Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Attitudes and Manners: Discussion 1 — Manners Matter

Attitudes and Manners: Discussion 1 — Manners Matter

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 04, 2011

This series of eight Relief Society lessons from 1961-62 has been sitting in Keepa’s draft queue for more than a year because I was (and am) uncertain how it will be received. It could trigger an onslaught of contemptuous “how terribly awfully horribly dreadfully degrading it is to expect a man to open the door for you” remarks, which is really not what I’d like this to turn into. We had some fun last year with a set of 1902 etiquette lessons which could have been seen in the same light (e.g., the young lady traveling was advised to depend on a man to check her trunk for her), but those lessons didn’t provoke any such response, perhaps because they were “quaint” while we might be a little too close to the world of these 1961 lessons.

In any case, here’s an authentic look at what LDS women were taught in the deportment department 50 years ago. Let’s see what we make of it.

Work Meeting – Attitudes and Manners

How Do You Do?

(A Course Expected to Be Used by Wards and Branches at Work Meeting)

Discussion 1 – Manners Matter

Elaine Anderson Cannon

For Tuesday, October 10, 1961

Objective: To show that good manners are fundamental in establishing harmonious relationships with our fellow beings.

In the matter of manners … they matter!

Manners are our social security. They are the “open sesame” to friends and fun, to satisfying experiences, and worthwhile achievement. They are the saving grace in the complexities of family living. They are the very thing about our way of life which makes us a civilized people.

Our manners silently say that we are alert and aware, thoughtful and considerate, that we respect ourselves as well as others, that we are responsible and responsive, and that we are entirely pleasant to be around.

Or they may suggest the exact opposite.

In the matter of manners, how do YOU do?

This is indeed a question we each should ask ourselves. Being typical human beings, we undoubtedly note the need for some improvement. Our next step should be to set about on a program of self-improvement, not only in the matter of manners, social behavior, and in our dealings with others, but in our appearance and our personality as well.

For our own happiness this study is important. There are at least three other main reasons why such a program of improvement is worth the effort.

1. We are a church with lay leaders, teachers, and participants. In this type of organization, it behooves us all to excel in the art of proper human relationships. How many of our programs in the Church are hindered because of hurt feelings, misunderstandings, improper considerations, offensive behavior, and poor example?

2. We have the eyes of the world upon us as a Church. We have often been termed a “peculiar people.” But if it should be used because some among us show lack of culture, or good taste, or insufficient respect for self or others, the term would not be complimentary. By good example we can attract many people to the Church and influence others favorably.

3. We are the women in the Church, and our example of gentleness and modesty is communicated from our homes into the lives of our children and into our Church and social activities.

Good behavior demands a certain willingness to discipline oneself for the sake of others. It is putting their comfort before our own. Observing definite rules, as well as simply being considerate, has great value also. It gives conformity and orderliness to social situations. In any interplay among human beings, where there is a difference of opinion, personalities, and activities, it is only logical to have some regulations for behavior. They serve as a kind of traffic semaphore. They give us a feeling of security because we know what to do when acquainted with the established rules of living with others.

Good manners, good taste, indicate our respect or lack of it for the dignity of man, the worth of the human soul. Because we are members of the true Church of Jesus Christ, we should try to be superior people in all respects, not the least being our dealings with other children of God. behavior doesn’t depend upon material things or external tools. It depends upon us. It is, in the final consideration, so much a reflection of our character, that, good or bad, it shows us for what we truly are.

A woman never feels so feminine as when a man is being a gentleman. A woman feels rightful pride when she witnesses her son or husband, her brother or her father, perform an act of consideration and thoughtfulness. A woman can and should inspire proper behavior. She can also instruct her sons, for by her very nature and the experiences she constantly encounters, it is she who can advise and remind of the social amenities so vitally important in social interplay.

Skill in social behavior fosters good public relations, saves embarrassing moments, protects reputations, guards against misunderstandings, increases efficiency, creates a mood for spirituality, encourages understanding, improves personality.

A woman should allow a man (this, incidentally, includes her husband) every opportunity to do things for her, such as carrying her packages (not her personal handbag, however) opening doors (as they approach the door she should step to one side so that he can reach the knob), helping her with her coat (she hands it to him rather than struggling with it herself). Family night rehearsals in the art of helping one in and out of a coat could prove beneficial. If she drops something in the presence of a man, she doesn’t try to beat him to the floor to retrieve it. If she has already climbed from the car before he can get around to help her, he can’t very well open the door for her. In ordinary situations, she should wait until he comes. If he momentarily forgets, he will soon notice she isn’t beside him and come back for her! At which point she should smile her sweetest and thank him sincerely – an act which should follow each of the thoughtful things he does for her.

Both young men and young women stand when a much older man or woman enters the room. This is to show respect. A young man also stands when any woman, except a child, comes into his presence.

So in the matter of manners – they matter, not as a simple performance of rules, bu as a motivation from thoughts which mark us as being well-bred, a good Christian, a beloved and loving soul.

Questions for Discussion

1.Why is it worthwhile to learn the basic rules of etiquette?
2. How are good behavior and religion related?
3. Is it consistent for one to be an active Church member and disregard proper behavior patterns?
4. Discuss some of the ways women can encourage men in social graces.
5. Consider the statement: “It is as wrong to take offense easily as to give it.”



