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Old Etiquette Books: How To Be A More Interesting Woman

I have a modest number of old etiquette books. They began as a part of my “women’s issues” or “female history” collection, but since their number grows, well over three, the proper thing to do is to admit they are now their own collection.

It’s easy to fall for these old advice books because they so completely encapsulate the culture of the time. Typically they deal with all matters of importance, from what to say and how you sound when you say it to how to appear and when to disappear. All providing such charming clues to the roles of people and how they, as cogs, fit in the larger societal machine. In short, if you want to understand a time period better, read an etiquette or self-help book from the period.

How To Be Interesting, 1965One classic example is How to be a more interesting woman, by Barbara Wedgwood which is part of the Amy Vanderbilt Success Program For Women (a membership club service from Nelson Doubleday).

“Was there ever a woman born who wasn’t haunted by the thought that possibly she was not interesting enough, not to other women but inevitably to a man.”

Straight out of 1965, this retro self-wounding book provides lots of gems for girls like me, who fear they just may not be interesting.

Then again, perhaps I need not worry so much if I am interesting… As Amy herself wrote at the start of this booklet:

If every woman in our society sparkled, it would have the same uniformity as we would were every woman quiet and retiring. We know, when we think about it, that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, and thus a woman who is interesting to one man can leave the second cold. Women who are interesting to men are frequently an enigma to other women…

Before you read this discussion of how we can become more interesting, think of this: Not every man wants an interesting woman any more than every husband wants or could even tolerate a beauty. It is a very difficult thing to be a woman.

Difficult indeed, Amy; especially when we receive such contradictory information before we begin.

As a married woman I wonder if I should consult with my husband prior to beginning such a book — perhaps he will fall out of love with me if I become interesting? Then again, perhaps I’ll lose him to that interesting redhead next door it I am not? What to do?!

But begin we must — or we will never, ever know enough about what is interesting in order to properly decide if we should, if we can, become interesting.

In this booklet Barbara covers ‘everything’ from looks to the “either-or dilemma” of identity (should one be a “trapped” housewife or an equally trapped career woman). If the beauty topic seems the easiest, it’s not: “Quite simply, an interesting woman looks like an interesting woman, and anyone of either sex who possesses normal intelligence, is over twenty-five years of age, and has attended at least six large cocktail parties can spot her.” So you can imagine the ambiguity of female self identity. But hey, this was the confusing 60s when The Feminine Mystique was about as accepted as anti-war rallies.

Don’t expect the rest of the book to be any easier either. For example, home decor, it is noted, should express one’s self, one’s interests — but if you aren’t sure who you are or if you should even have interests, well, that makes decorating your home rather difficult doesn’t it? To help you, Barbara has provided you with some homework questions. For example:

To what extent have the social attitudes about femininity affected your life?
How much enjoyment do you get from your daily life?
How much enjoyment do you provide for those around you?
Do you have a philosophy of life which you can express to someone else?

(No word on what you should do if by answering these questions &/or becoming interesting makes you suicidal or at least consider divorce.)

Anyway, if you can make it through to page 56 you might find salvation.

Under Four Hints For Expanding Your Interests we find this:

#1 Find some subject that really interests you and become an expert in it. You’ll not only gain the interest of others but increase your self-respect as well.

Hey, collecting would qualify, right?! Yippee! We are interesting!

And you can be interesting too, 1960s woman, provided your hubby allows you some pocket money to begin collecting…


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Val Ubell No surprise, I found this article interesting! Do any of the other "four hints" include blog writing - oh, how could it have that - in 1965 a "blog" was unheard of or perhaps some type of "zit" or skin imperfection. As always, fun to read your articles. October 11th, 2007 at 9:32 AM

Kesha Bavier This idea has reached a complete new level thanks to of on-line blogging services that you can bring anywhere. Since most commuters spend more time online, blogs help them kick their research into overdrive. February 28th, 2010 at 3:05 AM

Lisa I have 25 of these booklets and one newsletter that I would like to sell. Any takers? Contact me at LMNEditorial@msn.com Thanks Lisa August 20th, 2011 at 11:12 PM

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