Maritcha Lyons, Salons of the Elite

No places of public amusement then existed; no grouping associates according to age was in fashion; elders and youths of respective families went from home to home, cultivating a social habit that induced a good time almost spontaneously. A main general distinction prevailed—persons attending the same church usually confined their intimate intercourse with members of the congregation. Among the friends of our family were two circles founded on personal preference; there were led respectively by Mrs. Clorice Esteve Reason and Mrs. Elizabeth West Bowers. The former gathered about her the studious and conservative and kept open house for all visitors of note; the latter was surrounded by the mirth loving folks, young and old. In this coterie, not to have a good time was impossible. No hard and fast lines were drawn, however, the same persons could be met, now in one circle, now in the other. To Mrs. Reason belonged the honor of being able to “hold a salon”; her strain of French blood made her a queen of entertainers and dowered her with a taste in social functions that was irreproachable. All lived a healthy existence of some relaxation, more hard work and scrupulous observance of religious duties almost puritanical. . . .

My mother had of course an extensive acquaintance among the colored people in the city and elsewhere throughout the northern states. Many colored New Yorkers were more or less closely connected families dating prior to the Revolution. Some of the colored folks in New York City spoke both English and Dutch but none used the corrupt dialect referred so often to them by those who knew nothing about them. . . .

Mother, naturally fluent and endowed with a sense of humor was an accomplished raconteur; she amused us and others with gossipy good-natured chat and was welcome everywhere for pleasant manner and her cheerful voice invariably echoing peace and good will. She was the life of a minor group of young single and married folks who found in her a social woman whose company was as agreeable as when she was a maiden, with her it was possible to have a good time without “fuss and feathers”; were frequent, they danced, played or sung, played games or sewed for charity and all alike found many an opportunity to pass many delightful hours with her in the where courtesy, sociability, and friendliness reigned supreme.

From: Maritcha Lyons, “Memories of Yesterdays, All of Which I Saw and Part of Which I Was—An Autobiography”