‘Snobbery or good manners? I remember etiquette training as a young girl’

Jan 18, 2021
Etiquette training was the norm for many children in the 1950s and '60s. Source: Getty

When I was young my mother and grandmothers were big on instilling etiquette into me and my sisters. We were only junior girls and etiquette was a big word.

We had to sit up straight and push our shoulders back when we walked. We were not supposed to interrupt adults. We had to finish all the food on our plate, express our thanks and ask permission to leave the dinner table.

When our grandparents visited, or we visited them, the standards were high and there was little room for error. We had to partake in good old-fashioned afternoon teas, with ever-present good manners flowing with ease and charm. “Children should be seen and not heard,” our Nana always stated. We were being brought up to be little ladies by being good girls.

Etiquette in the olden days of our youth included Sunday School. It was quite the norm back then for all the children in the neighbourhood to attend. Our oldies were pleased and proud when we came home with prayer cards – our rewards for being the teacher’s pets.

Our little suburb had about 2,000 residents, many churches of different denominations, and was bookended by two old hotels where only ‘common’ people went. Those were the days of the six o’clock swill, as it was affectionately known.

Social gatherings required my sisters and I to sport our Sunday best, with white net gloves and flouncy dresses on display. Mum sewed our garments; they were draped over rope petticoats for extra frills, and our shoes were always polished.

This air of snobbery was synonymous with an icon of decorum, June Dally-Watkins. She expounded all these strictures of etiquette with ease. Women had to show good deportment, suitable clothing and social graces. Dally-Watkins even ran a finishing school for young maidens to train them in all the womanly arts so they could marry well and be good wives, of course. (The school is still running today.)

Looking back, I wonder if women would have bothered going to all that effort given so many of us eventually divorced our husbands.

I suppose all that etiquette training didn’t do us any harm, but I have learnt that very few men lived up to the role-model standard our father set for us, so it rather seems a one-way street. Some of us thought our husbands were like our dads, but no.

Never fear though, for if no man waits for any woman, there is always a load of washing waiting for us instead. A woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.

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Did you go through something similar in your childhood?

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