You Can Thank Emily Post for These Rules of Etiquette

Elbows on the table? RSVP'ing to a party? Purchasing the perfect gift? For every dilemma, she had the answer.

Emily Post
Photo: The Emily Post Institute

If you ever believed that good manners are a thing of the past, consider a little wisdom from Emily Post: "Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is the code of sportsmanship and of honor. It is ethics."

Quotes like these have made "according to Emily Post" a phrase that we all know well when it comes to social conduct. And while most of us are familiar with her now-iconic rules of etiquette, what do we really know about Post herself?

Marcus Nilsson

She was born on October 3, 1872 in Baltimore, Maryland to an affluent family - her father Bruce Price was a prominent architect best known for his work on Tuxedo Park in New York. (Fun fact: It is said the term "tuxedo" originated from this town, which was perhaps a sign of things to come?) After attending finishing school in New York, she married Edwin Main Post. Alas, this yielded a short, unhappy marriage that resulted in two children and a divorce.

The divorce turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it caused Post to discover her true calling: writing. Initially, she wrote novels including The Flight of the Moth (1904) and The Title Market (1909). However, it wasn't until 1922 that Post decided to write Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage, the book that began her reign as the expert on social conduct.

What started off as an idea for a short book on etiquette - a simplified solution to the lengthy leading etiquette books at the time - resulted in setting the standards for years to come. The final product, Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage is Post's claim to fame and the reason that her name is synonymous with etiquette in today's society.


While she may not have invented the term, Emily Post truly taught us the true meaning of etiquette. Almost 100 years later, her legacy lives on through The Emily Post Institute, which is run by her relatives spanning over five generations and who continue to educate others on etiquette. Post's work continues to keep its spot as a definitive guide on etiquette, now being published for the 19th time. Of course, these newer editions are not written by Post herself, but by her relatives who have been contributing to these recent editions of the book and adapting them to include modern etiquette such as best social media practices and office issues.

Eric Piasecki

This brings us to our initial question: Are good manners truly dead? We believe that Post's answer would be, "No, they aren't dead. They've simply adapted to the times." Take for example, the proper etiquette to being a good guest. According to Emily Post, there are a few simple rules: Tell your host whether you're attending, be on time, be a willing participant, offer to help when you can, don't overindulge, thank your host twice.

Of course, we've become a little more lax in these rules. Consider Facebook, which allows people to be "interested" in an event instead of actually making a decision; it's hard know who is going to show up, and in this day and age, almost everyone sets the event time at least an hour earlier then you actually want guests to show up. But we understand that people aren't necessarily being rude by not giving a straight answer - they just believe it to be more polite to be "interested" in an event than to decline it. Post herself said that etiquette has more to do with "instinctive considerations for the feelings of others" rather than using the right fork. We may not click "attending" or "decline" to a party invitation, but we don't do so to disrespect anyone, it's simply our way of being considerate for the feelings of others. (Although wouldn't it be nice if the rules were as simple as they were in Post's day...?)

It's ironic to note that Emily Post - in defining the rules of etiquette - broke one of the biggest rules of her time: A well-mannered woman did not work. In her lifetime, she proved herself as the nation's leading authority on all things etiquette, a self-made businesswoman with books, a newspaper column, and a network radio program. And in doing so, she defied the societal constraints of her time. (We, for one, are glad she did.)

Feeling inspired? Watch how to set a formal dinner table - napkins, flatware, and all:

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