My grandmother was raised to be a lady. Even in her 80s, one ankle was always neatly crossed behind the other. (A lady never crosses her legs, one over the other!) If the “Hostess Reference Book” of 1928 is any indication, she was expected to hew to the proper way to do everything — raise children; conduct oneself in public; call on others and receive callers; and, of course, ensure mannered meals.
The year my father was born, 1916, thousands of women competed for “Better Baby” medals in county and state contests sponsored by Woman’s Home Companion (predecessor to Good Housekeeping). Babies and children up to five years of age were evaluated and ranked by physicians according to physical and psychological measurements. Raising better babies and better children was a serious responsibility.
Here, for your edification and mine, is some guidance from the past. Have a little dignity, people.
“THINGS CHILDREN SHOULD KNOW
…It is the hope of the writer that many children will read, remember, and follow the suggestions herein outlined as there is no other thing that will assist them more in becoming real, popular and respected young men and women.
Remember your best friends are your mother and father and you owe them all the respect possible; but to be known as a child who at all times is respectful, not only to Mother and Father but to others as well, is a reputation every child should cherish.
Never talk back to older people, especially to your mother and father.
Never hesitate in carrying out requests of your elders.
Never whine or frown when spoken to by your elders.
Never contradict any one under any circumstances. It is very impolite and you may be mistaken.
Never do anything when forbidden by your elders.
Never worry or nag your parents. It is unnecessary and is bad form.
Do as you are told in a pleasant and willing way.
Never argue with your elders. They know best.
Never ask your mother or father to do something for you that you can do yourself.
Never take advantage of your elders. Their faith in you should be respected.
Be polite and respectful to your teachers at school and church.
Never disobey your teachers or your elders or break the rules of the school.
Keep yourself clean and neat looking at all times.
Keep your hair combed, your nails clean, and your shoes looking nice. It is just as easy to look nice as it is to be untidy.
Keep your clothes pressed nicely and well brushed.
Keep your teeth clean. Brush them not less than twice each day.
Remember you are judged by your appearance as much as your manners.
One may have an excuse for not having better clothes but there can be no excuse for not being clean. Soap and water are in the reach of all.
Children in the Home
Always greet the members of your family when you enter and always bid them goodbye when you leave.
Always rise to a standing position when visitors enter, and greet them after your elders.
Never address a visitor until he has started the conversation unless he is a person of your own age or younger.
Never interrupt a conversation. Wait until the party talking has finished.
Always rise when your visitor or your elders stand.
Never let your mother or your father bring you a chair or get one for themselves. Wait on them instead of being waited on.
If your leave or cross the room you should say ‘Excuse me.’
If a visitor should say ‘I am glad to have seen you,’ you should say ‘Thank you.’
Never run up and down the stairs or across the room.
Talk in a low, even voice. It denotes refinement.
Always give way to the younger child. It is your duty to look after them instead of fretting them.
Never retire without bidding the members of your family good night.
Follow these suggestions and you will assist in making the members of your family happy as well as in benefiting them in many other ways.
Children at the Table
Always be on time so you will not delay the meal.
Enter the dining room after your elders.
Remain standing until your elders and the small children are seated.
Place your napkin across your lap and wait until all are served before you start eating.
Eat slowly and make as little noise as possible.
Use your knife and fork and not your fingers.
Sit up straight but comfortably, and keep your arms off the table.
If you finish before the others, remain seated and wait.
Do not ask for your dessert before the others are ready.
Do not leave the table before others have finished unless very urgent and then only after being excused.
Turn your head and place your napkin over your mouth if you should want to cough or sneeze.
Talk as little as possible at the table, especially if you have visitors.
Do not pick your teeth at the table in the presence of others.
Never find fault with the meal. Remember your mother always tries to please and you should not hurt her feelngs.
When you want something ask your elders and not the servant.
When the meal is finished fold your napkin and lay it by your plate.
Pass out of the dining room after your elders.
Children’s Conduct in Public
Always conduct yourself in a manner that will win admiration. Remember both bad and good conduct attract attention. Which would you prefer?
When you are on the street greet your friends in passing.
Make it a point to be nice to every one with whom you come in contact.
Do not call to friends at a distance. It is very undignified.
Do not carry on a vulgar conversation because some one you meet does.
Do not take up with strangers.
Do not be forward and overbearing.
Never call an older person by his or her first name.
Walk with an easy carriage but hold yourself erect.
Boys should always raise their hats when greeting older people on the street, whether it be man or woman.
Vile and smutty talk can do you no good but does you much harm.
Always take your turn in line when buying tickets to a show, and never push or shove.
A manly or lady-like young person is envied by all. If you do not have this reputation it is your own fault and you are to be pitied.”
Next: Marital Advice
(Source: The Hostess Reference Book, produced for Syringa Chapter No. 38, Order of the Eastern Star, North Yakima, @1928, accessed at Yakima Valley Geneological Society.)