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HALL, Florence (Marion) Howe

Born 25 August 1845, Boston, Massachusetts; died 10 April 1922, High Bridge, New Jersey

Daughter of Samuel G. and Julia Ward Howe; married David P.Hall, 1871; children: three sons, one daughter

Florence Howe Hall was educated at home and in a variety of private schools. Because her husband's legal practice flourished only intermittently, Hall went to work lecturing and writing for magazines. Her income enabled her three sons to attend college and her daughter to pursue advanced artistic training. Hall was also widely respected as an active suffragist and club woman.

Hall's writing falls into three categories: stories for children, memoirs and reminiscences, and etiquette books. She began her career as a writer for children, but her stories sold poorly, and she gradually abandoned the genre. Hall found an interested audience for her books of reminiscences, however. As the daughter of two influential reformers, she could call on memories of people, places, and events that were landmarks of American cultural and political life. She collaborated with her sisters on a prizewinning biography of their mother. They also wrote a biography of their father's most famous pupil, Laura Bridgman, a blind deaf-mute whose education was a model for Helen Keller's. Both volumes use the technique of quoting extensively from family letters and diaries, with the authors providing background information, transitional material, and occasional anecdotes from personal memory. Hall further exploited the public interest in her famous family with a history of her mother's poem, The Story of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (1916). In Julia Ward Howe and the Woman Suffrage Movement (1913), Hall selected documents and recounted events that would secure for her mother a place as a prominent suffragist.

Memories Grave and Gay (1918) is an account of her own life. Although Hall abandoned the technique of quoting from letters and journals in this book, she continued to base her memoirs on the lives of her family and famous friends. Her simple, direct, and anecdotal style of writing, combined with glimpses into her own personal and professional life, explain the wide appeal of this book of reminiscences.

Social Customs (1887) established Hall as a successful writer in the field of manners. It differed from other etiquette books in several respects. Hall tackled a broader range of topics than most writers, touching on the behavior of children at home, for example, as well as the behavior of adults in various social situations. Furthermore, Hall was amusing. She never hesitated to use a humorous anecdote or to poke fun at an outdated mode of behavior, and this boosted the popularity of her book. Thirdly, Hall opened her book with a brief discussion of the origin of manners. Although her sociological and anthropological information is limited, the chapter does provide insight into the value of an explicit code of manners from the point of view of the upper middle class.

Hall hoped her work would enable people to see the justification for different social classes. She believed, too, that etiquette filled the gaps left by legislation, thus preserving order in a society where immigration, urbanization, and industrialization were challenging old social arrangements. Manners, in short, could provide a subtle form of social control that would strengthen the hand of the middle class and upper middle class.

The Correct Thing in Good Society (1888) provided a convenient handbook of proper behavior. Hall's brief and amusing directions were accessible to people without much leisure who needed information quickly. It extended the usefulness of the etiquette book as an instrument of social control by providing a means for the upwardly mobile to identify and adopt the forms of behavior considered correct by the existing elite.

Hall continued to expand her career as an authority on etiquette well into the 20th century. She revised her books to take into account both the changing tastes in entertainment (automobile trips, for example) and the emergence of the "new woman." For the benefit of the latter, Hall included advice on how to behave at college, how to handle business correspondence, and how to establish a woman's club. Hall also added new titles covering the same general issues but with a different emphasis.

Although Hall was aware of the varieties of class and region in American society, she never revealed any awareness of the impracticality of her advice for many ethnic groups or for rural and working-class people. Fundamentally a conservative, she limited herself to describing social arrangements of the upper middle class. She never questioned them, and she never advocated any change; instead, she employed her direct and amusing style to strengthen and extend the values she shared with the elite of her day.

Other Works:

Little Lads and Lassies: Stories in Prose and Verse about and for Them (1898). Laura Bridgman; or, Howe's Famous Pupil and What He Taught Her (1903). Flossy's Play-Days (1906). Social Usages at Washington (1906). A Handbook of Hospitality for Town and Country (1909). Boys, Girls, and Manners (1913). Good Form for All Occasions: A Manual of Manners, Dress, and Entertainment for Both Men and Women (1914). Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910 (with L. Richards and M. Elliott, 1915). ABC of Correct Speech and the Art of Conversation (1916).


Hall, F. H., L. R., and M. Elliott, Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910 (1915).

Reference works:

CB (Aug. 1943). DAB. NCAB.


Hall, Florence (Marion) Howe

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