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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 584

Letters to "Miss Manners," 1978-1998


Selection of letters to "Miss Manners" (Judith Martin) from her readers, 1978-1998.


  • 1978-1998

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Researchers must obtain written permission from the donor or her specified heirs to use the collection. Researchers must also sign a special permission form to use the collection. Following the death of the donor, access requires written permission from one of her specified heirs, Nicholas Ivor Martin or Jacobina Helen Martin. Originals of redacted photocopies from #1.1-1.7, 1.9-7.18 are closed until January 1, 2041; #1.8 is closed until January 1, 2051.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright in the papers created by Judith Martin is held by Judith Martin, and after her death, by her specified heirs, Nicholas Ivor Martin or Jacobina Helen Martin. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Researchers must obtain written permission of Judith Martin or her specified heirs to photocopy any documents.


2.92 linear feet (7 file boxes)
This collection contains letters from readers to Judith Martin's Miss Manners column from its inception in 1978 through 1998. It does not include responses.

Some letters have accompanying material: copies of Miss Manners columns, announcements/invitations, photographs, sketches and diagrams, literature on etiquette, etc. Many envelopes contain added comments from her assistant(s) who read and sorted the mail (identifying topics, providing suggestions and personal comments, etc.). Letter contents cover a broad range of etiquette questions, including table manners; restaurant etiquette; party rules; dress codes; courtesy on public transportation; smoking issues; wedding, anniversary, and funeral questions; gift-giving guidelines; proper tipping procedures; sending invitations and thank-you notes; addressing letters; bridal and baby shower planning; handling christenings and bar mitzvahs; using proper greetings and introductions; appropriate use of titles and names (prefixes, suffixes, single, married, divorced, widowed, etc.); child-rearing questions; dealing with holidays; dating and relationship issues; business and social protocol; internet and other technology etiquette; etc.

The letters are from across the United States, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom, and several other countries. They represent writers of various ages and backgrounds: children, teenagers, adults, elderly, employed and unemployed, retirees, disabled individuals, students, prisoners, men and women, etc. The letters vary in nature and include genuine etiquette questions, fan mail, critics (civil and irate), invitations and thank-you letters, requests for autographs and introductions to famous people, personal life stories, and other mail. Additionally, they provide insight into social issues and trends. Notably, letters from the 1970s and 1980s focus primarily on community/social issues, whereas letters from the 1990s focus more on the individual. Some letters are of a private or personal nature and have been redacted; others may include language deemed to be obnoxious and/or offensive. The collection is arranged chronologically by year.

The few photographs in this collection will not be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, they are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].


Judith Sylvia (Perlman) Martin, daughter of Jacob and Helen (Aronson) Perlman, was born in Washington, D.C., on September 13, 1938. She was reared in Washington and attended Georgetown Day School and public schools. Her father was an economist for the United States government and the United Nations, and part of her childhood was spent living in foreign capitals. Her uncle was the distinguished economist and labor historian Selig Perlman (1888-1959).

In 1959, she was graduated from Wellesley College with an A.B. in English, and on January 30, 1960, she married Robert G. Martin (scientist and playwright). They have two children: Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Helen Martin. Judith Martin began her career at the Washington Post newspaper in 1958, as a part-time copy girl in the women's section, and was promoted to reporter in 1960. She worked for the Post for twenty-five years, becoming an original member of its Style section, for which she covered social life at the White House, embassies, and the National Zoo, as well as writing an essay column; and then becoming an original member of its Weekend section, where she served as drama and film critic.

In 1978, she presented the idea of an etiquette column to the paper. According to an interview in Modern Maturity (March-April 1996), she stated that the idea stemmed from her earlier days as a copy girl, where she had answered numerous telephone calls from readers with etiquette questions. As she advanced to reporter and critic, she continued to supply answers at the request of later generations of copy kids (then called news aids) receiving such calls. Feeling that etiquette was a missing element in present-day society, she took it upon herself to rescue it from the oblivion to which a go-with-your-feelings society had condemned it, and "Miss Manners" was born. (She drew her pen name from the defunct etiquette rule: "Leave something for Miss Manners.")

The Washington Post received the idea politely and, owing to Martin's use of wit, humor, depth of analysis, and her broad knowledge of history and customs as they apply to the problems of today, the Miss Manners column quickly drew a large following and kept growing in popularity. Since its inception in 1978, the column has been syndicated and distributed thrice-weekly by United Feature Syndicate (a division of United Media, a Scripps Howard company) and carried in more than 200 newspapers in the United States and abroad, making Judith Martin's "Miss Manners" an internationally-acclaimed etiquette expert. In 1996, an additional Miss Manners column was launched with Microsoft Network.

Answering questions (always in the third-person) from readers' letters, delivering short essays on problems of manners, and clarifying the essential qualities of politeness in her column, "Miss Manners" continues to explore and explain the philosophical underpinnings of etiquette in relation to everyday life. Her writing aims to instruct and provoke her audience allowing readers' questions to expand beyond general table and party etiquette to the more complicated aspects of life, romance, work, family, marriage, relationships, child-rearing, death, and to delve into deeper philosophical and moral dilemmas.

Judith Martin has written thirteen Miss Manners books. In addition to being a leading authority on etiquette, she has written two novels, Gilbert and Style and Substance, and a travel book, No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice, published in 2007. She has been critic-at-large for Vanity Fair magazine and a contributing editor to Family Circle and Child magazines and is a frequent lecturer at universities, including speaking to the Friends of the Schlesinger Library, and a guest on national television and radio shows, including Today, Tonight, Oprah, Donahue, 20/20, and the Colbert Report.

She received the National Humanities Medal in 2005 and was given honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters by York College (1985) and Adelphi University (1991). Currently, she is a member of the Friends of Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice and the Cosmos Club. Additionally, she has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Washington Concert Opera and the National Advisory Council of the Institute of Governmental Studies of the University of California at Berkeley.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 98-M177

The papers of Judith Martin were given to the Schlesinger Library by Judith Martin in October 1998.

Processing Information

Processed: March 2009

By: Bridgette A. Woodall
Link to catalog
Martin, Judith, 1938- . Letters to "Miss Manners," 1978-1998: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future.

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