‘Miss and Mr. Manners’ library exhibit shows changes in behavior expectations

By Dan Fischer

A black-and-white photograph shows a woman standing straight, one hand perched casually on the door as she easily exits her car. Another just below it depicts the same woman bent over, hands grasping each side of the door frame, as she awkwardly emerges.

“Get out of a car like this,” reads the caption of the first photo. “Not like this,” it says of the second.

The photos and advice come from the pages of “Manners Made Easy,” a book on proper behavior for young people published in 1962. It’s just one of the many books on display in the east foyer of the Main Library as part of an exhibit entitled “Miss and Mr. Manners: Mid 20th Century Guides to Teenage Etiquette and Hygiene.”

The exhibit was developed by Laurie Chipps, graduate student, and supported by Nancy O’Brien, head of the Education and Social Science Library and a professor of library administration. It will run through March 31.

Chipps came up with the idea for the exhibit when she found an interesting volume.

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    “It all started with one book, ‘The Girl You Will Marry,'” she said.

    To make the exhibit eye-catching, Chipps and O’Brien also included some artifacts, or at least representations of artifacts, from the time period including a pearl necklace, a red bow tie, a wallet-sized fine-tooth comb and delicate white gloves.

    The selected sections of the books on display recreate a culture that is different from that of the 21st century in some aspects.

    Public displays of affection were considered taboo 60 years ago. Under a drawing of a couple holding hands and drinking soda, a brief poem in the book “Your Manners are Showing: The Handbook of Teenage Know-How” reads,

    “Don’t hold hands in a public spot;

    Don’t ever bill and coo a lot

    Where there are strangers who are apt

    To smirk at couples so enrapt.”

    The book describes a world in which young men and women lived under more social rules than they do today.

    “It just seems ridiculous, just based on the ways people were expected to act,” said Jim Hahn, graduate student, after examining some of the photographs.

    Men were warned to lift their hats to female acquaintances or, if they were walking with a woman, to lift their hats to anyone she spoke to. A book from 1942 criticized the amount of axle-grease men put in their hair, calling it “a positive death rink to a chance skidding fly or mosquito.”

    Women were expected to conform to the expectations of possible boyfriends or husbands. A piece of advice in “Miss Behavior: Popularity, Poise, and Personality for the Teen-Age Girl” reads, “Always remember to be sweet, BE SWEET, for the girl of his dreams is the sweetest thing!”

    Still, the collection shows that women were not always held to confining standards. One book advises men to listen to a woman who wants a career, because they just may come around to her way of thinking.

    Chipps believes it would have been difficult to live under the standards of 50 years ago.

    “I can’t imagine being a young adult in this time, worrying about everything that was in those books, because it seems like every little behavior was regimented,” she said.