Robert Dimmick, a.k.a. Etiquetteer
Local out etiquette expert brings Victorian era manners to life at Back Bay's historic Gibson House.
How did anyone ever keep track of friends before Facebook?
According Etiquetteer, a.k.a. out etiquette columnist Robert Dimmick, the rituals of friending and unfriending date back to the Victorian Era customs of paying calls and leaving calling cards.
The Boston-based manners specialist has combed biographies, letters, novels, and numerous archives in order to discover the reality of turn-of-the-century life behind the depictions in popular television shows like Downtown Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs. He'll be sharing his intriguing finds in a one-hour tour, on February 1, of the Back Bay's only residence that maintains its late-1800s-early 1900s furnishings intact ? The Gibson House.
Etiquetteer revealed a taste of the surprising finds with the Boston Spirit/Boston.com LGBT blog via e-mail:
(1) The Gibsons never had a butler. All their servants were female, except for an odd-job man or general manservant to do the heavy lifting. Very few of them lasted more than two or three years in service to the Gibsons. Most often they were Irish immigrant women who left domestic service to get married ? so that explodes the myth of the loyal family retainer.
(2) One of the documents in the Gibson House archive is a notebook of guest lists from Mary Ethel Gibson's "come-out" parties when she made her debut in January, 1891. The lists are ordered by status ? married couples, girls, and men ? and the proportion of men to girls is roughly two to one. The largest guest list is for 114 people. Assuming everyone attended, it would have been too large for the house. I'd love to find out if they held the party at the Hotel Vendome on Commonwealth Avenue, then the Brahmin hotel of choice.
(3) Charlie Gibson, Jr., who had the idea to leave the house as a Victorian house museum, began to treat it as such long before his own death. He roped off all the chairs so no one could sit down! Often he'd serve tea or martinis on the grand staircase to guests. Etiquetteer will invite everyone to sit on the stairs for the Q&A so they can get a bit of the atmosphere Charlie must have created.
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