Emily Post

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Emily Post was fifty when the first edition of Etiquette appeared, and until her death at age eighty-seven in 1960, its additions and revisions absorbed most of her time. However proper, she was not inflexible, and she repeatedly changed the book to keep pace with the ever-relaxing conventions of the times. During World War n she issued a special wartime supplement to instruct her readers on how to behave amid the social and economic chaos created by the war. And in 1947 she published still another revision, conscious of new attitudes among the postwar generation. Despite competition from newer, less conservative sources—most notably Amy Vanderbilt— Etiquette continued to sell. In the author’s lifetime, it went through a total often revisions and eighty-nine printings. Her newspaper column, started in 1930, was to last many years, as would her daily radio broadcast.

Though her audience was large, there were some who considered the type of education Mrs. Post had to offer superficial and degrading. “The product of Mrs. Post’s finishing school,” Kenneth Forward noted in an article in American Speech , “is intended to be, not a cultivated human being, graceful in mind and body and motions, but a sort of extraordinarily house-broken dog.” Despite such carping, both her name and her book have survived, although today her appeal has subsided somewhat. While new editions of Etiquette are eagerly consulted for weddings and occasional formal functions, it is difficult today to imagine the urgency which prompted the following telegram received by Mrs. Post in the forties: “ REPLY WIRE COLLECT WEDDING TOMORROW WHICH SIDE OF BRIDE SHOULD GROOM LEAVE CHURCH ON ?”