How To Be a Good House Guest — 1926

Visiting family or friends for the holidays in the 1920s required advanced planning and preparation for the would-be travelers as well as the hostess. Overnight stays were often necessary due to long slow travel times. Being a good house guest (in any decade) includes politeness, courtesy, good manners, and a general thoughtfulness for the hostess – are they having a nice visit as well? Below is a submission published in the Letters From Our Farm Women section of THE FARMER’S WIFE MAGAZINE addressing this issue. The readers of the magazine voted it “letter-of-the-month” and its author, Mrs. K, received a ten-dollar ($150 today) cash prize demonstrating that the information was very pertinent. Although Americans are much more casual when visiting and entertaining now than we once were, it behooves us to give some thought to this “mighty good counsel.” Happy Reading!

~Elaine

 Mighty Good Counsel

DEAR Farm Mothers:

I want to tell you about some of the courtesies I feel I must teach my children.

When visiting my friends and relatives, I am nearly always treated with politeness and courtesy, but when they visit me, they often fail in this respect.

I have often wondered why this is so and at last, have come to the conclusion that we parents are neglecting to teach our children these things. They learn to be polite hosts or hostess by precept and example at home but, as the faults I have in mind are not very noticeable in childhood and are committed most frequently away from home, the parents are not there to see and correct.

When our children go visiting, we say, “Now be good; don’t eat too much; don’t take large mouthfuls; be sure to say ‘thank you’ and ‘If you please.’ Thus, we teach them to look after themselves and show their good breeding rather than to be thoughtful of the people they visit.

Here are some rules I am teaching my children:

  1. Stay no longer than invited unless urged very much—as if the urge was meant.
  2. Answer all invitations promptly. It may save people work and help in their plans.
  3. State, at start, how long you can stay. Many visits are spoiled by worry as to whether the visit will be a week or month.
  4. Leave before welcome is worn out.
  5. Write if there is a change in plans.
  6. Avoid surprises, except in short calls. Many a woman has worked all through a visit, who otherwise could have been ready and enjoyed it.
  7. Retire at a reasonable hour.
  8. Ask about time of rising and never appear until family has been up a while. Where there is no furnace or bathroom, it is sometimes impossible for a family to get baths because the company is up first, last to bed and around all day.
  9. Do not sit or stand in people’s way.
  10. Do not snoop around, listen at doors, nor enter private rooms uninvited.
  11. Help at work but do not say you “hate” to do the kind you are doing. Learn to use tact. Do not say, “This floor is so dirty; let me sweep it,” or “The flies are so thick; shall I kill them?”
  12. Do not offer to do every little thing you see undone. If the hostess sees you are unhappy unless everything is in order, she will continue to work instead of visit.
  13. Do not visit with others while hostess works, then read when she is ready to visit.
  14. Do not order the family to get any article needed about the home, nor buy meat or such after two or three meals unless you are very close relative. Then that may be your duty and privilege—not otherwise.
  15. Do not talk strange religious doctrines before children.
  16. Give others a chance to talk and don’t be forever giving advice about their affairs.
  17. Don’t stand around dining room or kitchen, as if in a hurry for a meal.
  18. If one of the family needs to eat before the rest, do not sit down with them to eat unless the hostess suggests it.
  19. Do not count cakes or other food to see if there are enough for all, and do not take the worst piece. Your hostess wants you to have the best.
  20. Do not rise before the hostess and begin to clear the table. She may wish to rest and visit.
  21. Try to eat a reasonable amount of what is set before you. If you do not, your hostess will be made considerable trouble trying to get something you do like.

Now, my readers, don’t say, “There haint no sech animal; no one does such things these days.” They do, for all these “don’ts” are built from my own trying experiences. The city and town people break these rules as much and perhaps more than the country people, and the well-educated as much as those who have less education. –Mrs. K., Michigan FWM

The above article was originally published in THE FARMER’S WIFE – A MAGAZINE FOR FARM WOMEN, October 1926, Page 481; Webb Publishing Company, Saint Paul, Minnesota