Monday, June 11, 2007

Emily Post's Etiquette Book -- 1950 Edition

I brought home book from my dad's house. It is the 1950 edition of Emily Post's book, "Etiquette", which was originally written and published in 1922. My mother consulted this book on some rare occasion when she had forgotten some finer point of etiquette, and I remember reading some of it a a young girl. Since the book is older than I am, it is of interest to me historically, as well as concerning manners.

A few of you may remember that Emily Post was once considered one of the foremost experts in American etiquette. Her first works predated even those of Amy Vanderbilt and Letita Baldridge, who also became well-known etiquette experts in the twentieth century.

A few more of us will have some memory of Mrs. Post's daughter, Elizabeth. She took up her mother's mantle and became known as an etiquette expert in her own right.

Emily Post lived from 1872 to 1960. If you would like to read about her story, follow this link:

In the 1940's, Mrs. Post founded an institute devoted to manners -- The Emily Post Institute. The Institute still functions today, with her great-granddaughter-in-law serving as its current spokesman. You can find their web site if you do a search of Emily Post's name. Her geat-grandson also writes about manners.

Mrs. Post's descendants have continued to revise Mrs. Post's Etiquette book. Thanks to her great-granddaughter-in-law, the latest edition even deals with e-mail manners, a consideration that I'm sure Mrs. Post could never have foreseen.

I haven't had a chance to read much of the 1950 edition of Etiquettesince I brought it home. But, just from glancing through it, I'm struck by how often Mrs. Post refers to "the modern woman" and "the modern world". In her mind, she was living in a new era in which manners had changed to accommodate the equality and independence of the modern woman. She offers much advice to men and women about how to conduct themselves in this brave new society. That's fascinating to me, since the 1950's are so often portrayed as a repressive time for American women.

It seemed to me when flipping through Etiquette that if the only source of etiquette advice you had on hand was the 1950 edition of Mrs. Post's book, you wouldn't stray too far afield in your manners. Much of her advice still applies.

Admittedly, some of Mrs. Post's advice might sound quaint -- or at least quaintly worded -- to our even more modern ears. Some of her advice might even be truly obsolete. Still, there are many gems hidden within the pages of the 1950 book.

Here's one gem that Mrs. Post wrote:

"The secret of popularity is unconsciousness of self, enthusiastic interest in almost anything that turns up, and inward generosity of thought and impulse outwardly expressed in good manners."

Mrs. Post directed this advice toward young girls, who were taking their first few steps into the adult world. She warned girls not to measure their success by superficial standards of popularity. Instead, she advised them to focus on being a true friend to others. She deemed it better to be liked for one's lovely character than to be the prettiest, showiest girl at a party.



Julieann said...

"She warned girls not to measure their success by superficial standards of popularity. Instead, she advised them to focus on being a true friend to others"

I just love this quote!!! I need to remember this.


Mrs. U said...

I've been so busy lately that I haven't had time to visit all the blogs that I love. I've got a bit of catching up to do on yours and can't wait to read it all!!

I really appreciate these posts on Mrs. Post. They are very interesting to me as I am always in need of reminding to check my manners daily. And I am reminded to keep my eyes open for wonderful book treasures that I could happen upon in any antique store!! :)

I was wondering... this is a little off topic... what do you think of the new show Mind Your Manners that is supposed to be coming on (maybe it is already on??)? Is it worth watching? Are they referring to manners like Mrs. Post would recommend?

Mrs. U

Elizabeth said...

Hi, Mrs. U --

I saw something about the upcoming Mind your Manners TV show on another blog. But, when I tried to do some research on about the show in response to your question, I couldn't find out anything about it.

If it's sincerely about helping us all "mind our manners", I'm all for it. I'll give it an extra thumbs up if it proves to be entertaining, as well.

I'm having a blast reading Mrs. Post's old book, but it's far from perfect. No one human person has a corner on what it means to be considerate and well-mannered.

Also, customs differ from decade to decade, from region to region, and country to country. Mrs. Post, for example, never had to deal with whether it's polite to answer your cell phone when you're eating dinner with friends. So, it's good to take a look at what today's experts are saying.

Often, etiquette experts -- past and present -- are more keyed in to what is socially appropriate than they are tuned in to what God says about a subject. Of course, I don't mean that God cares at all which fork we use with which dish or if we know how to make a proper introduction -- except that knowing what is appropriate in our culture can help us treat others with kindness and respect.

God does, however, have a lot to say about how we conduct ourselves in our relationships with people, with special emphasis on what our hearts should be like. If any expert advises something different than what the Lord says, of course we listen to Him.

Jesus, for example, did not bend to the Pharisee's custom of ceremonially washing their hands after having been out in public, where they might have come into contact with Gentiles. This was a social custom of the day that went against God's heart. Read Matthew 15 1:1-13 to see what Jesus had to say about following man's traditions rather than God's word.

Well, that's just my 2 cents on the subject of etiquette experts. I hope that helps.


Anonymous said...

That is absolutely beautiful and SO TRUE!!! :-)