1933: Emily Post caricatured in Vanity Fair.For most of the last century the person who best manifests a code of good form and correct conduct was Emily Post, whose treatise Etiquette, debuted in 1922 as Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home. Well versed in the ritualized nomadic and herd-like conformity of her time and class, Mrs. Post certainly knew her subject. For nearly 40 years she exposed a common-sense approach to 'how to be'. Ultimately, for all its delineation of eating implements, calling cards and hierarchical deference, her credo was rooted in a biblical-inspired courtesy based on local precedent and ordinary kindness. Hers' was a way of comporting oneself in which good intentions mattered so much that they trumped established procedure or the empty observance of mere form.
This was what gave Emily Post such a far-reaching and authoritative appeal. With the success of her book she regularly spoke on radio programs. After 1932 Emily Post wrote a column on good taste which appeared daily in some 200 newspapers.
Establishing a dynastic industry in 1946 with her son Edwin M. Post, Mrs. Post founded The Emily Post Institute. Continuing her work it's now headed by her great-granddaughter Ms. Anna Post. Peggy Post, wife of Emily Post's great-grandson, wrote etiquette advice for Good Housekeeping magazine, succeeding her mother-in-law, Elizabeth Post. Peter Post, Mrs. Post's great-grandson, writes the Etiquette at Work column for the Sunday edition of the Boston Globe. Cindy Post Senning, Ed.D. another great-granddaughter, is a director of The Emily Post Institute. Great-great-granddaughter Lizzie Post addresses life and etiquette for the young at her blog Not Gonna Lie. Like their ancestor, all these Post descendants have written a raft of books related to exemplary behavior.
Once she decided to abandon her family's Washington Square and Tuxedo houses, Emily Post was unsatisfied with the apartment suites she was shown. So over lunch at the Coleny Club she induced friends to join her in developing their own co-op apartment building at 39 East 79th Street on Madison Avenue. Carefully collaborating with architect Kenneth MacKenzie Murchison, who had worked with her father, Emily Post planned her home at number 9B exactingly to meet her perfectionist requirements. Architectural historian Christopher Gray explained in a piece in the Times how every resident of the 14-storey venture was listed in the New York Social Register. Mrs. Post's neighbors, Gray relates, in some cases gave up rather nice digs to live here.
"Bessie White, Stanford White's widow, moved from an old brownstone at 25 East 81st Street; Victor Morawetz, a railroad lawyer who took the massive 12th- and 13th-floor duplex with double-height windows, moved from the apartment building at 907 Fifth Avenue; Murchison moved from his own town house at 49 East 63rd Street."
Furnished with well proportioned old family furniture, Mrs. Post's apartment perfectly reflected her philosophy about dress. Of its time, it is nonetheless not exactly typical. A profusion of flowers, both ever-changing cut bouquets, floral chintzes and wall paper, the quality of interesting ornaments, Chines jade lamps from Edward Farmer, Bow china figurines, and old silver urns and candlesticks, the generosity of the untrimmed silk curtains, two fireplaces in constant use during cold weather, the contrasting colors of her bed hangings, all these things contributed to a subtle distinction, in the same way that Post recommended fine tailoring, elegant jewels and perfect grooming could.
Deciding around 1925 to abandon her family's Washington Square house, Emily Post found no apartments that suited her. she was shown. With friends she developed her own cooperative building at 39 East 79th Street on Madison Avenue. Carefully collaborating with her architect son Bruce Price Post and his employer Kenneth MacKenzie Murchison, who had worked with her father , Emily Post planned her home at number 9B to meet exacting requirements.
Two of Emily Post's lunch tables. The one at top features roses in a silver vase as a centerpiece. More economically, the Depression era table below displays silvered fruit in a silver bowl.
Dying at home in bed in 1960 at the age of 87, Emily Price Post perhaps exemplifies the adage of Logan Pearsall Smith, "There are few sorrows, however poignant, in which a good income is of no avail." Both in stories and with Etiquette, Post applied the lessons and heartache of a lifetime of good living to amusing her fellows and enlightening the uninitiated. Birth, betrothal, death, a night at the opera: one reads with rapt fascination of both the travails and moments of triumph lived by all Emily Post's friends, brilliantly encapsulated into her fittingly named protagonists and supporting players, Hastings, the Worldlys' butler, Mrs. Three-in-one, who has no servants, Bobo Gilding, Mrs. Highbrow, the Wellborns, Onceweres, Toplofties, the Oldnames and the Kindharts. To one degree or another, most were the beneficiaries of adequate incomes and could spare $4.00. But if faced with some situation of moment, what did handsome incomes and good manners avail them?
Images provided courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, the Emily Post Institute, and Georgian Court College. All others comprise the author's collection...