My 1903 edition of Twentieth Century Etiquette by Annie Randall White is falling apart — the pages are so fragile that the edges crumble when thumbing through the book — but I love it.
Partly because it may have the longest subtitle in all the land.
And the chapters range from “Graceful Development of the Body,” with subsections on overcoming imperfections and developing the chest, to “The Language of the Hand,” which is an entire chapter devoted to reading palms.
So we’re going to take a look at 1903 to put the etiquette advice in context.
Fun 1903 Historical Facts
- Theodore Roosevelt was the President of the United States but had no vice president from 1901-1905. (Roosevelt had been vice president but became president after President McKinley’s assassination.)
- An automobile traveled across the U.S. for the first time — from San Francisco to New York in 52 days.
- One of the first blockbuster films, The Great Train Robbery, was released. The silent film was one of the first to use editing and cost $150 to make.
- Coca-Cola replaced cocaine with caffeine to give drinkers a safer buzz. Also, less interestingly, Pepsi-Cola forms.
- The Teddy Bear is introduced.
- Pittsburgh plays Boston in the first modern World Series.
- Crayola crayons are released on the market. You get brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet and black for 5 cents.
- The Wright Brothers take the first flight.
Fashion of 1903 (ish)
I went with fashion of the decade here, so 1900-1909. We’re in Edwardian times.
We’ll start off with something pretty. Here we have a gown made of silk, metallic and glass (!). It’s French and was made some time between 1901–5 and is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This 1903 photo is thought to be of the first American fashion show ever. I’m willing to bet it was also the most boring American fashion show on record too. Why are they all wearing the same thing? And is the woman in the middle rolling her eyes?
Here’s a swimsuit of rubberized taffeta and silk applications, circa 1905. It looks like it was designed to drag you to a watery death.
And I don’t want to leave the men out, so here is an array of men’s fashion of the times. This one is dated 1908.
Weddings of 1903
Because weddings are a special interest of mine, they get a special section.
Here’s an awesome wedding photo of “a pretty poor Irish family,” according to the person who posted it, circa 1903 in Pittsburgh. The hats! OMG! I’m in love with them!
And here’s a fancy royal wedding gown worn by Queen Alice of Battenberg in 1903.
And a familiar face: Albert Einstein and his first wife Mileva Maric, married January 1903. Multiple images on Google search caption this their wedding photo. She was a physicist and met Einstein when they were both students at Zurich Polytechnic.
Other People of Note in 1903
Harry Houdini was a thing.
Marie Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1903. This is her Nobel Prize portrait. (Two female physicists in one post!)
And Cleo de Merode was a world-renowned French dancer, known even more for her glamour.
Etiquette of 1903
Now we return to my vintage etiquette book. I wonder if author Annie Randall White was unusual for her day. I was surprised to come across this quote in it.
“There is no gain-saying the fact that women from the moment they enter society until they depart from this ‘vale of tears’ are hemmed in and restrained, and if we may use the word, watched.”
Some heavy stuff there. It’s perhaps less surprising that a woman might think this in 1903 but more surprising that she would express it in print.
In truth, I thought there would be more examples of ridiculous advice than I found in my book, but most of it was pretty level-headed, though the lengthy chapter on palmistry is awfully odd. It contains this:
“Thick fingers, if short, indicate selfishness, especially if full at the base; they show, also, that the possessor has a fondness for eating and drinking.”
But then she says this, which seems very forward-thinking.
“It takes a very superior woman to be an old maid.”
So that’s 1903 in a very odd nutshell.
I might continue to do these peeks at a year. Got any year requests?
It's good etiquette to share what you like!