DUCHESS OF BERWICK. So strange Lord Windermere isn’t here. Mr.Hopper is very late, too. You have kept those five dances for him, Agatha?
LADY AGATHA. Yes, mamma.
DUCHESS OF BERWICK. [Sitting on sofa.] Just let me see your card. I’m so glad Lady Windermere has revived cards. - They’re a mother’s only safeguard.
You dear simple little thing! [Scratches out two names.] No nice girl should ever waltz with such particularly younger sons! It looks so fast! The last two dances you might pass on the terrace with Mr. Hopper.
Lady Windermere's Fan: A Play About a Good Woman by Oscar Wilde
Sometimes the ladies would have dance cards on one side of which the various dance titles and composers would be listed that an orchestra would play throughout the ball - usually 18-24 dances per evening, with spaces on the other in which they or their partners would write in their names for the dances they preferred with the helpful little pencil that was attached to the card by a ribbon, a useful memory aid when there were many dances.
They were generally given only to ladies, while gentlemen were evidently expected to remember to whom they had promised dances. But in a while men started using them as well - dance cards helped avoid confusion.
Dance cards originated in the 18th century, but their use first became widespread in 19th century Vienna and later beyond in Europe and the US. At first it was a fan with the name of a partner inscribed on the back; later, manufacturers created real objects d'art, made of precious materials like silver, ivory or pearl and porcelain. The dance cards remained in use well into the 1920s.
This is an 1885 dance card from our UNC ephemera collection. The name written on the front, presumably the gentlemen who originally used the card, is H.W. Jackson, from here