Polite Conduct in Mid-Nineteenth Century America


The guides to conduct and etiquette manuals that were so popular in mid-nineteenth century America offered explicit instructions on how one should dress, move, speak, and interact with others. Those books described how to behave in a restrained, orderly fashion in order to be part of a "civilized" society. Paradoxically, at the same time, these guides often preached that a real Christian "gentleman" or "lady" should simply act naturally, as true gentility is a sincere reflection of the individual's Christian's "right heart."


Links to on-line conduct books:

Available at The Making of America Site:

The student's manual; designed, by specific directions, to aid in forming and strengthening the intellectual and moral character and habits of the student. By Rev. John Todd ...
Publication Date: 1859

Mile stones in our life-journey. By Samuel Osgood.
Publication Date: 1877

Man and his motives, By George Moore
Publication Date: 1862

The American citizen: his rights and duties, according to the spirit of the Constitution of the United States. By John Henry Hopkins.
Publication Date: 1857

Plain talks on familiar subjects. A series of popular lectures. By J. G. Holland.
Publication Date: 1866

Familiar letters to young men on various subjects. Designed as a companion to The young man's guide. by Wm. A. Alcott. Publication Date: 1850

Lesson's in life A series of familiar essays. By Timothy Titcomb [pseud.]. Publication Date: 1862


Excerpts from "Nineteenth Century Advice Literature" Courtesy of the Worcester Women's History Project:

William Andrus Alcott. The Boy's Guide to Usefulness. Boston: 1844.

--------. The Young Wife. Boston:1842.

--------. The Young Woman's Guide. Boston: 1840.

--------. The Young Man's Guide. Boston: 1846.

Bean, James. Advice to a Married Couple. American Tract Society. Boston: 1856.

Arthur Freeling. The Young Bride's Book. New York: 1849.

Mrs. Louisa C. Tuthill. The Young Lady's Home. Boston: 1847.

The Young Man's Evening Book. Boston: 1838.

By a Gentleman. Advice to a Young Gentleman on Entering Society. Philadelphia: 1839.

The Young Ladies' Book: A Manual of Elegant Recreations, Exercises and Pursuits. Boston: 1830.

By a Lady. The Young Wife's Book: A Manual of Moral, Religious and Domestic Duties. Philadelphia: 1838.


Other Texts:

Familiar letters to young men on various subjects. Designed as a companion to The young man's guide. by Wm. A. Alcott


Secondary Resources for Additional Study:

Learning to Behave

Rudeness and Civility

"Sentimental Culture and the Problem of Etiquette" in Karen Haltunnen's Confidence Men and Painted Women