The very first of the Great Women series by Sandy Nightingale & Sandi Toksvig has been published in The Lady magazine. They will appear in the first issue every month, with the next on February 2nd. 2010. Image and text are © Copyright of the artist & author respectively and pilferers will be pursued relentlessly!
Emily Post was the doyenne of American Etiquette, a title which some Europeans might have the poor manners to suspect of not being hotly contested. Emily was awash with good manners. There was nothing she didn’t know about tea gowns or the rather complex rules governing which kind of lifts require a man to take his hat off or indeed, the answer to the rather vexing question - Should damask be hemmed or hem stitched? (hemmed by hand, of course. I’m surprised you had to ask.)
Emily began her journey towards social grace from the beginning by not being clear about her birthday. She may have been born on October 27,1872 but it could just as easily have been October 3, 27 or 30th 1873. It is not a subject a woman of breeding should dwell on. Emily also knew enough about etiquette to realise it is easier to have all the right place settings for any event if you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth in the first place.
She was born into a wealthy, socialite family in Baltimore, Maryland and led a heady life of chaperones and cotillions. (Curiously ‘cotillion’ is the old French word for petticoat yet the Americans used it to describe a ball where showing your underwear would not go well.) Educated at home Emily was then polished off at Miss Graham's finishing school in New York. She married a society banker, Edwin Main Post. Sadly Edwin liked society rather too much and they divorced after he banked in the wrong places. Finding herself financially embarrassed Emily began writing.
In 1922 she published Etiquette - The Blue Book of Social Usage, a book to help the nouveau riche and became pleasingly riche herself. The publication went on to hold the distinction of being second only to the Bible as the book most often not returned or stolen from libraries. Clearly people read her work but didn’t entirely follow the rules. In 1945 USO clubs for American troops reported Emily Post as the most requested book after the Rand McNally Atlas. This suggests many soldiers didn’t know where they were going or what to say when they got there.
The Blue Book in a nutshell –
1. Be nice to others
2. Don’t go on overnight automobile trips with a man.
3. Never wear light stockings on a heavy ankle.
4. Remember - a woman is ready to meet most emergencies if she has a hair-pin and a visiting card.
The book went through ten editions and nine reprints but good manners forbids me to tell you how much money she made. It seems that people across America were desperate for advice, so she also had a radio show and a daily column on good taste syndicated in more than 200 newspapers from which she received more than 5,000 letters a week.
The Chicago News reported 'While Betty Grable is the armies Pin Up Girl, Emily Post is their Look Up Girl'.