By Dorri Partain
Manners maketh man, and woman and child, in this hefty tome devoted to gracious behavior at home and in public.
As penned by Mrs. Oliver Harriman, and published by Greenburg, Publisher, Inc. of New York, “The Modern Guide To The Best Social Form” is presented as “the first complete book of etiquette by a great American social leader.”
Grace Carley Harriman (1877-1950) married Oliver Harriman Jr. in 1891 and thus became associated with the Vanderbilts, as Mr. Harriman’s sister had married W.K. Vanderbuilt, Sr. Oliver Harriman (1862-1940) was a prominent banker and related to E.H. Harriman, president of the Union Pacific railroad.
While known for entertaining countless celebrities, including the king of England and the prince of Wales, Mrs. Harriman was also devoted to social causes. She served as the president of the Camp Fire Girls from 1921 to 1927 and introduced the Grace Carley Harriman Award, given annually from 1921-1947 to deserving Camp Fire Guardians (leaders).
With 72 chapters, the book of etiquette covers all manner of social situations and household duties, from “The Food We Eat with Our Fingers” to “How Do You Look When You Have No Servant?”
“Appendix C – Do’s and Don’ts” ascribes “On Chewing Gum” one should “chew gum in private if you must chew at all. Don’t chew gum in public. Personally, I do not care for gum at any time.” A detailed index will guide the reader to the correct section in an emergency.
Despite the proclivity to be proper at all times, Mrs. Harriman does have a sense of humor – when asked if it is undignified for a grown person to ride a bicycle she states, “Certainly not. It is only undignified if you fall off.”
In a nod to the year of publication, 1942, the book cover reverse is devoted to a plea to purchase War Bonds. Nationally-known business analyst Merryle Stanley Rukeyser implores that “buying bonds, like paying taxes, helps to curb reckless wartime inflation, which would be disastrous.”
At the time of printing the book sold for $3. It was the only book ever written by Mrs. Harriman.