Historian Merry Ellen Scofield, writing in Common-Place, dives deep into the intricacies of 19th century social etiquette: calling cards, the hierarchies and politics of who visits who and when, and the details of the cards themselves. Focused on Washington, D.C., It’s a fascinating look at both historical ideas of social networking and how women wielded political power through etiquette.
It was sometimes the fashion to fold one’s card in order to indicate the purpose of a visit, particular folds indicating particular types of visits. A crease in the upper left indicated a social call; one in the upper right, a visit of congratulations; in the lower right, a visit of sympathy. If one were leaving town, he or she folded the lower left of the card. Mark Twain poked fun at the practice in The Gilded Age, warning his Washington protagonist that she had better take care “to get the corners right,” otherwise, she might “unintentionally condole with a friend on a wedding or congratulate her upon a funeral.”