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Are you Behaving? Emily Post’s Etiquette Rules from the 1920s

Emily Post was an American author who specialised in books on proper etiquette; born in Baltimore, Maryland on or around the 27th October 1872 (there is some dispute as to the actual date) and after being homeschooled in her early years was sent to Miss Graham’s finishing school in New York after her family moved to the city. Described as being “tall, pretty and spoiled” Emily’s early years were spent in a world of grand estates, her life dictated by carefully delineated rituals such as the cotillion with its complex forms and its dances and this had a profound effect on her adult life.


After her marriage had broken up (due to her husband’s repeated infidelities) and her children had been sent to boarding school, the wealthy heiress began writing producing newspaper articles on interior design and architecture, short stories for magazines such as Harper’s and The Century and five novels. With her first etiquette book Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home published in 1922 becoming an instant bestseller and spawning many updated versions Emily found the The Emily Post Institute in 1946 which continues her work right up to the present.

Looking through the original 1922 version it is fascinating to read of the social niceties that were expected by polite society in the early 20th century and here we have a few excerpts from Emily Post’s Etiquette Rules from the 1920s just so you can see if you’ve been behaving properly.

 

Buy Etiquette – The Original Classic Edition US
Buy Etiquette – The Original Classic Edition UK

Introductions

THE WORD “present” is preferable on formal occasions to the word “introduce.” On informal occasions neither word is expressed, though understood, as will be shown below. The correct formal introduction is:
“Mrs. Jones, may I present Mr. Smith?”
or,
“Mr. Distinguished, may I present Mr. Young?”The younger person is always presented to the older or more distinguished, but a gentleman is always presented to a lady, even though he is an old gentleman of great distinction and the lady a mere slip of a girl.

No lady is ever, except to the President of the United States, a cardinal, or a reigning sovereign, presented to a man. The correct introduction of either a man or woman:

Greetings

The correct formal greeting is: “How do you do?” If Mrs. Younger is presented to Mrs. Worldly, Mrs. Worldly says “How do you do?” If the Ambassador of France is presented to her, she says “How do you do?” Mrs. Younger and the Ambassador likewise say “How do you do?” or merely bow.

Informal greetings are almost as limited as formal, but not quite; for besides saying “How do you do?” you can say “Good morning” and on occasions “How are you?” or “Good evening.”
On very informal occasions, it is the present fashion to greet an intimate friend with “Hello!” This seemingly vulgar salutation is made acceptable by the tone in which it is said. To shout “Hullow!” is vulgar, but “Hello, Mary” or “How ’do John,” each spoken in an ordinary tone of voice, sound much the same. But remember that the “Hello” is spoken, not called out, and never used except between intimate friends who call each other by the first name.

Salutations of Courtesy

A GENTLEMAN takes off his hat and holds it in his hand when a lady enters the elevator in which he is a passenger, but he puts it on again in the corridor. A public corridor is like the street, but an elevator is suggestive of a room, and a gentleman does not keep his hat on in the presence of ladies in a house.
A gentleman always rises when a lady comes into a room. In public places men do not jump up for every strange woman who happens to approach. But if any woman addresses a remark to him, a gentleman at once rises to his feet as he answers her.
If a lady drops her glove, a gentleman should pick it up, hurry ahead of her—on no account nudge her—offer the glove to her and say: “I think you dropped this!” The lady replies: “Thank you.” The gentleman should then lift his hat and turn away.
If he passes a lady in a narrow space, so that he blocks her way or in any manner obtrudes upon her, he lifts his hat as he passes.



Words, Phrases and Pronunciation

People of position are people of position the world over—and by their speech are most readily known. Appearance on the other hand often passes muster. A “show-girl” may be lovely to look at as she stands in a seemingly unstudied position and in perfect clothes. But let her say “My Gawd!” or “Wouldn’t that jar you!” and where is her loveliness then?
And yet, and this is the difficult part of the subject to make clear, the most vulgar slang like that quoted above, is scarcely worse than the attempted elegance which those unused to good society imagine to be the evidence of cultivation.
People who say “I come,” and “I seen it,” and “I done it” prove by their lack of grammar that they had little education in their youth. Unfortunate, very; but they may at the same time be brilliant, exceptional characters, loved by everyone who knows them, because they are what they seem and nothing else. But the caricature “lady” with the comic picture “society manner” who says “Pardon me” and talks of “retiring,” and “residing,” and “desiring,” and “being acquainted with,” and “attending” this and that with “her escort,” and curls her little finger over the handle of her teacup, and prates of “culture,” does not belong to Best Society, and never will! The offense of pretentiousness is committed oftener perhaps by women than by men, who are usually more natural and direct

Dress

In the world of smart society—in America at any rate—clothes not only represent our ticket of admission, but our contribution to the effect of a party. What makes a brilliant party? Clothes. Good clothes. A frumpy party is nothing more nor less than a collection of badly dressed persons. People with all the brains, even all the beauty imaginable, make an assemblage of dowds, unless they are well dressed.
Not even the most beautiful ballroom in the world, decorated like the Garden of Eden, could in itself suggest a brilliant entertainment, if the majority of those who filled it were frumps—or worse yet, vulgarians! Rather be frumpy than vulgar! Much. Frumps are often celebrities in disguise—but a person of vulgar appearance is vulgar all through.
Fashion ought to be likened to a tide or epidemic; sometimes one might define it as a sort of hypnotism, seemingly exerted by the gods as a joke. Fashion has the power to appear temporarily in the guise of beauty, though it is the antithesis of beauty nearly always.

Every-Day Manners at Home

A mother should exact precisely the same behavior at home and every day, that she would like her children to display in public, and she herself, if she expects them to take good manners seriously, must show the same manners to them alone that she shows to “company.
In the present day of rush and hurry, there is little time for “home” example. To the over-busy or gaily fashionable, “home” might as well be a railroad station, and members of a family passengers who see each other only for a few hurried minutes before taking trains in opposite directions. The days are gone when the family sat in the evening around the fire, or a “table with a lamp,” when it was customary to read aloud or to talk. Few people “talk well” in these days; fewer read aloud, and fewer still endure listening to any book literally word by word.
Any number of busy men scarcely know their children at all, and have not even stopped to realize that they seldom or never talk to them, never exert themselves to be sympathetic with them, or in the slightest degree to influence them. To growl “mornin’,” or “Don’t, Johnny,” or “Be quiet, Alice!” is very, very far from being “an influence” on your children’s morals, minds or manners.

The Well-Appointed House

A gem of a house may be no size at all, but its lines are honest, and its painting and window curtains in good taste. As for its upkeep, its path or sidewalk is beautifully neat, steps scrubbed, brasses polished, and its bell answered promptly by a trim maid with a low voice and quiet courteous manner; all of which contributes to the impression of “quality” even though it in nothing suggests the luxury of a palace whose opened bronze door reveals a row of powdered footmen.
But the “mansion” of bastard architecture and crude paint, with its brass indifferently clean, with coarse lace behind the plate glass of its golden-oak door, and the bell answered at eleven in the morning by a butler in an ill-fitting dress suit and wearing a mustache, might as well be placarded: “Here lives a vulgarian who has never had an opportunity to acquire cultivation.”

I have always loved social history and this look back at the etiquette of polite society in the 1920s will be adorning my bookshelf in the next few days to sit alongside my much loved 1925 edition of The Woman’s Book which follows a very similar line in advice for the lady of the household.

Emily Post died at the age of 87 on September 25, 1960 leaving behind her a legacy of well mannered Americans properly advised in the correct etiquette of the day.

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