Good manners of the 1950s

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Good manners of the 1950s
Helpful, well-mannered children were the ideal. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

The 1950s were characterised by a very strict code of etiquette. Schools taught them and homes and later colleges reinforced. Well-mannered children and young adults reflected well on their parents and children were often provided with behavioural guides to reinforce the status of the family.

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Manners for Young Children

Children had a very strict behavioural code to follow from a very young age in the 1950s. Mothers strove to provide clean, well-ordered homes, with well-behaved children at all times. To this end, children followed a long list of rules including holding doors for adults, greeting elders with proscribed scripts, never leaving the dinner table early, not speaking until spoken to and saying "may I" instead of "I want". "Please" and "thank you" were mandatory at all times.

High School Manners

As children matured, schools reinforced manners. "Mental Hygiene" films, based on the propaganda films of World War II promoted good manners in every conceivable situation. These 15-minute films included subjects ranging from "how to make friends" to what happens to outcasts and drug users. Well mannered teens were expected to dress cleanly and modestly, speak politely at all times, follow scripts for greetings and many social interactions and look to adults for guidance.

Dating Manners

Dating was expected in high school. Teenagers followed a strict code while dating. Girls were asked out by boys and provided answers quickly. Boys provided detailed information about the date at the time of the invitation, and asked far enough ahead of time. At the time of the date, both were ready on time and the polite boy arrived to pick up the girl with enough time to visit with her parents for a few minutes.

During the date, both the boy and the girl were instructed on where to sit (e.g. boy sits on the outside), who should walk in front (boy leads to seats, girl leads out) and how to order food politely. Boys were expected to open doors for girls, hold chairs for them, help them with their wraps and pay the bill. Girls were to be attractive and pleasant company at all times.

College Manners

When entering college, students were provided with etiquette guides reinforcing that the behaviour expected from them at home was still expected. The etiquette guide from Rose Polytechnic Institute in Terre Haute, Indiana, clearly outlined expected manners in multiple situations, including appropriate greetings (introduce elders first), invitation protocols, dance protocols and dining protocols. As with dating expectations, the etiquette outlined was very rigid. For example, when being introduced a student must answer "how do you do" plus the name. Never should a student respond with "pleased to meet you" or anything else.

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