Settled in a mansion called Richmond Hill in the nation’s first capital, New York City, Abigail Adams, as the vice president’s wife, was responsible for organizing their social life. Before setting a date for regular receptions, she attended Mrs. Washington’s “Levey day” describing for her sister Mary Cranch what it was like, in a letter dated August 9, 1789.
The form of Reception is this, the Servants announce & Col. [David] Humphries or Mr. [Tobias] Lear, receives every Lady at the door, & Hands her up to Mrs. Washington to whom she makes a most Respectfull courtsey and then is seated without noticeing any of the rest of the company. The Pressident then comes up and speaks to the Lady, which he does with a grace dignity & ease, that leaves Royal George far behind him. The company are entertaind with Ice creems & Lemonade, and retire at their pleasure performing the same ceremony when they quit the room. …
Abigail decided on Monday as her visiting day.
Gentlemen and Ladies, as many as inclination, curiosity or Fashion tempts come out to make their Bow & Curtzy, take coffee & Tea, chat a half hour, or longer, and then return to Town again. On Tuesday the same Ceremony is performed at Lady Temple’s, on Wednesday at Mrs. Knox’s, on Thursdays at Mrs. Jay’s, and on Fryday at Mrs. Washington’s, so that if any person has so little to employ themselves in as to want an amusement five Evenings in a week, they may find it at one or other of these places. …
There were formal dinners as well.
Indeed I have been fully employd in entertaining company, in the first place all the Senators who had Ladies & families, then the remaining Senators, and this week we have begun with the House, and tho we have a room in which we dine 24 persons at a Time, I shall not get through them all, together with the publick Ministers for a month to come.
Complaining about the quality of servants necessary to a household where a great deal of entertaining was expected, Abigail wrote in November 1789:
“The hire of servants is an other very heavy article. … I have a pretty good Housekeeper, a tolerable footman, a middling cook, an indifferent steward and a vixen of a House maid.”
The excerpts are from In the Words of Women, Chapter 10, page 300, and from Women of the Republican Court.
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