Happy New Year 1885! President Chester A. Arthur and his sister, Mrs. John McElroy, are waiting for you to visit the White House today. But the protocol for the annual Jan. 1 event is tight: Cabinet members and diplomats at 11 a.m., U.S. Supreme Court justices at 11:15 a.m., congressmen and judges at 11:30 a.m., military officers at noon, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and what we'd now call subcabinet officers at 12:30 p.m. And then plain citizens from 1 to 2 p.m. Carriages should enter the east gate.

New Year's Day must have been the height of the social season a century ago, before the president decamped for elsewhere. The Evening Star for Dec. 31, 1884 listed no fewer than four columns, in very small print and in nearly alphabetical order, of people holding open house. Interestingly, they were all conducted in the names of the wives (or maiden ladies or widows).

Some f'r instances:

"Mrs. Representative Beach [wife of Lewis, D-N.Y.] and Miss Beach, assisted by Mrs. Representative John R. Thomas [R-Ill.] and several young ladies, at the Portland [an apartment hotel] on Thomas Circle, 14th Street and Massachusetts Avenue [NW]." A degree of nonpartisanship had taken root even then!

"Mrs. M. L. Joslyn, with Mrs. [Henry M.] Teller, wife of the Secretary of the Interior, 928 M St., [NW]." Joslyn was Interior's assistant secretary.

"Mrs. Justin S. Morrill [wife of a senator, R-Vt.] will receive, assisted by Misses Swan and the Misses Tyson of Baltimore, 1 Thomas Circle."

Meanwhile, back at the White House, President Arthur's final reception prior to Grover Cleveland's inauguration on March 4, a day of "cloudy and threatening, but . . . mild" weather, was described as impressive. Arthur, who had succeeded from the vice presidency when James A. Garfield was assassinated in 1881, drew on his sister's services as official hostess since he was a widower -- one of two presidents (the other was James Buchanan) who were bachelors throughout their terms.

Two other news stories on Jan. 1, 1885, are worth noting.

This one suggests that cavalier treatment of federal civil servants is nothing new: " . . . Owing to the failure of Congress to make an appropriation, [the superintendent] yesterday issued an order discharging all employes who have hitherto been paid under [an interim] appropriations act except those whose retention is absolutely necessary. The order affects professors, instructors and others at the academy [whose pay is] appropriated from civil [funds], but not the officers or seamen. Some of the mechanics and other workmen where services are needed will be retained, provided that they stipulate that they work voluntarily."

"It is understood here that the managers of the New Orleans exposition [the world's fair of its day] are thinking of appealing to Congress for another loan to help the enterprise get through. They want $500,000 more. . . . ."

The more things change, the more things stay the same!