Jan 16th Friday Made the bed in the front chamber and
put the room in order swept the stairs &c &c
worked on Susans morino hood Mrs Wm Reed &
Mrs Hall called Augusta & Edwin here to tea and
spent most of the evening Edwin put the casters
on my hourglass table and I nearly finished putting
on the cover Mrs S Ames called a few moments.
In between the day’s activities of choring, sewing and finishing up a project for newlyweds Edwin and Augusta Gilmore, Evelina received several callers, including Abigail Reed, wife of the elderly William Reed, and a Mrs. Hall. Evelina had called on Mrs Reed the day before; Mrs Reed returned the courtesy today. Paying calls was an intrinsic part of social life in the nineteenth century, especially among women and especially in cities, but also in smaller country towns such as Easton. Social exchange, which in the country had been a somewhat relaxed occurrence based on an informal combination of need, opportunity and desire, was becoming ritualized.
As of 1850, social visits were beginning to follow a proscribed pattern, like the one described in The Art of Pleasing,* written about this time. On the topic of “Receiving Visitors”:
“To receive visitors with ease and elegance, and in such a manner that everything in you, and about you, shall partake of propriety and grace, – to endeavor that people may always be satisfied when they leave you, and be desirous to come again, – such are the obligations of the master, and especially of the mistress of a house.
“Everything in the house ought, as far as possible, to offer comfort and grace. Perfect, exquisite neatness and elegance, which easily dispense with being sumptuous, ought to mark the entrance of the house, the furniture, and the dress of the lady.”
In a cautionary paragraph, the author goes on to advise against sewing when company calls: “If a lady who receives a half ceremonious visit is sewing, she ought to leave off immediately, and not resume it except at the request of the visitor.” That stricture may have been a difficult one for Evelina to follow, given how incessantly she sewed. But she and her sisters-in-law would have striven to be au courant with the etiquette of the day.
Before many more years went by, the phenomena of calling cards would be introduced, creating “an increasingly complex etiquette which determined the length and frequency of calls, whether a call should be returned or not and the sorts of people to whom a family was, or was not, ‘at home.’ Families connected by kinship, business and politics interchanged calls and invitations, but ranked and classified their acquaintances in ever more precise grades of social acceptability.”** These new rules would apply particularly to the next generation of Ameses.
* H. M. Rulison, The Art of Pleasing, Cincinnati, 1853, pp. 27-28
** Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1988, p. 265