Thursday, September 26, 2013

Emily Post's Etiquette for Social Registers in Her Day

A friend alerted us to an article by William Norwich, from Let us say from the get-go, we have nothing against Emily Post. We are just not big fans of her book "Etiquette."  Sure, it does list the social rules of the time quite sufficiently. Many other less known writers did as well though. It is the tone in which she writes that bothers us.  She fell victim to the social class structure of the day, and as such, she comes off in her book as a snob. That aspect of her book we do not care for, which is why any time we are asked if we want to be just like Emily Post, we cringe. Not visibly, we hope.  But we do cringe a bit inside.  

Blue Blood Marries “Colored Girl” 

Emily Post Frowns - Judge Orders “Nipple” Check        

by William Norwich

Domestic worker, Alice Beatrice Jones
IN 1921, WHILE OUT motoring, society’s Leonard Kip Rhinelander met Alice Beatrice Jones, a domestic worker who lived near Stamford, Connecticut’s Orchard School, an inpatient clinic where young Leonard was seeking the cure for a variety of “nervous conditions” including stammering and extreme shyness.
Leonard Kip Rhinelander, right, in court
While Alice had a curative effect on Leonard, his family hoped it was just an upstairs-down- stairs dalliance. They hoped wrong. In 1924, shortly after Mr. Rhinelander turned 21, the couple married. Unbeknownst to all, Mrs. L. Kip Rhinelander became the first black woman in the New York Social Register—but not for long. 

A reporter discovered that she was the daughter of “a colored man,” a former taxi driver who was almost unrecognizably mixed-race. Newspapers ran with headlines like “Blue Blood Weds Colored Girl.” For a few weeks, Leonard defended his wife, but his family won, urging the couple to separate “because of the Ku Klux Klan,” reported the New York Times. His lawyers filed for an annulment, claiming that Alice had hidden her race from Leonard.

Artist's depiction of Alice Beatrice Jones in the judge's chambers
 In the judge’s chambers, Alice, crying and holding on to her mother, was forced to remove various articles of clothing so the all-male and all-white jury could see, by the appearance of her nipples, back, and legs, that Leonard must have known prior to the marriage that she was not entirely of white blood. To the jury’s credit, the annulment was denied, the marriage up- held. Under a subsequent agreement, Alice received a sum of $32,500 plus $3,600 annually for life. (She and Leonard never reunited.)
The annulment was denied.  Even worse?  Mrs. L. Kip
Rhinelander became the first black woman in the New York Social Register. But not for long, as Emily Post was on the case!

It was Emily Post, otherwise the champion of kindness and courtesy, who pushed the Social Register to drop Alice. Personalities over principles: Her people in Tuxedo Park were related by marriage to the Rhinelanders, you see. Mrs. Post got more than she bargained for. She sought only Alice’s ouster, but with it came Leonard’s as well.

Now Emily Post was human. She made errors in her life.  This particular error in judgement however, was a rather big one, so we shared it with a few friends.  As we neglected the blog to vacation with our families and finish planning a wedding this past summer, we thought we should share it on the blog now.  Maybe this way, people will realize we do not wish to be "just like Emily Post" as people gushingly say when Sis or I mention teaching etiquette.  Emily rubbed salt into the wounds of a young woman necessarily. We hope not to ever make the same type of error. We want to be ourselves. And we want to teach etiquette.  So please, just don't ask if we want to be "just like Emily Post?"


  1. This was heartbreaking to read. What Alice Beatrice Jones, a young bride, was put through! Then for Emily Post to make a fuss of it? Unfathomable.

  2. I am disgusted, but Emily was a product of her time in history.