Daughter of Joseph M. and Mary Brooks Vanderbilt; married Hans Knopf, 1945
Amy Vanderbilt grew up on Staten Island with the rich cultural inheritance of the wealthy Vanderbilt family. She was educated at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, New York University, and the Heubi Institute in Switzerland, where she studied home economics. Vanderbilt began her career as an arbiter of manners with a stint as society reporter for the Staten Island Advance. She served as business manager for the American Spectator, worked as an account executive in an advertising firm, and served as vice president and later president of Publicity Associates, Inc., a public relations firm for a number of publishing houses.
Vanderbilt took up Doubleday's offer to write an etiquette book and spent four years in research and writing. With her often revised Complete Book of Etiquette (1952), she became the natural successor to Emily Post in the 20th-century field of common sense manners. She was an institution, combining the functions of adviser, consultant, editor, writer, and television and radio producer. Vanderbilt distinguishes between manners and custom: the first is largely an artificial and superimposed code, set by a small coterie of leaders, that people follow consciously and the second is the natural and unconscious response to social change and new contexts and relationships. With the dizzying rate of change in the political, economic, and social scenes, these two are rapidly merging into one. The comprehensive guidelines for the new contexts of post-World War I society provided in Emily Post's Blue Book (1922) are further developed, elaborated, and updated for the post-World War II generation.
Vanderbilt was hostess for a television program, It's in Good Taste (1954-60), and a radio program, The Right Thing to Do (1960-62). Her "Amy Vanderbilt's Etiquette" was a syndicated newspaper column, which ran from the early 1950s through 1974. She was also a regular contributor to Ladies' Home Journal and an etiquette consultant to the U.S. State Department.
As the new dean of American sociability, Vanderbilt held a prominent position in the increasingly female establishment of philosophers of public mores and manners—a guild of imaginative, adaptive, and inventive women writers, such as Emily Post, Jean Kerr, Peg Bracken, Abigail Van Buren, and Ann Landers. Like these others, Vanderbilt believed etiquette is at its heart a matter of fellow-feeling, of innovation, of a spirit of comfort and generosity, and of common sense, rather than the formal, prescribed ritual associated with the manuals of decorum of earlier eras. Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette (reprinted 1995) is "a guide to gracious living rather than a rule book." For the individual with a social conscience, it is a guide to discovering some common ground for behavior, which can be relied on even in the midst of a pluralistic society where other guidelines have been virtually abandoned.
Amy Vanderbilt's Everyday Etiquette (1956, 1981). Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Cook Book (1961). Amy Vanderbilt's Success Program for Women (1964).
AB Bookman's Weekly (20 Jan. 1975). CB (Feb.1975). Newsweek (6 Jan. 1975). NYT (28 Dec. 1974, 29 Dec.1974). Time (6 Jan. 1975).
—MARGARET J. KING