Reference > Emily Post > Etiquette
Emily Post (1873–1960).  Etiquette.  1922.

Chapter XIX.
The Chaperon and Other Conventions

OF course there are chaperons and chaperons! But it must be said that the very word has a repellent school-teacherish sound. One pictures instinctively a humorless tyrant whose “correct” manner plainly reveals her true purpose, which is to take the joy out of life. That she can be—and often is—a perfectly human and sympathetic person, whose unselfish desire is merely to smooth the path of one who is the darling of her heart, in nothing alters the feeling of gloom that settles upon the spirit of youth at the mention of the very word “chaperon.”

  As a matter of fact the only young girl who is really “free,” is she whose chaperon is never very far away. She need give conventionality very little thought, and not bother about her P’s and Q’s at all, because her chaperon is always a strong and protective defense; but a young girl who is unprotected by a chaperon is in the position precisely of an unarmed traveler walking alone among wolves—his only defense is in not attracting their notice.
  To be sure the time has gone by when the presence of an elderly lady is indispensable to every gathering of young people. Young girls for whose sole benefit and protection the chaperon exists (she does not exist for her own pleasure, youthful opinion to the contrary notwithstanding), have infinitely greater freedom from her surveillance than had those of other days, and the typical chaperon is seldom seen with any but very young girls, too young to have married friends. Otherwise a young married woman, a bride perhaps scarcely out of her teens, is, on all ordinary occasions, a perfectly suitable chaperon, especially if her husband is present. A very young married woman gadding about without her husband is not a proper chaperon.   3
  There are also many occasions when a chaperon is unnecessary! It is considered perfectly correct for a young girl to drive a motor by herself, or take a young man with her, if her family know and approve of him, for any short distance in the country. She may play golf, tennis, go to the Country Club, or Golf Club (if near by), sit on the beach, go canoeing, ride horseback, and take part in the normal sports and occupations of country life. Young girls always go to private parties of every sort without their own chaperon, but the fact that a lady issues an invitation means that either she or another suitable chaperon will be present.   4

  Ethically the only chaperon is the young girl’s own sense of dignity and pride; she who has the right attributes of character needs no chaperon—ever. If she is wanting in decency and proper pride, not even Argus could watch over her! But apart from ethics, there are the conventions to think of, and the conventions of propriety demand that every young woman must be protected by a chaperon, because otherwise she will be misjudged.

  No young girl may live alone. Even though she has a father, unless he devotes his entire time to her, she must also have a resident chaperon who protects her reputation until she is married or old enough to protect it herself—which is not until she has reached a fairly advanced age, of perhaps thirty years or over if she is alone, or twenty-six or so if she lives in her father’s house and behaves with such irreproachable circumspection that Mrs. Grundy is given no chance to set tongues wagging.
  It goes without saying that a chaperon is always a lady, often one whose social position is better than that of her charge; occasionally she is a social sponsor as well as a moral one. Her position, if she is not a relative, is very like that of a companion. Above all, a chaperon must have dignity, and if she is to be of any actual service, she must be kind of heart and have intelligent sympathy and tact. To have her charge not only care for her, but be happy with her, is the only possible way such a relationship can endure.   7
  Needless to say a chaperon’s own conduct must be irreproachable and her knowledge of the world such as can only be gained by personal experience; but she need not be an old lady! She can perfectly well be reasonably young, and a spinster.   8
  Very often the chaperon “keeps the house,” but she is never called a “housekeeper.” Nor is she a “secretary” though she probably draws the checks and audits the bills.   9
  It is by no means unusual for mothers who are either very gay or otherwise busy, and cannot give most of their time to their grown and growing daughters, to put them in charge of a resident chaperon. Often their governess—if she is a woman of the world—gives up her autocracy of the schoolroom and becomes social guardian instead.  10

  It is unnecessary to say that a chaperon has no right to be inquisitive or interfering unless for a very good reason. If an objectionable person—meaning one who can not be considered a gentleman—is inclined to show the young girl attentions, it is of course her duty to cut the acquaintance short at the beginning before the young girl’s interest has become aroused. For just such a contingency as this it is of vital importance that confidence and sympathy exist between the chaperon and her charge. No modern young girl is likely to obey blindly unless she values the opinions of one in whose judgment and affection she has learned to believe.

