The custom of ladies paying calls on their neighbors and friends was an important and structured part of upper-class society in the late 19th century. Frances Glessner received on Tuesday afternoons and an interesting (undated) article from the Sunday Herald sheds light on how the custom was observed at 1800 South Prairie Avenue.
Entitled “The Etiquette of Calls,” the article provides useful information on the proper conduct during a call, the appropriate length of the call, and what information should be included on a calling card. Regarding the card, the article advises:
“The size of a woman’s card should be about 2 inches long by 2-3/4 inches wide. There is no good reason for varying from this defined size, even when a woman is married. Her husband’s card should, however, be considerably smaller, and engraved merely with his name. The street and number of a woman’s residence should be placed in the lower right-hand corner of her card, the left being reserved for her reception day. In thus announcing the day, a common error is very generally committed, even by women whose social position ought to make such a mistake impossible. If the reception day is Wednesday, then ‘Wednesdays’ is all that should appear on the card. To add ‘From 3 to 6,’ is to insult the intelligence of possible visitors who are supposed to know they should never make a formal call before the first or after the last named hour.”
Frances Glessner, Bertha Palmer, and Emily MacVeagh were singled out in the article as providing the finest “at home” days, and here we learn a bit about what a visitor might expect when stepping through the front door of the Glessner house:
“There are three houses in Chicago where the ‘at home’ days are observed with the utmost elegance and perfection of style. These are Mrs. Glessner’s, on the south side; Mrs. Potter Palmer’s and Mrs. Franklin MacVeagh’s, on the Lake Shore drive.
“At Mrs. Glessner’s it requires three men to bring a visitor in safely and with propriety into the drawing-room. One opens the door of the handsome house, one is stationed at the head of the short staircase leading to the reception-room. To him the visitor’s card is delivered, and he whispers the name to a third functionary who announces it to his mistress.
“The rest of the visit is most ample and informal. The hostess is always simply and quietly dressed, the tea table is small and low, with the cups and saucers and tea things daintily spread out on it. Mrs. Glessner usually receives in the music-room, the wood work of which is dark, the furnishings all in the heavier colorings. The fireplace, finished in dark wood, is large and cheery-looking. A grand piano, pictures and flowers, give the apartment a general air of comfort and solidity. All that is served at her tea table is a cup of fragrant tea.”