on this lawsuit, but she is still searching. .. if anyone has any info they would like to provide, please send it along!

If you would like to purchase Ms. Jeannie’s original May 3rd, 1912 Virginian Pilot newspaper, and read all these above mentioned articles in person, you can do so by clicking on the picture below…

Original May 3rd, 1912 Virginian Pilot Newspaper