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The 'manners lady' trains them while they're young

By Marilyn HoffmanStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 14, 1982

New York

Marjabelle Stewart terms herself that all-important ''other voice'' when it comes to teaching manners to children and teen-agers. That is the voice, she explains, of an impersonal but interested outsider, which children hear and heed after they have successfully tuned out instruction from their parents.

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At one point she may have been a voice crying in the wilderness (manners took a beating during the '60s, she admits), but no more. Manners are in again in a big way, she says, and people are acknowledging their importance.

''Everyone has long since grown tired of slobs and rude behavior and rebelliousness,'' she declares stoutly. ''We had a revolt against manners, but a new revolution is now reinstating them. People want to know what the social standards are again and yearn for the form, tradition, and orderliness that come from observing them.'' Occasionally she has to reassure someone that having manners doesn't make one an oddball, nor do manners indicate that one is trying to be highfalutin or is putting on airs.

Mrs. Stewart began her etiquette-teaching career in Washington, D.C., over 20 years ago when she opened a little school called ''Mrs. Young's Classes for Young Ladies,'' which attracted youngsters from government and diplomatic families. She has been expanding her teaching program through classes, books, demonstrations, and lectures ever since.

Now she lives in Kewanee, Ill., with her lawyer husband and children, continuing to devise new ways to drop her manners message on receptive ears. Once a month she goes into Chicago to teach her method to franchised teachers, who then conduct classes in department stores in 800 cities around the country or sponsor their own sessions.

The three books she has written with Ann Buchwald, the wife of Art Buchwald, the columnist, continue to be classics for instructing the young. These include ''White Gloves and Party Manners'' for girls (Washington, D.C.: Robert B. Luce Inc.); ''Stand Up, Shake Hands, Say 'How Do You Do'' ' for boys; and ''What to Do When and Why'' for young teens (both published by David McKay Company, New York). Her own ''The Book of Modern Table Manners'' has been published by St. Martin's Press in New York. This fall Signet will produce another of her books on teen manners in a $2.98 paperback edition.

Mrs. Stewart has also launched teaching sessions, in cooperation with the Ritz-Carlton and Whitehall Hotels in Chicago, the Copley Plaza in Boston, and the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. These classes teach young people how to deal with the complexities of hotels, including front desks, concierges, room service , hotel dining rooms, and the intricacies of formal dining out.

''We take the mystery out of hotel visits and help young people feel at ease and comfortable with all the situations they might encounter,'' Mrs. Stewart says. ''Children are dining out with adults more often these days, and a child enjoys this experience fully only if he knows what is expected of him and what the rules are. There is no excuse for children being embarrassments to their parents because they don't know any better.''