Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Dear Emily: Who would have imagined that Emily Price, a fashionable Victorian young woman, who seemingly held the elite world of the Gilded Age in her hands, might have had any other thought in her head than to get married and spend more and more time in society. Emily, born in 1872, was the only daughter of Bruce Price, the architect and planner of Pierre Lorillard’s Tuxedo Park, an exclusive country resort which opened in May 1884 to fanfare and anticipation. It inaugurated an era of social propriety in the rich and fashionable world in which Emily lived. The independent, planned, carefully screened community housed the social elite at a time when manners were tantamount to participating in polite society. Emily always behaved correctly and knew what was expected of her. With her beauty, fine breeding and wit she was destined to become a woman determined to succeed in the role that she would later assume as an arbiter of manners.
Educated by governesses and at Miss Graham’s finishing school on West Twelfth Street in New York, Emily was trained on the dictum that a lady always, at all times, under all circumstances, lives up to what is expected of a lady. She lived up to Miss Graham’s expectations and attended a ball in one of Fifth Avenue’s elegant mansions and met a prominent banker named Edwin Main Post, her husband-to-be. Following a fashionable wedding in 1892 and a honeymoon tour of the Continent Mrs. Edwin Post’s first home was in New York’s Washington Square. The couple had two sons, Edwin Main Post, Jr. (1893) and Bruce Price Post (1895). Emily had had little time to think of herself and in a world so carefully orchestrated she found herself wondering how much of her life was habit and what proportion of her social behavior was a sincere expression of her own feelings.
Sitting for her portrait to be painted by Rosina Emmet Sherwood, Emily was asked, “What do you do with yourself?” Emily told the portraitist the usual. Balls, dinners, receptions, calls. A coaching party. A weekend house party at Rhinebeck. Being bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding. Tuxedo as soon as May made the country endurable. Emily observed something unusual about Mrs. Sherwood. She had at least one small child and was soon to have another, but this did not appear to be hindering her career. She was the first professional woman Emily had known, a woman who combined marriage, motherhood and a career. This encounter was the stirring pot of Emily’s realization that she was living in a dream world and that like Mrs. Sherwood there was potential for her to pursue another avenue for her creativity, which early on she had exhibited as a writer.
On the first of November everyone who was anyone of social note came back to town. Besides and big parties, there were small dinner parties, the Horse Show, the smart weddings, and balls to attend. It would be rare for the couple to dine alone together, without guests. Further abetting this fact in accordance with Edwin Post’s view of marriage, he and Emily would be spending less and less time together, and after the preliminaries of establishing a proper family were accomplished he would spend more and more time in Society. In this regard, the Posts were no different than other couples in their set. However, Emily realized that her husband was as much a stranger to her as she was to him. The couple divorced in 1905, because of Edwin’s affairs with chorus girls and fledgling actresses, which had made him a target of blackmail.
When her two sons were old enough to attend boarding school, Emily turned her attention to writing. She produced newspaper articles on architecture and interior design. Her romantic stories of European and American Society were serialized in several popular magazines including Harper’s, Scribner’s, and The Century, as well as light novels, including Flight of the Moth, Purple and Fine Linen, Woven Tapestry to name a few. Her writing was diversified, including humorous travel books and she even became a ‘traveling correspondent.’ The recognition that would afford Emily her greatest fame was writing about etiquette, a subject on which anyone interested in participating in polite society sorely needed advice. After publication in 1922, her book Etiquette (full title Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home) was a best seller, the phrase “according to Emily Post” soon entered our language as the last world on social conduct. It was a best seller, and updated versions continued to be popular for decades. Mrs. Post, who as a young woman had been told that well-bred women cannot work, was suddenly a celebrity, a woman determined to succeed, an outstanding career woman. Her numerous books, a syndicated newspaper column on good taste for the Bell Syndicate, and a regular network radio program made Emily Post a figure of national stature and importance.

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