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Obituaries

Marjabelle Young Stewart, 82; taught and wrote about etiquette

March 10, 2007|From the Associated Press

Marjabelle Young Stewart, an authority on proper manners who wrote more than 20 books and ruled the White Gloves and Blue Blazers children's etiquette empires, has died. She was 82.

Stewart, also famous for the annual list of best-mannered cities she began issuing in 1977, died March 3 of pneumonia at a nursing home in Kewanee, Ill., according to her daughter, Jacqueline Ramont.

Stewart's career took her to the White House to teach manners to the daughters of Presidents Johnson and Nixon and later made her a fixture on the talk-show circuit. But her early years were anything but aristocratic.

"She was a self-made woman," Ramont said. "She always said a good handshake and good table manners would get you anywhere."

Stewart was the second of four daughters born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Marie and Clarence Cullen Bryant. Her father was a great-grandson of poet William Cullen Bryant. The couple divorced while the girls were young and turned them over to a local orphanage called Children's Square, where one of them died.

"I've just recently come to grips with all this," Stewart told a Times interviewer in 1987 while recalling her childhood. "It was an old tin can I had to get rid of."

But although she often spoke of the rigors of her orphanage upbringing, Stewart also credited the training she received there for her knowledge of etiquette, her granddaughter Erin Marjabelle Albert said.

After being reunited with her mother, Stewart lived on an Iowa farm and graduated from high school in Council Bluffs. In 1941, at the age of 17, she married scientist Jack Davison Young and moved with him to Washington, D.C., where she worked in a naval yard before being recruited for a modeling assignment. She soon became one of Washington's top models and founded a modeling agency with two other women.

Her modeling work brought Stewart into contact with Washington society. She met the late humor columnist Art Buchwald, who persuaded her to collaborate with his wife, Ann, on a light-toned etiquette book. The result, "White Gloves and Party Manners," became an unexpected bestseller. Stewart collaborated on two other books with Ann Buchwald before going on to write more books by herself.

Stewart and Young divorced, and in 1962 she married attorney William E. Stewart and moved with him to Kewanee.

Impressed with the success of his wife's books, he and several of his friends founded a business based on the etiquette training technique she had been offering in classes for professionals and college students.

The results were trademarked etiquette classes for children, White Gloves for girls and Blue Blazers for boys.

The classes were eventually offered in conjunction with department store chains in 800 cities nationwide, including Bullock's in Southern California.

Stewart is survived by her husband, two children, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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