  1. Skill in social behavior fosters good public relations, saves embarrassing moments, protects reputations, guards against misunderstandings, increases efficiency, creates a mood for spirituality, encourages understanding, improves personality.

    This remains true. Making people feel comfortable is important to me. What constitutes good manners may shift a bit over time.

    As a woman working in a male-dominated profession in the South during the mid-80s, I say that everyone struggled. Men (some men) inherently wanted to hold doors for women, but they feared being told they were being chauvinists. Because of genuine abuses in the workplace, women were primed to address even well-intentioned shows of formal manners.

    Respect, one hopes, continues to be shown by all. For physical tasks, regardless of gender or age, it shouldn’t be a matter of, “You can’t do this so I’ll do it for you”. It should be, “Please let me help you with this”. If one is offended by an offer of help, there’s something else going on.

    Comment by Ellen — May 4, 2011 @ 9:10 am

  2. Those are Sunday School questions at the end, so I’ll attempt to provide some Sunday School answers.

    1.Why is it worthwhile to learn the basic rules of etiquette?

    So that you can feel comfortable in many different circumstances.

    2. How are good behavior and religion related?

    Good behavior shows consideration for others. One of the basic principles of Christianity is the Golden Rule: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”

    3. Is it consistent for one to be an active Church member and disregard proper behavior patterns?

    It depends who’s defining the “proper” behavior and what the underlying or real reasons are for the expected behavior.

    4. Discuss some of the ways women can encourage men in social graces.

    Ignore them when their behavior is bad, praise them when it’s good.

    5. Consider the statement: “It is as wrong to take offense easily as to give it.”

    Okay. Done. I considered it.

    Comment by Researcher — May 4, 2011 @ 10:24 am

  3. When I “consider” that statement, I realize that it is poorly written. The meaning is profound, but they should have made the sentence a little less awkward. I also think that means that we should be far more forgiving for other people whose sense of manners and etiquette are different from our own. Sorry, I got to that last sentence and the phrasing annoyed me.

    I’ve found that as a man, the best way for a woman to encourage my “social graces” is for them to slap or punch me in the side when I act like my usual self in public. I suppose it’s a little infantilizing, but sometimes it is indeed warranted. :)

    Comment by Jacob M — May 4, 2011 @ 10:44 am

  4. I agree with the general premise, but not some of the specifics. My husband always opens the car door for me to get into the car, but not to get out. When we are taking groceries up to our apartment, he carries the heavy bags but I open the door because I have the lighter bags.

    I need to plan a family night activity where my husband helps me into and out of my coat.

    Comment by HokieKate — May 4, 2011 @ 10:59 am

  5. It is a little eye roll-inducing, but I’m struck by how similar it is to current teachings. While I haven’t experienced manners as a topic in RS, several YW lessons could have used this text verbatim. It also seems that anytime there is a lesson or fireside on dating in my singles ward, the prescriptive advice at the end (opening doors, etc.) makes an appearance.

    It’s just occurred to me that in all of these cases, there is a consistent trend to emphasize how women can induce manners in men, rather than focusing on womens’ manners themselves. One might argue that this trend carries over to other topics (morality, modesty) as well.

    My general feeling about door-opening and coat-helping is that while I am not offended by them, I do find them to be among the silliest and least meaningful of thoughtful gestures. I’m always a bit puzzled by the emphasis they receive.

    Comment by E. Wallace — May 4, 2011 @ 11:41 am

  6. So what’s a relief society “work meeting”?

    While I’d like to claim to be an expert in “skilled social behavior,” I’m not. I think it would actually be easier to have manners back in the day, when I didn’t have to make split-second analyses if the woman coming through the door with an armload of packages is an ardent feminist who will be offended if I hold the door open for her.

    OTOH, back in the day “skilled social behavior” likely entailed much more than today. I look forward to the series!

    Comment by Clark — May 4, 2011 @ 11:57 am

  7. Interesting that there was a specific exemption stated for the guy carrying a woman‘s handbag—it makes me wonder if there was a recognition that norms were starting to shift, and so the writer worried that a blanket statement that a man should carry a woman‘s bags might be misinterpreted by an overzealous gentleman-in-training as including that formerly-obvious Item That A Man Shall Not Touch.

    And back when i was in the dating world, if a woman expected me to open the car door for her she was immediately removed from consideration for taking the relationship any further. I guess this makes me an inactive church member, according to the leading nature of question #3.

    Comment by David B — May 4, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

  8. “Work meeting” was held once a month as the regular RS meeting. It’s when the women made things for the annual fund-raising bazaar, and especially in earlier decades when they sewed for those who needed help. That’s when the quilting was done, and where canning and cooking and baking were taught. Usually there would be a short, light lesson at the beginning while the women worked; after the lesson, the women continued working while chatting. A light luncheon would also usually be served (remember, RS was held on a weekday then), the only meeting during the month when a meal was served. Often the needlework would go on all afternoon, much longer than any other RS meeting.

    This lesson is only the first of eight, and I suppose the generic “hold the door for her” emphasis is inevitably a part of that, just as “learning which fork to use” is inevitably shorthand for discussing table etiquette. The other lessons will go somewhat deeper into behaviors that may be more important than these symbolic overview items.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 4, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

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