Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art


House and Home

Emily Post's Modernization of Manners

Emily Post was born into privilege in Baltimore in 1873, educated by private tutors, and trained in the social graces at a finishing school before she made her debut. Because of her background and her marriage into a wealthy New York family, she was well acquainted with the most formal social manners. By the turn of the century, she had divorced her husband for infidelity and had ventured into fiction writing as a career. Having limited success with her novels, she switched course and wrote the enormously successful Etiquette in 1922.

Etiquette

Responding to Americans' growing desire to be less "backward," and at the same time expressing her desire to "democratize" manners, Post preached etiquette as a form of ethics. Moreover, she challenged the common association of manners with wealth, arguing that plenty of wealthy people were boorish. She insisted that the basic rule of all good manners was to consider the comfort of others, and took pains to adapt codes of behavior to the way that people actually behaved. One example of this flexibility was her acceptance of the "vulgar sounding" greeting "hello." Saying "hello" instead of the more formal "How do you do?" was fine, according to Post, as long as it was not shouted and was only used to greet intimate friends. Her scope extended beyond the dining room to sportsmanship and driving manners. Her modern approach was evident in the many revisions her book had undergone—ten &mdash by the time of her death in 1960.

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"The Child at the Table" from Etiquette
Emily Post

Children were the heirs not only to their parents' property, but also to their store of social wisdom according to Post. This meant rigorous early training in the arts of civilization.

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