Manners For Women

Part One--As a Single Woman

by Michelle J. Hoppe 

It matters not whether a lady has a title in order to be called a gentlewoman.  

Rather, a lady is identified by her behavior.  Manners are a compound of spirit and form, and should be part of the education of every person of whatever calling or station in life.  They know no social boundaries.  True courtesy is the basis of all social conduct and can be learned by all.  "Kindness of heart, of nobleness and of courage it true politeness of manner."

So what, then is a gentlewoman? And how does this translate into manners? Let's start at the beginning....


A girl learns proper manners early on.  The list is endless, from how and when to curtsey, to how to laugh.  The laugh, like one's voice, is a test of good breeding and cultivation.  It expresses refinement in its intonation. A lady's laugh should be short and unassuming.

Young ladies should also learn to cultivate their memories and learn to express themselves freely so as to be able to converse well.  


General Appearance

Here are just a few of the things a lady must keep in mind:

  • In walking, a woman's feet should be moderately turned out, the steps should be equal, firm and light.  She should avoid a rapid pace, just as she should avoid a slow gait.  And never should she shake from side to side when she walks.
  • Proper young ladies do not indulge in cosmetics, hair-dyes or other forms of insincerity in personal appearance.  
  • Ladies do not wear pearls or diamonds in the morning.


An unmarried young woman, up to the age of thirty, must always accompanied by a chaperone when she goes out.  This is to ensure that she is innocent, and to compel others to respect her innocence.  It is the chaperone's duty to investigate the background and social standing of bachelors who come into the girl's orbit and keep at bay those who do not pass muster.

Who could chaperone?  Only married women could act as chaperones.  An unmarried woman could not be alone in a room with a male visitor, even in her own home.  Nor could she go anywhere with a man to whom she was not related unless a married gentlewoman or servant accompanied her. The only possible exception to act as chaperone was a governess who, being of genteel birth, was known to be respectable, but represented no matrimonial competition because of her lowly status.


A lady should always grant permission for an introduction, unless there is a strong reason for refusing.  

When a lady is introduced to a gentleman, she should bow but not give her hand, unless the gentleman is a well-known friend of some member of the family.  She may do so as a mark of esteem or respect.  A gentleman must not offer to shake hands with a lady until she has made the first movement.

The kiss is the most affectionate form of salutation, but is only proper among near relations and dear friends.  It is given on the cheeks or forehead, and rarely in the public eye.  

Paying Calls

Under no circumstances could a lady call on a gentleman alone unless she is consulting that gentleman on a professional or business matter.

At the beginning of the Victorian Era, so long as a girl was unmarried and living at home, she had no separate visiting card.  This changed by the end of the century.  Should she have no mother, the card would bear her own name, along with her sisters if she has some.  If a female chaperone is in residence, this woman's name would appear above the girl's name on the card.


A good talker should be possessed of much general information, acquired by keen observation, attentive listening, a good memory, and logical habits of thought.   Simplicity and terseness are characteristics of a well-educated lady.  She never uses vulgarisms, flippancy, coarseness, triviality or provocation in her speech.  Scandal is the least excusable of all conversational vulgarities.

A lady is sympathetic, unselfish and animating in her listening.  To show any interest in the immediate concerns of people is very complimentary.  She must maintain cheerful conversation.  Religion and politics should never be introduced into conversation, for they are dangerous subjects to harmony.

In addressing persons with titles, always add the name, as in 'Dr. Smith,' never merely 'Doctor.'  Use the Christian name only for those who are relations or intimate friends.  A lady never interrupts the speech of others, nor does she discuss private matters in public.  

A lady avoids all exhibitions of temper before others.  Whether grief or joy, emotions should be subdued in public and only allowed full play in private apartments.

Dinner Parties and Receptions

In a private dance, a lady cannot refuse to dance with any gentleman who invites her unless she has a previous engagement.  However, at public balls, a lady should dance only with gentlemen of her own party, or those with whom she has a previous acquaintance.  Young ladies must be careful how they refuse to dance.  She should give a good reason, lest the gentleman takes it as a personal dislike.  Once a lady refuses, a gentleman should not urge her to dance, nor should the lady accept another invitation for the same dance.  An unattached lady never dances more than three dances with the same partner. 

A lady is never seen in a ball-room without gloves.  They must be white or of a very delicate hue.

In the Street

A true gentlewoman can be distinguished at first glance.  There is a quiet self-possession about her that marks her out from the florid lower classes.  Self-effacement is the rule of good manners.  A gentlewoman goes quietly along, intent on her own business.  She walks quietly through the streets, seeing and hearing nothing that she ought not to see and hear.  She recognizes acquaintances with a courteous bow, and friends with words of greeting.  She never talks loudly, or laughs boisterously or does anything to attract the attention of passers-by. 

A lady, meeting a gentleman with whom she has an acquaintance, shall give the first bow of recognition.  A young lady should never 'cut' a married lady.  It is the privilege of age to recognize those who are younger in years.

A lady never forms an acquaintance upon the street, or seeks to attract the attention or admiration of persons of the opposite sex.  

A lady never looks back after anyone in the street, or turns to stare in a public place.  She should never walk alone in the street after dark.  

She keeps from contact with her neighbor in public conveyances as much as is possible, never leaning up against another or spreading her arms.  She may accept the offer of services from a stranger in alighting from, or entering a conveyance, and should acknowledge the courtesy.  

On Horseback

For riding, stallions were too frisky for ladies.  Mares and geldings may be used, but women and children favored ponies.  They were smaller than horses and easier to handle.  In rare instances where women drove horses, they usually drove a one-horse carriage.  "Four-in-hands" were too much for a woman to handle.

On horseback, a lady rode side saddle, alternating sides each day so as not to develop an overly enhanced buttock on one side.  Riding astride was looked on as risque.  


So what is a true gentlewoman?  She is "an emanation from the heart subtilized by culture."

Coming Soon: Manners For Women--Part Two--Courtship and Marriage


Manners for Women by Mrs. Humphry, a facsimile reproduction of an 1897 publication. Reprinted by Pryor Publications, Kent, England,1993.

Etiquette: Rules & Usages of the Best Society, reprinted by the Promotional Reprint Company, Ltd., Leicester, 1995.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Similar books are available for purchase in our on-line bookstore in the non-fiction section.

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Copyright 2001, M. Hoppe 

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