Weird Words of Wisdom: Prettily Bewildered Edition

“We all say marriage is a partnership and, for the most part, we mean it in the sense of sharing the fun, the joys, the responsibilities, the highs and lows of any family’s life. But just as there can be only one skipper to a boat, one driver to a car, or one president of a company, so there can be only one head of a happy house—and that is, by law, by taxes, by census, and by woman’s intuition, the husband. It’s a pleasant thought to remember that if a man’s home is his castle, he must be the lord and master; and you, therefore, are the chatelaine, the mistress of the castle and keeper of the keys to a very happy existence as a wedded wife.”

The Seventeen Book of Young Living by Enid Haupt, 1959

About the Book: This book, purchased at a library book sale two decades ago, started me collecting advice manuals aimed at teenagers. I wasn’t so far past my own teenage years then, and the book’s quaint advice on dating, friendship, fashion, and school amused and sometimes charmed me. As I added more advice books to my collection, I became fascinated by what the books reveal about the past. Reading what a given era’s adults felt young people should know tells you a lot what a society valued.

(Reading what previous owners wrote or left in these books can be interesting, too. The previous owner of my book recorded her first name as “Twinkle.” This suggests she was a careful student, indeed, of The Seventeen Book of Young Living.)

This book strives to introduce budding Betty Drapers to gracious living, mid-century style, from party planning to the art of conversation (“Books, plays, and movies are always welcome subjects”); from bedroom decorating to managing men (she recommends that a girl develop “a very feminine ability to look prettily bewildered and helpless while plotting and achieving a goal she thinks is really important.”)

More than many such books, this one encourages girls to develop their minds as well as their manners. The author recommends exploring the arts and expresses unusual ardor when the subject turns to books.

Haupt, who edited and published Seventeen for 15 years beginning in 1955, strove for an elevating tone. She accepted the editorship from her brother, legendary publisher Walter H. Annenberg.  “I knew nothing about running a magazine,” she told the New York Times in 1992, “but my brother said, ‘You can bring culture to the average working person who has not had your advantages.’ ”

I used to laugh at the back-cover photo of Haupt, all prim and pearled—and her Times obit’s revelation that she led Seventeen “from a pink swiveled throne in a large office dominated by pink curtains and pink flowers” supports my initial impression of her.

Actually, Haupt exuded true graciousness. She donated much of her publishing-dynasty fortune to worthwhile causes, including Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the New York Public Library, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her love of gardening inspired her largest philanthropic gifts, including $34 million to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

(“Nature is my religion” was apparently one of her favorite sayings—and to that I say, “Amen!”)

“I suppose I have an exaggerated sense of the beauty of the world, rather than the ugliness,” Haupt told the Times.

In The Seventeen Book of Young Living, Haupt does avoid most controversial subjects. Even for the era, her treatment of sex is vague: “The major responsibility for any romance disintegrating into an affair—that can only lead to reproaches—is the girl’s. Your chances of causing the boy you love, or yourself, anything but unhappiness are fairly slim if you fail to conform to the generally approved standards of behavior.”

On at least one issue, however, she takes a firm stand—she spends an entire chapter trying to squelch prejudice in her young readers.

Final Fun Fact: Haupt, who died at age 99 in 2005, lived for many years in a penthouse at 740 Park Avenue. Author Michael Gross wrote an entire book about that address, home to what he calls the “world’s richest apartment building.”  Haupt’s penthouse, which she bought for $350,000 in 1967, sold for $27.5 million in 2006, according to the Times.

Other Quotes from The Seventeen Book of Young Living:

“In dealing with any male, the art of saving face is essential. Traditionally, he is the head of the family, the dominant partner, the man in the situation. Even on those occasions when you both know his decision is wrong, more often than not you will be wise to go along with his decision—temporarily—until you can find a face-saving solution.”

“If you’ve ever watched your brother’s grimaces when he’s been haunted by telephone calls from a love-smitten young lady, you would better understand the embarrassment the boy suffers and the blow you are dealing your relationship by being aggressive.”

“Flirting is probably inevitable at youth, because at this age it’s almost second nature for a bright pretty girl to sparkle at the men and boys she meets.”

“If you are going out with one boy on an exclusive basis, the temptation to offer to share expenses for movies, tennis balls, and so on will be very great. Resist it…trying to pay your way can only be awkward and damaging to you both.”

“Prejudice shows up in many ways, all indicating flaws in the structure of a personality. It indicates ignorance, fear of new things, inability to meet the challenge of the unknown.”

“You, the young in spirit and in years, have no place in your hearts for prejudice against anybody or anything. It’s a big world you’re going out into, and you need an open mind and an open heart to take advantage of the all the friendships, knowledge, and beauty that await you.”

“The better born and bred a person is, the less prejudiced he is.”

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