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Year in Yosemite: To Manners Born

Yosemite 1

"Sure he (Astaire) was great, but don't forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards...and in high heels!" -- Bob Thaves

For the women who visited Yosemite in the mid-to-late 1800s, the trip was no walk in the park. Before there were roads into Yosemite, there were steep, windy trails and women had to traverse them on horseback, same as men. But unlike the men, women weren't wearing the pants. No, they were dressed virtually the same as they would have been in the city -- chemisettes, corsets, blouses and jackets on top, with long, heavy skirts and multiple crinolines on the bottom. Completing the look was a bonnet -- offering protection from the sun and dust, but often heavy and cumbersome too.

Add to that the need to ride sidesaddle to accommodate both manners and dress and it's a wonder any women chose to come to Yosemite at all. But they did, bringing with them their good manners and good breeding because, even as early as the late 1860s, Yosemite was not the Wild West (unlike the Gold Rush towns that surrounded it), but a tourist destination.

At the end of May, the destination for many of our local students will be Yosemite's Pioneer Village. For two days, each student will take on the persona of a historical character. They will dress, act, walk and talk as if it were the 1800s. To get them ready, a group of parents and teachers recently put together a round robin of activities to teach both boys and girls how to embroider, make 1800s-style art, play games like marbles and jacks and, most importantly, how to behave as if they were indeed in the Yosemite of yesteryear. Yosemite 2

We were lucky in this. Anne Molin, one of Wawona's librarians, swears that in spite of her thoroughly modern upbringing, at heart she's an old-fashioned girl. And she proved it to our kids. Wearing the clothing of a Victorian Age visitor to Yosemite -- complete with high-neck blouse, strings of pearls and a hat resplendent with feathers, grapes, tulle and bows -- Anne took the students through the dos and dont's of civilized etiquette, circa 1880. "Use only last names as in 'Miss Molin.' First names are reserved for family." "Stand when a woman enters the room." "Pull out a woman's chair for her." "If you want to brag, do it subtly by calling your mother and father by the Latin pater and mater, thereby letting everyone know you are college educated."

I stand here today, mothers and fathers of Xbox-obsessed children, to tell you that the kids were transfixed by Anne. When she instructed them to never use the word "sweat" because "Horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow," I too became a groupie. How does she know these things? "The Parnell Prepatory School for Girls," says Anne. Feeling she wasn’t being challenged in public school, her parents sent her to Parnell when she was nine. "That’s where my 19th century upbringing began." It was at Parnell that Anne learned to embroider (both sides had to be neat), arrange flowers, write pretty thank you notes and invitations, speak French and ride English-style. Thanks to the head mistress, Miss Yoder, she was also immersed in the classics and her lifelong love for books, writing, poetry, the sciences and manners began.

"Nowadays people think of etiquette as snooty and assume people are showing off," says Anne. "But real etiquette is showing respect for yourself and for others. I stressed to the students how important it was to be well bred back then -- if only to attract a good mate. Divorce was not an option. Who you married determined the rest of your life."

Given today's world, one would have thought her "pioneer" students would have thumbed their collective nose at her teachings. But no, not only did they give her their undivided attention, when she went outside unannounced, all the boys stood up -- a sign of respect and of another Yosemite lesson learned.

-- Jamie Simons/images: Jon Jay

In May 2009, while hiking in Yosemite National Park, long-time Los Angeles resident Jamie Simons turned to her husband and said, "I want to live here." Jamie and her family have since lived in the park. Check out all of her blog articles by clicking here.

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