A popular 1899 manual called Character: The Grandest Thing in the World featured a timid shop girl who gave away her meager earnings to a freezing beggar, then rushed off before anyone could see what she’d done.
In next few years – the times of glorious industrialization and urbanization – America had started to shift to a culture of personality. People found themselves working no longer with rural neighbors but with urban strangers. “Citizens” morphed into “employees”, facing the question of how to make a good impression on people to whom they had no civic or family ties.
A 1922 print ad for Woodbury’s soap read:
Strangers’ eyes, keen and critical. Can you meet them proudly – confidently – without fear?
This journey reflected a cultural evolution that reached a tipping point around the turn of the twentieth century, changing forever who we are and whom we admire, how we act at job interviews and what we look for in an employee, how we court our mates and raise our children.
- Transcribed from “Quiet” by Susan Cain.