How to Behave at a Hotel: Advice for the Single Woman in the 1860’s

Following in the footsteps of Monday’s post, once one’s trunk is properly packed, the next step is, of course, to travel.  And much like today’s journeys, overnight stays at a hotel were very common.  While it may not be all that usual for a woman to travel alone during the 1860’s, it was common enough that guidelines were suggested for a lady to follow to ensure a safe and proper trip.

“In America, where the mania for traveling extends through all classes, from the highest to the lowest, a few hints upon deportment at a hotel will not be amiss, and these hints are especially addressed to ladies traveling alone.

When you arrive at the hotel, enquire at once for the proprietor. Tell him your name and address, and ask him to conduct you to a good room, naming the length of time you purpose occupying it. You may also request him to wait upon you to the table, and allot you a seat. As the hours for meals, at a large hotel, are very numerous, it is best to mention the time when you wish to breakfast, dine, or sup. … Request one of the waiters always to meet you as you enter, and wait upon you to your seat. This saves the embarrassment of crossing the room entirely unattended, while it shows others that you are a resident at the house. The waiter will then take your order for the dishes you wish. Give this order in a low tone, and do not harass the man by contradicting yourself several times; decide what you want before you ask for it, and then give your order quietly but distinctly. Use, always, the butter-knife, salt-spoon, and sugar-tongs, though you may be entirely alone in the use of them. The attention to the small details of table etiquette is one of the surest marks of good breeding. If any trifling civility is offered by the gentleman beside you, or opposite to you, thank him civilly, if you either accept or decline it. Thank the waiter for any extra attention he may offer.

Remember that a lady-like deportment is always modest and quiet. If you meet a friend at table, and converse, let it be in a tone of voice sufficiently loud for him to hear, but not loud enough to reach ears for which the remarks are not intended. A boisterous, loud voice, loud laughter, and bold deportment, at a hotel, are sure signs of vulgar breeding.

When you have finished your meal, cross the room quietly; if you go into the parlor, do not attract attention by a hasty entrance, or forward manner, but take the seat you may select, quietly.

A lady’s dress, when alone at a hotel, should be of the most modest kind. At breakfast let her wear a close, morning dress, and never, even at supper, appear alone at the table with bare arms or neck. If she comes in late from the opera or a party, in full dress, she should not come into the supper-room, unless her escort accompanies her. A traveling or walking-dress can be worn with perfect propriety, at any meal at a hotel, as it is usually travelers who are the guests at the table.

After breakfast, pass an hour or two in the parlor, unless you are going out, whilst the chambermaid puts your room in order. You should, before leaving the room, lock your trunk, and be careful not to leave money or trinkets lying about. When you go out, lock your door, and give the key to the servant to hand to the clerk of the office, who will give it to you when you return.

If you see that another lady, though she may be an entire stranger, is losing her collar, or needs attention called to any disorder in her dress, speak to her in a low tone, and offer to assist her in remedying the difficulty.

Be careful always in opening a door or raising a window in a public parlor, that you are not incommoding any one else.

Never sit down to the piano uninvited, unless you are alone in the parlor. Do not take any book you may find in the room away from it.

It is best always to carry writing materials with you, but if this is not convenient, you can always obtain them at the office.

In a strange city it is best to provide yourself with a small map and guide book, that you may be able to find your way from the hotel to any given point, without troubling any one for directions.

If you wish for a carriage, ring, and let the waiter order one for you.

On leaving, ring, order your bill, pay it, state the time at which you wish to leave, and the train you will take to leave the city. Request a man to be sent, to carry your baggage to the hack; and if you require your next meal at an unusual hour, to be ready for your journey, order it then.”

As one can see, a little decorum and proper behavior will go miles in creating and maintaining a pleasant trip….no matter what year in which you travel!


Source: The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness: A Complete Hand Book for the Use of the Lady in Polite Society  by Florence Hartley, 1860

Hotel Cover


How to Pack a Trunk in 1870…

At some point in our lives we learn the best way to pack a suitcase.  Whether we learned it from a parent, an instructional tutorial, or through trial and error, efficiently packing a suitcase is a much desired skill that makes the difference between being prepared or being caught without some needed item.  When you take into account all the restrictions placed upon modern travelers, properly packing a suitcase is almost an art form in itself.

To learn how a woman in the 1870’s should pack for a journey, read on:

“To pack a trunk neatly, everything should be laid out in readiness, neatly folded and sorted, the light articles divided from the heavy ones, and a supply of towels and soft wrapping-paper at hand. Spread a thick, clean towel over the bottom of the trunk, and place upon it the hard, flat things, such as the portfolio, workbox, jewel-box, music books, writing-desk, and boxes; take care to fit them well together, so as to be level on top, filling in crevices with such small articles as will not be injured by compressment, as stockings, towels, or flannels….Never use newspapers in packing, as they will certainly ruin whatever clothing rubs against them.



An early Louis Vuitton trunk

In packing shoes , it is best to have a shoe-bag, or two pieces of calico bound together and divided into pockets, each large enough to hold one shoe.  Spread this flat over the bottom of the trunk, if there is room left by the flat, hard articles.



A trunk with an ironing board…brilliant!

Over this first layer spread another towel, and then put in your flannels, linens, such dresses and petticoats as will bear pressure, and any paper boxes for gloves, handkerchiefs, or perfumes.  On top of these put the more dressy petticoats, and handsome dresses, unless your trunk has a tray in the lid expressly for this purpose.  If the trunk has no bonnet-box, put your bandbox in near the top.  In the tray put collars, muslins, handkerchiefs, and a supply of writing paper, and envelopes, a box of sewing materials, your laces, ribbons, gloves, parasol-box, veils, and any light articles you may wish to carry.


An advertisement for a trunk with tray…

Under-clothing of all kinds will look much better at the end of a journey if folded instead of rolled, and will pack quite as easily.  Shawls, cloaks, sacques, and veils should be folded in their original folds before packing; gloves should be drawn out smooth and put in a glove-box.  Collars and cuffs must be lie in the tray or, better still, in a paper box.

Leave always room in your trunk for a bag to receive souled linen, if your journey is to be a long one.”

For a more modern take, why not check out this tutorial for packing a suitcase.

Happy Packing!



Source: The Art of Dressing Well: A Complete Guide to Economy, Style, and Propriety of Costume by Annie Frost (1870)