Post, Emily (1872–1960)
Post, Emily (1872–1960)
American writer and expert on etiquette. Name variations: Emily Price Post. Born Emily Price on October 27, 1872 (some sources cite October 3 or 30, 1873), in Baltimore, Maryland; died on September 25, 1960, in New York City; daughter of Bruce Price (an architect) and Josephine (Lee) Price; educated by governesses and at private schools in New York; married Edwin M. Post (a banker), in 1892 (divorced c. 1905); children: Edwin M., Jr. (b. 1893), Bruce Price (b. 1895).
Published first book (1904); produced first etiquette guide (1922); was an expert on etiquette and home decoration on radio and in newspapers (from 1930s); founded the Emily Post Institute for the Study of Gracious Living (1946).
The Flight of the Moth (1904); Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home (1922, later republished as Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage ); Parade (1925); How to Behave Though a Debutante (1928); The Personality of a House (1930); Children Are People (1940); (with Edwin M. Post, Jr.) The Emily Post Cook Book (1949); Motor Manners (1959).
Emily Post's birth in 1872 into a wealthy and socially prominent Baltimore family helped to set the stage for her later writings on etiquette. She was the only child of Josephine Lee Price and Bruce Price, an architect who designed Quebec City's Chateau Frontenac as well as buildings in New York's Tuxedo Park. Her maternal grandfather Washington Lee was a Pennsylvania mine owner, and her paternal grandfather William Price was an attorney and a judge. The family enjoyed many extensive and extravagant vacations to Europe and elsewhere.
When Emily was five, her father moved his business and family from Baltimore to New York City. There she was taught by a German governess and was enrolled in a finishing school, Miss Graham's. Post enjoyed an elite lifestyle, taking studies during the winter and spending her summers in Bar Harbor, Maine. She became socially prominent in her own right as she grew up and was celebrated by Ward McAllister, the social arbiter of the time, who was attracted by her good looks and grace.
Post made her social debut in 1892, and that same year married Edwin Post, a banker and investor. After an extended honeymoon in Europe, the newlyweds bought a house in Manhattan and had two sons, Edwin M., Jr. (b. 1893), and Bruce Price (b. 1895). Her marriage began to fall apart when she heard reports of her husband's extramarital affairs and he lost his money after the panic of 1901. With no financial assistance from her husband, Post searched for some means of support for herself and her children. She had written witty and informative letters from Europe to her friends, telling of her travels and observations of society, and an acquaintance now suggested that she try writing. Post refashioned her letters into a novel, and it was published as The Flight of the Moth in 1904. She divorced her husband around 1905 and continued writing, which enabled her to make enough money to send her sons to Harvard. Most of her novels, essays, and short stories centered on the aristocracy of European society, replete with titles and beautiful people. She knew this colorful segment of Europe well and was able to enchant her readers with stories about class, love, and money.
In 1921, Post was approached by Richard Duffy of Funk & Wagnalls and asked to consider writing a book on etiquette. She refused indignantly, claiming to loathe etiquette and those who upheld it, but on reflection realized that most of her works thus far involved good manners. Duffy left her a recently published book on etiquette and, having read it and taken issue with much of its contents, she embarked upon her own. In 1922, she published Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home. The book became immensely popular despite (or, as some have suggested, because of) the rapidly changing social mores in America after World War I. Post addressed the rules of good behavior not only for the "rich and famous" but also for the average person, pointing out that good manners remain essentially the same in all situations even as she described the correct way to address nobility. Later renamed Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage, the book sold some half a million copies by 1941 and went through 90 printings and about 10 editions in Post's lifetime. Through the book's various editions, she revised chapters and included new ones on proper etiquette for television and telephone usage, among other facets of modern life. In later years, she commented, "Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is honor. It is ethics."
Post particularly liked interior decorating and remodeling. Following the death of her younger son Bruce in 1927, she launched a successful remodeling career and in 1930 published Personality of a House, which was frequently used as a college textbook. She also converted a farmhouse in Edgartown, Massachusetts, into a summer home. In 1931, she began making regular radio broadcasts on etiquette. The following year, Post started writing a daily column on "good taste" that was syndicated in 160 newspapers across the country, responding to queries from readers. She also wrote many articles about home decoration and architecture for magazines, including Harper's and Scribner's.
While continuing to write short stories and novels, in 1946 Post founded the Emily Post Institute for the Study of Gracious Living. Although she steadfastly called for adherence to traditional, formal practices, she did change with the times; in a 1945 edition, for example, she wrote that if a man were to be invited out for dinner by a woman, there would be nothing wrong if she asked for and paid the check. Post died in New York City on September 15, 1960, the same year that the tenth edition of Etiquette was published. Numerous spinoffs and specialized versions of her book (e.g., on weddings) have been published by family members in the years since, and 1997 saw publication of the 16th edition of Emily Post's Etiquette.
Current Biography 1941. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1942.
McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.
Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.
Uglow, Jennifer S., comp. and ed. The International Dictionary of Women's Biography. NY: Continuum, 1985.
Weatherford, Doris. American Women's History. NY: Prentice Hall, 1994.
Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania