A Patriotic Party circa 1928

How to Entertain at Home, 1928

Found this little gem on the book giveaway shelf at the gym today. I picked it up out of curiosity and would have put it right back down except that it fell open to “Fourth of July parties” as if calling out to me to read it, right then. And what a great read it was! I’m not giving a party this year, but after reading the 7-page section on Fourth of July it really made me wish I were (but only if I had a team of people to help me).


This 1928 edition of How to Entertain at Home: 1000 Entertainment Ideas, compiled by the Editors of THE MODERN PRISCILLA (a ladies magazine published in “Great Britain and the Colonies” from 1887 to 1930), has an introduction that starts off:

“You, like every other woman, often wish to entertain, but are overcome with terror, as the task is such a strain on the nerve and time and pocketbook, that sometimes you rebel. And knowing this we want to help.”

I hear you, Priscilla. The editors ride to the rescue with this very helpful (and wide-ranging) table of contents (click to expand):

Contents1        Contents2

Obviously this book is a clear antecedent to Martha Stewart’s seminal (but never-read-by-me) 1982 book Entertaining.

Martha Stewart-Entertaining

Now to the holiday at hand. If you’re curious how back in the day they (the editors of The Modern Priscilla, at least) celebrated Fourth of July, here is a PDF scan from that chapter, wherein you’ll learn that

“A Fourth of July function, whether a luncheon, dinner or merely a small evening affair, is easily arranged by a clever hostess.”

Resizable PDF: July 4 chapter

There’s much too much other good stuff to cover here (who knew about patriotic thimble parties?) so take a look at the 7-page PDF, but I must call out the recipes at the end: Jellied Bouillon, Boiled Salmon, Tomato and Pineapple Salad, Shrimp and Orange Salad, Chopped Chicken Sandwiches, and Frozen Tomato Salad. We are a long way from ballpark hotdogs and potato salad.

Fun & Games on the 4th

“The hostess invites the men to the shooting gallery, and the girls will go along to see what sort of cracksmen they are.”

A section at the end of this chatty, helpful book is called “Helps (sic) for Your Parties,” and offers pages of clever/hokey invitation ditties, advice like “How to Prevent ‘Twosing,’” (where men and women pair off instead of mingling), a great Kitchen Guessing Game, and many, many other quite ingenious/silly party games.

This is followed by a sober chapter on “Etiquette for Hostess and Guests” where we learn things like “A woman under no circumstances should ask to be presented to a man, neither is it permissible for one to ask a woman if she cares to be presented to a man” and “A warning to guests: Do not, for your own future safety, unduly enthuse over food which to you is not entirely delectable” (if you do, you will be served it whenever you visit). Finally I learned that if guests linger too long it is permissible to request the orchestra to play “Home Sweet Home,” as Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish once did. 

This book was published in 1928 at the height of the Roaring Twenties—people were living large and entertaining like there was no tomorrow. I haven’t seen Baz Lurhmann’s Great Gatsby but will be checking his parties against the ones in this book. I’ve heard that the parties in the  2013 version of Gatsby are rather orgiastic in nature, but I bet they don’t have nearly as good games and treats as the ones through out this book.

(Here’s a link to a very cool “before and after” video of how they put together all the party scenes in that movie via CG effects: http://vimeo.com/68451324)

Gatsby party

Computer graphics—not Priscilla—made these parties.

The readers of Priscilla were living large but unfortunately tomorrow did come with the stock crash and a worldwide Depression. When The Modern Priscilla magazine and books ceased publication in 1930 it signaled the end to the heyday of 1920s parties, but not home entertainment. That came forty years later when women entered the workforce bigtime in the 1970s and ’80s (but then had a recovery led by the aforementioned former stock-broker-turned-housewife Martha Stewart).

Until coming upon this book, I didn’t really understand what I missed growing up in the 1970s and 80s (and since then dining out but doing very little home entertaining) but now I have a new appreciation of the great lifestyle of my grandparents’ days and how fun and amazing the Fourth of July could be even without the Macy’s Fireworks.

I would like to say I'll be using this book for future party planning—but I'd be lying.

I would like to say I’ll be using this book for future party planning—but I’d be lying.

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About Laura Kelly

Laura is Kevin Walsh’s second cousin on his father’s side. When she first moved to New York, she worked for CBS and at a variety of magazines as managing editor. Later, Laura was VP, Global Editor-in-Chief of Reader’s Digest books series. She now helps creative artists (such as authors, actors, photographers, and print designers) with all things digital; one of her main clients is her husband, author Warren Berger. You can learn more about Laura's business at Laura-e-Kelly.com, and follow her on Twitter @LectriceUSA, Facebook, and Google+.

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