How a disastrous marriage drove Emily Post to etiquette

Laura Shapiro in Slate:

20061018emilypostNearly half a century after her death, we finally get to meet the woman who invented American good manners. Or tried to. Nowadays people who suspect their public behavior is making them look boorish don’t shudder with embarrassment—they gleefully display the evidence on YouTube. But we weren’t always like this, as Laura Claridge’s Emily Post makes clear. Straight through the Jazz Age, the Depression, World War II, and the early ’50s, Emily Post handed down rules of social behavior guaranteed to be authentic insignia of the upper class, and the nation kept begging for more. People loved her gracious air of certitude, whether she was advising on the proper wedding outfit for a second marriage (gray, with a small, matching hat) or how to manage telephone use when six neighbors had to share the same line. (“The rule of courtesy when you find the wire in use, is to hang up for three minutes before signaling. If there is an emergency, you of course say ‘Emergency!’ in a loud voice, and then ‘Our barn is on fire.’ “) Like Freud and Betty Crocker, the name “Emily Post” became shorthand for authority itself.

But her charmed perspective on what she called “best society” disintegrated soon after she died in 1960 and not just because the all-gray wedding pretty much fell from favor.

More here.