by Laura Claridge
There is a dynasty of etiquette experts all connected through the name of Post. Peter Post writes about office etiquette for The Boston Globe. His sister-in-law, Peggy Post, heads The Emily Post Institute and advises readers of Good Housekeeping. Another relative, Anne Post is the go-to girl when it comes to bridal decorum at Brides.com. Young Lizzie Post writes advice for the millennial generation while working a busy circuit of newspapers, TV shows and radio broadcasts. These writers and arbitrators of proper behavior are only continuing a legacy founded by their legendary matriarch, Emily Post, the name synonymous with good breeding and proper etiquette in North America.
Born in the midst of America’s Gilded Age, Emily Post was a child of wealth and luxury. Her father was the respected architect Bruce Price, whose skyscrapers can still be found gracing New York City’s skyline. Emily’s adoration of her father bordered on worship, and the interest in architecture that he helped foster in her remained strong throughout her life. Laura Claridge’s extremely comprehensive biography gets rather bogged down in details as she describes Emily’s youth; in addition to Emily’s life, the stories of many prominent New York families are shared. The wealth of information is admirable, but by the time I was reading about Emily’s marriage to Edwin Post I was hopelessly confused about the many friends, acquaintances and business associates she interacted with in Society.
It wasn’t until after Emily Post was divorced and writing to pay her bills that the biography starts to flow more quickly. She became a popular author of fiction and travel books, but after authoring Etiquette in 1922, the topic of manners and ‘best society’ became Emily’s bread and butter. She wrote an etiquette column that eventually appeared in over 200 newspapers and hosted her own radio show for years. It seems amazing that a single divorced mother was able to become the respected authority on etiquette, when her life the antithesis to the mores of a ‘proper’ woman, but Emily Post not only achieved popularity, but sustained it; her work continued to occupy her well into her eighties.
I’d seen the name Emily Post over and over again, but I really knew nothing about her, so was quite curious about this biography. It literally took me a full academic quarter to finish it; I began reading this in January and finished it with just a few days left in March. The language wasn’t particularly difficult, and the chapters were pretty short, but at over five hundred pages, it is a LOT of reading. It’s a bit intensive, but this biography tells more than just the story of Emily Post. It really showcases the upheaval of the social classes in the United States at the turn of the century, and through the life of one observant woman the change in attitude as to what constituted good breeding and ‘best society.’