Smiling In Hello-Land: 1921 Telephone Etiquette For The Social Elite

Doing research for last week’s Thursday Doors post I fell down a rabbit hole that had zilch to do with what I was supposed to be learning about.

[I’m sure you’re not surprised, are you?]

However this tangent was not in vain. I found something unique + entertaining, meant for a blog post, as you will see.

Keep reading.

~ ~ ~ ~

The following came from Mrs. Devereux’s Blue Book of Cincinnati Society, the go-to source for lists of club members and their home addresses for the social elite circa 1921.

Below are little snippets of telephone etiquette advice printed at the bottom of some pages in Mrs. Devereux’s book.

These snippets, put there by the printer I imagine, filled the page with text, while at the same time SUBTLY TEACHING THE SOCIAL ELITE HOW TO POLITELY USE the newfangled thing called a telephone.

These six little snippets tell a charming instructive story that I’ve transcribed at the bottom of this post.  It is a story, in fact, that I’ve gone so far as to dub: How to be a Gracious Member of the Grand Army of Telephone Users.


~ ~ ~ ~

~ ~ ~ ~

How to be a Gracious Member of the Grand Army of Telephone Users

Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of life it is easy to lose the better things– the finer qualities.  About the cheapest abuse in the world is the abuse of people at the other end of a telephone wire.  It is the trait of a gentleman– the proof of good breeding– just to smile when you telephone.

The voice with the smile is the voice that wins.  The smiling man or woman who uses the telephone in a sensible way always enjoys the best service.  They never get the hydrophobia when delays occur in answering a call.  Quite often the operator is not responsible for delays.  To complete quick service the party called must immediately respond.  

Did you ever see the Girl at the Switchboard during the rush hour?  If you did you never would kick again.  Some of the people who are loudest in their criticisms would drop dead of heart disease if they were under the strain which is just part of the everyday life in Hello-Land.

There are some people who in ordinary ways of life keep within the bounds of calmness and sanity, but they shy at a telephone and look upon it as the vent for all the accumulated spleen of generations of grouches.  The Supreme Court of New York has ruled that telephones may be taken out if abusive language is used by the subscriber.

Edward W. Bok, editor of the “Ladies’ Home Journal,” declares that one sure sign of an imminent nervous breakdown is a disposition to lose temper when delays occur in telephoning.  When you feel inclined to go to pieces at the ‘phone– consult a doctor.  You have rung a danger signal for yourself every time you growl over the ‘phone.

The great majority of the Grand Army of Telephone Users know the value of keeping sweet.  It is a pleasure to serve them.  They have sensed the disaster that lurks in the poison which is generated in one’s own system every time a fit is cultivated.  It saves doctor bills to smile when you phone. 

The End

If We Were Having Coffee On This November Morning…



We’d be sitting in my living room, staying dry, looking outside at the Halloween decorations still on display. 

We’d be drinking cafe mocha that I made for us.

We’d be listening to the local classical radio station because it makes for a laid-back atmosphere– and it’s fun, once in a while, to let a radio station pick your tunes.



√  We’d be chatting… about how this week, after weeks of trying, I won Level 90 in AlphaBetty Saga and how I believe there’s no disgrace in giving up on a game when it becomes too challenging for you.  Bye, bye, Betty!

√  We’d be sharing… our latest TV obsessions, which in my case is Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, made in Australia and set in Melbourne in the late 1920s.  I’d recommend them for the sheer entertainment of seeing a smart + sassy + stylish flapper detective, named Phryne, show the boys how it’s done.

√  We’d be talking… about how I’m trying to decide if I’m going to continue on blogging, or if I’m going to let it go.  I’d be saying how this hobby has become a part-time job.  And while it’s good that it keeps my brain clicking and my heart open, I’m finding that I’m unsure about who is following me– and why.  Which makes me a little uneasy.

√  We’d be laughing… about how the Bengals, our local NFL franchise who used to be called the Bungles, beat the team from the Mistake on the Lake.  And we’d wonder, chuckling at the old-time Ohio insider joke, if either of these NFL teams could beat OSU!

√  We’d be planning… when we could get together next, knowing our December holiday schedules were already filling up.  And lamenting, but in a good way, how every year the invitations come earlier and earlier.



We’d have to part after about an hour or so because weekend obligations are just that– things that must be done. 

We’d hug and promise to get together sometime after the holidays when life returns to normal.

And we’d thank each other for listening to & commenting on our joys and woes.  Like friends do.  Everywhere.  Over a mug of coffee.

• • •

Idea for this post came from Diana at Part-Time Monster.

• • •