Friday, March 16, 2012

Charm school grad does an about face on inner, outer "beauty"

What comes to your mind when you hear the words Montgomery Ward? Charm, grace, poise, manners and respectability?

Yeah, me neither.

This is why I’m still scratching my head at the fact that my mother paid good, hard-earned money for me and my sister Kate to attend the Wendy Ward Charm School in 1979 at the Montgomery Ward in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

My childhood friend Carol reminded me that she, too, took the class with Kate and me. She recalled the pink book that became our guide to beauty. Here is one excerpt: “Being beautiful means many things … It’s not just something you do with your appearance. It’s you! The total you! The way you look and talk … the way you move …the way you treat others … the way you feel about people and things … and yes … even the way you think.”


There is so much to criticize it’s hard to know where to begin, but perhaps I’ll start with the use of exclamation marks, which are really just punctuation marks that are simply trying too hard. Not unlike the attendees of the Wendy Ward Charm School, I might add.

The classes themselves were equally awful, expounding on the little “truths” found in the pink book. We had lessons in makeup application, how to set a table properly and how to walk gracefully.

One exercise that sticks out in my memory is the one where we had to walk in front of the entire group, stopping on a mark and pivoting to walk back. We were then critiqued on our style, our pivot, and even the way we held our arms. Carol remembers, “They even taught us how to hold our hands so the veins wouldn’t show.”

Because you know how offensive veins can be.

I vividly remember my sister Kate and I practicing our pivots at home, displaying our graceful stylings on the living room carpet for our mom.

Now, in my 30+ years on this earth (wink), I have been known to turn on my heel and run, but never – ever – have I used that pivot move. But just knowing I have that in my arsenal makes me feel special! (Note exclamation point, which communicates my sarcasm!)

Another page in the pink book advises us to “Give up moods, tempers and tears.” Um, you’re telling this to pre-teen and teenage girls? And how is that working out for everyone?

The Wendy Ward Charm School culminated in a fashion show, complete with borrowed clothes from Montgomery Ward (jealous yet?) which we had the option to buy for 20% off! (Sarcastic exclamation strikes again!) Mine was a gray and white jacket that zipped up into a cowl neck. That jacket, along with some fancy parachute pants and my Farrah Fawcett tube curls down the side of my head completed the look. Yes, it is as charming as it sounds. Overall, I was underwhelming, and underwhelmed.

Maybe it was just me. Maybe I just had a bad experience at my particular Wendy Ward Charm School and others learned life skills which served them well in their adult lives. I Googled “Wendy Ward Charm School” and an article from the Chicago Tribune popped up. “See?” I thought. “Someone reputable graduated and ended up in an article in the Trib.”

Instead this is what I read. "I'm not stupid. I went to Wendy Ward Charm School at Ward's when I was 13, excuse me. I know how to walk, how to get in and out of a car without showing the world everything." The person quoted? Terry Ventura, wife of Gov. Jesse (the Body) Ventura.

And we’re back.

After 20 years of marriage to Craig, tonight was the first time he had ever heard that I attended a charm school. “How long did you attend?” He asked, incredulous, suggesting that maybe I was “half-baked,” so to speak.

I gave him a dirty look and pivoted before exiting the room.

Eileen Burmeister lives, writes and can pivot with the best of them in Roseburg, Ore. She can be reached at or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.


  1. During a difficult childhood, filled with doubt and confusion, my Wendy Ward Charm School provided a positive experience that I treasure to this day.

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