1921 school, street ‘survival’ guide still relevant today

I’m writing this as we ride out another wicked storm.

For entertainment, or survival training, I grabbed a small book that usually lies on a display table. It is a thin black-cloth book that measures 6.75-inches by 4.5-inches — “Manners and Conduct: In School and Out” by the deans of girls in Chicago high schools, published in 1921 by Allyn and Bacon.

A small white note is handwritten and taped to the inside page by my mother-in-law, Carmen: “Marie Marshall Ottman Craig, Greenville Ohio, graduated G.H.S. — 1926.” Like many junior high and high school students during this time, Marie (my husband’s grandmother) used this book as a practical aid.

This little gem is packed full of topics such as conduct on the street, in the classroom, the lunchroom and the “assembly room.” It explains the duties of the pupils to class sponsors and chaperones and describes proper social habits with regard to introductions, invitations, parties and table manners — survival training at its best.

Just in case you never had the privilege of being introduced to these bits of 1921 generally accepted social customs, here is a sampling:


“Avoid tossing paper on to the lockers. Avoid dropping it on the floor; but if paper is there, train yourself to see it and to pick up at least one piece every time you enter the corridor. This is what Dr. Crane calls a civic habit.”

“Hold a door open for a girl or an older person to precede you in passing through; then glance over your shoulder to prevent the door from swinging back into the face of any person who may be following.”

The street

“To spit on the street or sidewalk is likely to endanger the health of others and to make you seem vulgar and horrid. Use your handkerchief.”


“When sitting, push back as far as you can in the chair and lean forward from your hips, keeping your spine straight, not curved. The way you sit or walk or stand shows culture or lack of it.”

“Never ‘tell’ when another is trying to recite. Such ‘telling’ destroys the other person’s chance to think and helps to make a sneak of you.”


“Eat slowly and noiselessly; don’t ‘feed.’ Avoid talking when your mouth is full. Take small mouthfuls, so that you may talk without giving offense. Keep your lips closed while chewing. Never use your knife to carry food to your mouth.”


y to yourself

“Take a complete bath at least three times a week; better still, every day.”

Any my personal favorite:

“Cultivate charm, girls and boys. The best teacher of ‘How to be charming’ is a really kind heart. Every one of you can have that.”