Post, Emily (Price)
POST, Emily (Price)
Daughter of Bruce and Josephine Lee Price; married Edwin Post, 1892 (divorced)
Emily Post was a member of New York society, raised in the well-educated and proper atmosphere of Tuxedo Park. Her early career was prescribed by the conventions of upper-class leisure and manners: governesses, trips to Europe, private schooling, and debutante balls. After being divorced and then forced by economic stress to explore and expand upon her native talents, Post began her public life with interior decoration schemes. She wrote travelogues and a series of light novels of manners about Americans vacationing in Europe and associating with the Continental gentry. Post soon expanded her scope and wrote about American standards of manners, mores, and taste in manuals of etiquette and home decor.
The original dean of modern American decorum, Post was the first in a line of inventive women writers of handbooks on etiquette and manners. She remains a key figure in setting the tone for civil behavior in a rapidly changing world of styles, relationships, and attitudes—a kaleidoscopic social scene of shifting patterns in class, money, taste, and mobility, intensified by the departure from 19th-and early 20th-century "laws" of social procedure, which had long been relied on as fixed and permanent. The need for more relaxed and flexible standards of behavior suited to the millions of upwardly mobile Americans after World War I made Post's Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage (1922) an immediate and long-lived success.
Post's name quickly became a household word for "proper" manners, even if in a new key. Ironically, the conventions of formality and civility now associated so firmly with her were heartily opposed in all Post's analysis and advice, her most famous aphorism being, "Nothing is less important than which fork you use."
Post's Blue Book was the most popular and influential book of etiquette by a woman of social standing since Mary Sherwood's Manners and Social Usages (1884). Post's easy readability and practical approach to the myriad problems of interpersonal relations posed by the unfamiliar contexts of changing times have made the Blue Book a perennial bestseller. In recent years, more progressive works by younger writers have supplanted the Blue Book, but Post's emphasis on the spirit rather than the letter of the law of manners has made the Blue Book adaptable to change, assuring it a lasting place as a reference statement in the field. For example, in the 1940s, a supplementary edition was devised to deal with the special circumstances of wartime.
The book's success led to a newspaper column and a radio broadcast series, as well as many requests for Post's endorsement of food, drink, and household products. The formulations Post established for diplomatic protocol were adopted by Washington offices as a uniform code, and The Personality of a House (1930), used as a text in courses about taste and decoration, is further evidence of her strong feeling for atmosphere and the quality of life. This feel for style informs such other works as Children Are People (1940).
To Post, it was obvious that simplicity and grace are the fundamental precepts of manners, and that there is an urgent need to state this principle in detail, dramatizing its application in every conceivable setting and circumstance. Her writing ushered in a new era, which thought about etiquette not as a fixed system of gestures and words but as an everchanging rule of thumb, based on a much more open, democratic, and classless view of society with an active sense of mobility and impermanence. Post's interpretation of etiquette as a "science of living" sets the terms of discussion later taken up and developed in the contemporary scene by a core of women social arbiters including Jean Kerr, Peg Bracken, Amy Vanderbilt, Abigail Van Buren, Ann Landers, and then a new generation including Martha Stewart and Sylvia.
The Flight of a Moth (1904). Purple and Fine Linen (1906). Woven in the Tapestry (1908). The Title Market (1909). The Eagle's Feather (1910). By Motor to the Golden Gate (1915). Parade (1925). How to Behave Though a Debutante (1928). Emily Post Institute Cook Book (with E. M. Post, Jr.,1949). Motor Manners (1950).
Despite her death in 1960, a series of "Emily Post" titles continues to this day, including: Emily Post's Complete Book of Wedding Etiquette (revised edition, 1991), Emily Post on Second Weddings (1991), Emily Post on Guests and Hosts (1994), Emily Post on Entertaining (1994), Emily Post on Etiquette (1995), Emily Post's Guide to Business Etiquette (audiocassette, (1997), Emily Post's Etiquette (16th edition, 1997), Emily Post's Weddings (audiocassette, 1999), Emily Post's Wedding Planner (1999).
CB (1941). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).
AH (April 1977). NYT (27 Sept. 1960).
—MARGARET J. KING