I visited Emily Post this past weekend.
Or perhaps, I should say, I visited her burial site. Emily is interred at the cemetery in Tuxedo Park, NY. Just below and to the right of her marker is that of her son Bruce who died in 1927. Just to the left and below her marker is that of her son Edwin “Ned”, my grandfather, who died in 1973.
I was asked to give a talk about Emily at the Tuxedo Park Library. Prepping for that talk began a journey for me into the private life of Emily. For years I have been writing and teaching about etiquette and drawing on the public Emily, the one known as the arbiter of etiquette in America ever since her book, Etiquette, was published in July, 1922.
I’d like to share three things about Emily, who is my great grandmother, that even I didn’t know before.
First, Emily should never have been an etiquette expert. Her real love was being on stage. Had it been up to her she would have been an actress, except in her day and age, she toed the line of her parents’ edicts. After seeing Emily on the Tuxedo Park stage, Pierre Lorillard, who founded Tuxedo Park, commented to Emily’s parents, that she should not be allowed to pursue acting as a career. It wasn’t ladylike to be in the public eye. Her parents concurred, and that was the end of Emily’s acting. What’s ironic is that after Etiquette was published, she became one of the most famous people of the twentieth century, a very public author with a newspaper column and a highly successful radio show. She ended up on the largest stage of all, the American stage.
Second, Emily returned to Tuxedo Park after her divorce. I always thought she continued to live in New York City after her divorce from Edwin Post in 1906, but instead she chose to live in her family home in Tuxedo Park. Her choice cements for me how important Tuxedo Park was to her. It was the place she turned to after the trauma of a very public divorce at a time when divorce, and especially divorcees, were frowned upon by “polite” society . Here she felt safe, accepted, and could be herself.
Third, as a writer and novelist Emily gave clues long before she wrote Etiquette about what she believed was really important and at the heart of etiquette. One clue came in her novel The Title Market, which was published in 1909, almost 13 years before Etiquette. The story is about an American woman who marries an Italian prince. It turns out that even though she gains a title, she does not gain the accompanying wealth one would expect. Yet, the heroine is the perfect model of a wife and a hostess. In spite of the fact that all she served at her parties were “small cakes and sandwiches,” Emily wrote, “the princess was one of those hostesses whose personality thoroughly pervades a house; a type which is becoming rare with every change in our modern civilization, and without which people might as well congregate in a hotel parlor. Each guest at Palazzo Sansevero carried away the impression that not only had he been welcome himself, but that his presence had added materially to the enjoyment of others.” That, in Emily’s view was the real mark of a hostess.
I loved having the chance to find out more about my great grandmother, the private person, the person who loved to act and who cared deeply about a place and who intrinsically understood what is really important—not some rules about how to behave but how we treat each other. That is Emily’s real legacy.
Now you can follow me on Twitter @PeterLPost.
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About the author
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."