  Usually if a young girl is an orphan, living with a chaperon, a ball or formal party would be given in the name of an aunt or other near relative. If her father is alive, the invitations go out in his name of course, and he receives with her. But if it should happen that she has no near family at all, or if her chaperon is her social sponsor, the chaperon’s name can be put on invitations. For example:

  Rosalie has no very near relatives and Miss Titherington has brought her up.  13
  In sending out the invitations for a dinner (a young girl would not be giving a formal dinner) Rosalie telephones her friends “Will you dine with me (or us) next Monday?” or, “On the sixteenth?” It is not necessary to mention Miss Titherington because it is taken for granted that she will be present.  14
  It is also not considered proper for a young girl ever to be alone as hostess. When she invites young girls and men to her house, Miss Titherington either “receives” them or comes into the room while they are there. If the time is afternoon, very likely she pours tea and when everyone has been helped, she goes into another room. She does not stay with them ever, but she is never very far away.  15
  The chaperon (or a parent) should never go to bed until the last young man has left the house. It is an unforgivable breach of decorum to allow a young girl to sit up late at night with a young man—or a number of them. On returning home from a party, she must not invite or allow a man to “come in for a while.” Even her fiancé must bid her good night at the door if the hour is late, and some one ought always to sit up, or get up, to let her in. No young girl ought to let herself in with a latch-key.  16
  In old-fashioned days no lady had a latch-key. And it is still fitting and proper for a servant to open the door for her.  17
  A young girl may not, even with her fiancé, lunch in a road house without a chaperon, or go on a journey that can by any possibility last over night. To go out with him in a small sail-boat sounds harmless enough, but might result in a questionable situation if they are becalmed, or if they are left helpless in a sudden fog. The Maine coast, for example, is particularly subject to fogs that often shut down without warning and no one going out on the water can tell whether he will be able to get back within a reasonable time or not. A man and a girl went out from Bar Harbor and did not get back until next day. Everyone knew the fog had come in as thick as pea-soup and that it was impossible to get home; but to the end of time her reputation will suffer for the experience.  18

  At a dinner party given for young people in a private house, a somewhat older sister would be a sufficient chaperon. Or the young hostess’ mother after receiving the guests may, if she chooses, dine with her husband elsewhere than in the dining-room, the parents’ roof being supposedly chaperonage enough.
  In going to tea in a college man’s room, or in a bachelor’s apartment, the proper chaperon should be a lady of fairly mature years. To see two or three apparently young people going into a bachelor’s quarters would be open to criticism. There are many places which are unsuitable, for young girls to go to whether they are chaperoned or not. No well brought up young girl should be allowed to go to supper at a cabaret until she is married, or has passed the age when “very young” can be applied to her.  20

  In New York, for instance, no young girl of social standing may, without being criticized, go alone with a man to the theater. Absolutely no lady (unless middle-aged—and even then she would be defying convention) can go to dinner or supper in a restaurant alone with a gentleman. A lady, not young, who is staying in a very dignified hotel, can have a gentleman dine with her. But any married woman, if her husband does not object, may dine alone in her own home with any man she pleases or have a different one come in to tea every day in the week without being criticized.
  A very young girl may motor around the country alone with a man, with her father’s consent, or sit with him on the rocks by the sea or on a log in the woods; but she must not sit with him in a restaurant. All of which is about as upside down as it can very well be. In a restaurant they are not only under the surveillance of many eyes, but they can scarcely speak without being overheard, whereas short-distance motoring, driving, riding, walking or sitting on the seashore has no element of protection certainly. Again, though she may not lunch with him in a restaurant, she is sometimes (not always) allowed to go to a moving picture matinée with him! Why sitting in the dark in a moving picture theater is allowed, and the restaurant is tabu is very mysterious.  22
  Older girls and young married women are beginning to lunch with men they know well in some of the New York restaurants, but not in others. In many cities it would be scandalous for a young married woman to lunch with a man not her husband, but quite all right for a young girl and man to lunch at a country club. This last is reasonable because the room is undoubtedly filled with people they know—who act as potential chaperons. Nearly everywhere it is thought proper for them to go to a dancing club for tea, if the “club” is managed by a chaperon.  23
  As said above, interpretation of what is proper shifts according to locality. Even in Victorian days it was proper in Baltimore for a young girl to go to the theater alone with a man, and to have him see her home from a ball was not only permitted but absolutely correct.  24

  Of course every one has his own portrait of Mrs. Grundy, and some idea of the personality she shows to him; but has any one ever tried to ferret out that disagreeable old woman’s own position; to find out where she lives and why she has nothing to do but meddle in affairs which do not concern her. Is she a lady? One would imagine she is not. One would also imagine that she lives in a solid well-repaired square brown stone house with a cupola used as a conning tower and equipped with periscope and telescope and wireless. Furthermore, her house is situated on a bleak hill so that nothing impedes her view and that of her two pets, a magpie and a jackal. And the business in life of all three of them is to track down and destroy the good name of every woman who comes within range, especially if she is young and pretty—and unchaperoned!
  The pretty young woman living alone, must literally follow Cinderella’s habits. To be out of the house late at night or sitting up, except to study, are imprudences she can not allow herself. If she is a widow her conduct must be above criticism, but if she is young and pretty and divorced, she must literally live the life of a Puritan spinster of Salem. The magpie never leaves her window sill and the jackal sits on the doormat, and the news of her every going out and coming in, of every one whom she receives, when they come, how long they stay and at what hour they go, is spread broadcast.  26
  No unprotected woman can do the least thing that is unconventional without having Mrs. Grundy shouting to everyone the worst possible things about her.  27

