Fundamentals of Good Behavior, circa 1940

I picked up Today’s Etiquette by Lillian Eichler, published in 1940, at an estate sale. Here are four quotes from the chapter on etiquette for children.

"Even the tiniest gentleman should be taught to remove his hat to a lady—to give his hand readily in greeting—to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Even the tiniest lady should be taught to be courteous toward elders, to say ‘excuse me’ when she treads on someone’s foot. The mother who insists that her children do these courteous things at home need not fear that they will forget her training away from home."

How many parents raise their kids with basic manners? When I read this to Mom she said it mirrors how she was taught, but that today parents think it’s funny when their kids say "crap" or "shit."

"In teaching children the right thing to do it is important to tell them, whenever possible, why it is right. For example, a wise mother will tell her young son that lifting or ‘tipping’ the hat began with the knightly practice of removing the helmet in the presence of a lady. Since the age of hero worship is by no means over, what could be more natural than for the child to try to emulate the chivalrous conduct of heroes of long ago?"

Men don’t give up seats for pregnant women on a bus. Those men who do wear hats don’t take them off indoors (even movie theatres). Uh oh. Here’s Mom’s input: "I’ve known you for 13 years and you’ve never pulled out my chair in a restaurant." Umm, that’s not true, but I apparently don’t do it enough. I should add that Mom belches at dinner (she says "half the time") without so much as closing her mouth to contain the blast, much to my derision. However, we’ve been making a concerted effort to say "please" and "thank you" around Little Miss.

"So many parents overlook in children what they would not tolerate for an instant in an adult. For example, it is a distressing spectacle to see a child—even a very young child—poke a probing finger into mouth or nose. As soon as he is old enough to understand, the child should be taught that such manners are not permissible. The nose should be touched with the handkerchief only—and then as unobtrusively as possible. Thumb- and finger-sucking are not only unpleasant sights for those who have to look on, but unhygienic for the child as well."

Little Miss doesn’t pick her nose and only sticks a finger in her mouth now when she’s teething (which is quickly resolved with medicine). We don’t own any handkerchiefs, but by 18 months Miss began using facial tissue to wipe a runny nose and napkins for her face and hands at the dinner table. At first she was emulating, but now she has a genuine desire to be clean.

"Few things are more distasteful than to see a child lording it over the hired girl in the kitchen, or being insolent to one of the other servants in the home. Such conduct reflects upon the parents; for the standard set by the mother and father toward servants generally regulates the actions of the child. A youngster will not respect anyone his parents hold in contempt."

I suppose only "well-bred" folks (that term is used in the book) read an etiquette book in 1940, but the underlying principle still applies. Parents are the ones primarily culpable for the demeanor of their kids. Do you treat wait staff well at a restaurant? Do you hold doors open for people behind you? Do you curse at other drivers? How easily do you get annoyed or lose your temper? Remember the saying to kids as they go out in public? "Be on your best behavior!" Should there be a difference between home and public places? Good behavior starts at home and goes with you everywhere.

Sigh. I pulled these quotes for giggles and guffaws, but now that I think about it, I wish people had better manners, including me.


5 Responses to “Fundamentals of Good Behavior, circa 1940”

  1. Becca says:

    Now, don’t think I am trying to be snarky or mean by saying this, But I have to argue with you on one point: I don’t know how it is where you live, but here when I ride the bus someone ALWAYS gives up there seat for me- even when I wasn’t visibly pregnant with my second child- just because I was a mother and had a stroller as well. Most of the time some nice person will even help me get on and off the bus as well! Maybe it is just my city, but from the way you commented it might be yours. I agree with you on the rest of it though, alot of little kids these days have horrible manners.

    February 13th, 2006 at 11:07 pm

  2. thordora says:

    I have the “good manners” argument ALL THE TIME with the Dorf, who thinks it’s funny when the kid swears. I don’t find it cute at all.

    February 24th, 2006 at 5:16 am

  3. Jessie says:

    I am a 14 year old student doing a research project on the standard of manners comparing today with the 1940′s. I was quite interested to find that even though, opening a car door or pulling a chair out for females is considered polite, many females are extemerly offended by it as it “implies that they are not capable of these tasks themselves.” I am still trying to find more information on this topic but thankyou for the ammount you have provided me with here.

    October 18th, 2006 at 1:24 am

  4. Erin says:

    I have two boy’s, and these rules you have read for etiquette are exactly how I have taught my son’s. I was raised thinking men should open door’s for women, and pull out chairs too. I have a hard time these day’s when I hear someone get upset over Good Manners. My children are 12, and 8. I was born in 1971 so it’s not like I was raised one hundred year’s ago.
    I was horrifid the first time I was eating dinner with my In-laws, and my Mother-In-Law farted at the table , I almost threw up I actually rebuked her, then I got up and left. My husband was so upset with her.
    I’m amazed at what great manners my husband has since he informed that this is was not an uncommon event in his household. I get along wonderfully with my Mother-In-Law, but sometimes I worry about people like that. They are always willing to criticize other’s for there manners etc.. instead of helping others learn why these thing’s should not be done.

    October 30th, 2006 at 5:44 am

  5. mary ellen sands says:

    I have this book too….my book still has the paper pictured cover….I’m 78 today and trying to find things to sell on ebay……just wanted to say hi

    May 30th, 2008 at 9:42 am

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