Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When Home is... Emily Post

This past week I have come across a couple of references to the early 1900s American author of etiquette, Emily Post, in disparate books: Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Marjorie Garber’s Sex and Real Estate. I had never heard of her before and it got me thinking. Who was Emily Post and what was her house like?

Well, thanks to Google, she was a leading authority on socially correct behaviour for decades in America. After her Etiquette—The Blue Book of Social Usage, first published in 1922, became a bestseller, she also became a newspaper columnist (answering etiquette questions that appeared in 150 newspapers) and had her own radio program for eight years. Oh, and her summer house at Martha’s Vineyard looked pretty good too...

So anyway – enough house envy – how did this etiquette book come about? Firstly, Emily was born into a wealthy family, the daughter of an architect, in 1873. She was home-schooled before attending a finishing school in New York. Marrying a banker in 1892, they had two sons before his philandering ended their union 13 years later.

BUT, because she married such a man, Emily found herself a career. To support herself and her sons (her husband lost nearly everything in a stock market crash) Emily began writing short stories and novels, all successfully published. Her publisher then suggested she write a book on etiquette (given her social standing) and this book remains today what she is most famous for.

Emily originally wrote the book for ‘the newly rich who wanted to live, entertain, and speak like the wealthy’, according to the website This website goes on to say that the later editions of the book focussed on ‘the character of "Mrs. Three-In-One," a wonder woman who acted as cook, waitress, and charming hostess at small dinner parties.’

Her book was obviously well-received as it is apparently ‘second only to the Bible as the book most often stolen from libraries’.

Emily spent much of her later life at her summer house in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Here she wrote the book The Personality of a House (1930), supposedly based on her experiences of rebuilding and remodeling it. She was happy here, according to Vogue magazine in 1933 where she described it as ‘the haven of delectable tranquility that all my life I have been searching for.’

She was quirky too, it seems. Living until the age of 86 she would always wake early although never make ‘her first appearance of the day until lunch, which was served promptly at one o'clock.’

She also loved red shoes and liked wallpapering her bedroom walls in ‘dark crimson damask’. Yet, she couldn’t stand seeing a red flower in her garden. 'I am drawn to a window – and there is a red flower standing out like a gash! Then out I go and pull it up', quotes Laura Claridge in her biography Emily Post.

I think it's hard not to like a woman who loved red shoes.

Image of Emily Post taken from
Image of Emily Post's garden taken from
Martha's Vineyard Magazine

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