  The bachelor girl is usually a worker; she is generally either earning her living or studying to acquire the means of earning her living. Her days are therefore sure to be occupied, and the fact that she has little time for the gaiety of life, and that she is a worker, puts her in a somewhat less assailable position. She can on occasion go out alone with a man (not a married one), but the theater she goes to must be of conventional character, and if she dines in a restaurant it is imperative that a chaperon be in the party; and the same is true in going to supper at night. No one could very well criticize her for going to the opera or a concert with a man when neither her nor his behavior hints a lack of reserve.
  But a girl whose personal dignity is unassailable is not apt to bring censure upon herself, even though the world judges by etiquette, which may often be a false measure. The young woman who wants really to be free from Mrs. Grundy’s hold on her, must either live her own life, caring nothing for the world’s opinion or the position it offers, or else be chaperoned.  29

  Barring the one fact that a chaperon must be on hand before young or “single” women guests arrive, and that she may not leave until after those whom she has chaperoned have left, there is no difference whatsover in an entertainment given at the house of a bachelor and one given by a hostess. A bachelor can give dinners or theater parties or yachting parties or house parties or any parties that a hostess can give.
  It is unnecessary to say no lady may dine alone in a gentleman’s rooms, or house; nor may she dine with a number of gentlemen (unless one of them is her husband, in which case she is scarcely “alone”). But it is perfectly correct for two or more ladies to dine at a gentleman’s rooms if one of the ladies is elderly or the husband of one is present.  31
  A bachelor entertaining in bachelor’s quarters, meaning that he has only a man servant, must be much more punctilious, and must arrange to have the chaperon bring any young woman guests with her, since no young girls could be seen entering bachelor’s quarters alone, and have their “good name” survive. If he has a large establishment, including women servants, and if furthermore he is a man whose own reputation is unblemished, the chaperon may be met at his house. But since it is more prudent for young women to arrive under her care, why run the unnecessary risk of meeting Mrs. Grundy’s jackal on the doorstep?  32
  At the house of a bachelor such as described above, the chaperon could be a husbandless young married woman, or in other words, the most careless chaperon possible, without ever giving Mrs. Grundy’s magpie cause for ruffling a feather. But no young woman could dine or have tea, no matter how well chaperoned, in the “rooms” of a man of morally bad reputation without running a very unpleasant risk of censure.  33

  Bachelors frequently have house parties at their country places. A married lady whose husband is with her is always the chaperon unless the host’s mother or sister may be staying—or living—in his house.
  There is always something unusually alluring about a bachelor’s entertaining. Especially his house parties. Where do all bachelors get those nice and so very respectable elderly maid servants? They can’t all have been their nurses! And a bachelor’s house has a something about it that is very comfortable but entirely different from a lady’s house, though it would be difficult to define wherein the difference lies. He is perhaps more attentive than a hostess, at least he meets his guests at the station if they come by train, or, if they motor to his house, he goes out on the front steps to greet them as they drive up.  35
  A possible reason why bachelors seem to make such good hosts is that only those who have a talent for it make the attempt. There is never any obligation on a gentleman’s part to invite ladies to stay with him, whereas it is part of every lady’s duty at least occasionally to be a hostess, whether she has talent, or even inclination, for the position or not.  36
  A gentleman can return the courtesies of hostesses to him by occasionally sending flowers, or books, or candy, and by showing them polite attention when he meets them out.  37
  If a bachelor lives in a house of his own, especially in a country community, he is under the same obligations as any other householder to return the hospitality shown by his neighbors to him.  38

  The bachelor’s invitations are the same as those sent out by a hostess. There is absolutely no difference. His butler or waitress telephones “Will Mr. and Mrs. Norman dine with Mr. Bachelor on Wednesday?” Or he writes a note or uses the engraved dinner card. In giving an informal dance it is quite correct, according to New York fashion, for him to write on his visiting card:

  Or an artist sends his card with his studio address and

  No invitation of a gentleman mentions that there will be a chaperon because that is taken for granted. No gentleman invites ladies of position to a party unless one or many chaperons are to be present.  40
  A very young girl never goes even to an unmarried doctor’s or a clergyman’s (unless the latter is very elderly) without a chaperon, who in this instance may be a semi-elderly maid.  41
  A lady having her portrait painted always takes a woman friend, or her maid, who sits in the studio, or at least within sight or hearing.  42

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