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Proprieties and Usages of Good Society — Lesson I. Introduction (the end, really)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 14, 2010

XII. Conduct in Places of Worship
II. Visitors in the Home

This lesson, actually the Introduction to the entire set of lessons for young LDS women in 1902, concludes this series. I’ve saved the Introduction for the last entry so that we could evaluate how well the series accomplished what its authors intended. We’ve laughed a little, admired some of the practicalities and surprisingly modern approach to some details, and been mystified by the reasoning behind some other rules. But overall, how rational or practical or silly or over-protective do you think the series was? Do you think today’s Young Women would tolerate advice this extensive on behavior and dress, assuming the lessons were updated to deal with cellphones and private cars and Girls’ Camp?

I. Introduction.

The lessons of this department have been compiled after a most careful study of the best authorities. It is the design to give them full enough that no reference book will be required.

–ooo–

When a nation or a people band themselves together in community form, social life necessarily begins its existence. There are certain social usages among the savages, among the heathens, and in the midst of civilized nations. The higher you go in the scale of civilization, the more complex are these unwritten laws of form and procedure. It is not alone among the so-called enlightened nations that politeness and decorum are observed; rather is it true that the heathen nations are more punctilious and delicate in their behavior one to another than are the boasting Christian nations. From the earliest ages of time a man’s disposition and character have been judged more by his manner and outward behavior than from his inner motives. Politeness is a cloak that can be assumed, and, in fact, it is made obligatory upon those who would move in good society; and fortunately for those who have been raised in untoward or pioneer circumstances, the habits and manners of gentle breeding can be studied like any other lesson and acquired at will. You may not know, when you meet a person on the street, whether he or she be a lady or a gentleman or not – the clothes may indicate poverty; or, if of good material, they may be ill-fitting or misshapen; but if you stop to speak for a moment or two to such a person, you can soon tell whether there is innate or acquired good breeding in the person with whom you are speaking. And how, pray, can you tell? By the glance of the eye, the tone of the voice, the manner of speech, the carriage of the body, and by a dozen little tokens which might escape the unobservant, but which bespeak to the watchful eye that subtle thing we call culture. It is the purpose of these lessons to point out some of the ways in which untaught people offend good taste, and to suggest some of the cardinal points in which politeness may be acquired by one who is truly anxious to be a lady.

Let the principle be laid down, to begin with, that the foundation of all politeness is found in the utterance of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Would you like anyone to speak cross to you? Might it not offend you to hear another speak boisterously in your presence? Do you not like people to be kind, gentle, and thoughtful of your comfort? Does it not make you happy to have another treat you with perfect unselfishness? Then remember that society demands of you every good and gracious act that you are justified in asking from another. Unselfishness is the key-note to the character of a true lady; and when you say such and such a one is a lady, you simply mean that she is unselfish, gentle, kind, sympathetic and very thoughtful of others. Good breeding demands an observance of perfect quiet in the act of eating, in our behavior upon the street, and in all public places. Why? Because others would be annoyed or disturbed if we were noisy, or rude in our actions in such places.

In accordance with the world-old tradition that men are the protectors of women, etiquette demands of men gracious and constant service to the women with whom they are associated. It is true that some men take advantage of this dictum of society, and sometimes show a false kindness to unprotected women which may be a snare to their feet; and what a libel upon modern civilization it is that it is only the so-called civilized man who would think of imposing upon or deceiving a helpless woman! In their original condition, barbarians, savages, and the heathen would scorn to take advantage of a helpless woman. They might rob her, or even take her life; but her innocence would be safe in their hands. It is the modern desperado who too often assumes the cloak of gentle breeding, thus luring woman from the path of safety and robbing her of her most precious possession. It is for this reason, too, that modern society is gradually accepting a new standard of behavior for well-bred women. In the old days, it would be extremely unladylike for a woman to perform any service for herself in public; nor would she appear anywhere in public unless under the protection of a man. And in those days, to find a woman alone in public was to know her character at once; and should such a thing happen as for an innocent, helpless woman to be alone in a public place, every man, for the time being, felt himself her silent protector and guardian. But modern customs and usages, together with the reckless character of some of the men who have assumed the cloak of gentility to hide their wickedness, have established a new code of ethics for women in public places. Under certain conditions it is now considered proper for a woman to appear entirely alone, or with another woman as her companion, in any public place whatever. It may not always be safe, especially if the woman be ignorant of the snares and dangers surrounding her, and be of a trusting and guileless disposition; and it is very unsafe if she be boisterous and rude, uncultured and flippant in her conduct. But any woman may, should necessity demand it, with care and discretion, with experience and tact, travel around the world and appear in any public place whatsoever without any fear of losing caste, or imperiling her reputation as a lady. Let it not be understood, however, that the above expressions warrant the appearance at night of young girls, unattended, on the street or in public places.

The lessons which shall follow in this course are designed to instruct our girls as to the conduct which society demands of them in some of the more important phases of home and public life.

Questions.

1. What is the communal form of life? What can you say of social life among the savages? Explain some of the habits and customs of the heathens in social life. What would be your idea of good breeding? Describe the character of an ideal woman. Would she be a perfect lady?
2. Why should a person not be noisy on the street?
3. What is the Golden Rule?
4. What was the reason for the tradition that men are the protectors of women?
5. Explain the terms, guileless, flippant, boisterous, and rude.

Proprieties and Usages of Good Society:

Preliminary
I. Introduction
II. Visitors in the Home
III. Dress
IV. Traveling
V. Suggestions for Travel by Sea
VI. Ball Room Etiquette
VII. Table Manners
VIII. Proper Street Deportment
IX. Shopping
X. Social Observances in Calling, At Weddings, and Funerals
XI. Picnics, Excursions, Parties and Winter and Summer Outings
XII. Conduct in Places of Worship



3 Comments »

  1. Huh. This was an interesting read. I can’t say that I followed the author’s logic as to every point, but I was impressed by the earnest attempt to inculcate social rules in general. These days, we often talk of “good manners” as if they are just something that we do (or not!), and sometimes forget some of the reasons behind the rules. I especially liked how the author tried to point things back to the Golden Rule.

    (Still, I seriously did not get how the author went from “men are the protector of women” to “women may now travel alone.” The author seems to be saying that if modern men weren’t so intent on stealing a woman’s innocence, we could go back to the days when women could safely rely on men for everything. And thus the need for women to appear alone in public would be gone. Weird logic. Hmmm…)

    Comment by David Y. — July 14, 2010 @ 9:03 am

  2. That first question is insightful with regards to Mormon acceptance of broader trends in America. We’ve discussed a number of these issues separately, but it is interesting to see everything crystallized so perfectly.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 14, 2010 @ 10:20 am

  3. I’ve greatly enjoyed this series. I think both our YM and YW need more instruction in etiquette and comportment.

    Thank you!

    Comment by kew — July 14, 2010 @ 10:51 am

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