Marianne Brennan is a dynamic, contemporary anachronism. She and her business, Mrs. Brennan’s School of Etiquette, are on a mission to remind our often frenetic world of the credo embossed on her calling card, “No matter where we are in time, manners never go out of style.”
“Part of the reason that we’ve lost our ability to be civil is because we are all moving too fast, doing too many things at once,” Marianne said as we shared some of our memories of days gone by on a Monday afternoon in Potomac. “I get all of that; society is changing all of the time, but I feel that manners should not change.”
A fifth-generation Washingtonian, Marianne has deep roots in a community that is continuously experiencing evolution and redefinition. A virtual renaissance woman, she has worked in careers as diverse as being one of the first women assigned to a scout car as a Washington, DC Metropolitan police officer, to representing major brands, designers, and department stores as a professional model.
It was during one of her modeling gigs at the fabled Garfinkel’s department store (Google it, if you are under 40) that she first ventured into the world of teaching etiquette.
“They (Garfinkel’s) decided to take seven models and strategically place them at one of their locations for a month, and every Saturday we would teach groups of young girls etiquette.
“And, it was a smashing success,” Marianne smilingly said.
The Garfinkel’s etiquette program was in the late seventies, but it (like the department store) did not last, she added.
Marianne attempted to get other area stores to adopt a similar class, but there were no takers. The future Mrs. Brennan was not the type of person to take “no” for an answer. She decided to start a school of her own. So, she started holding classes in rooms supplied by a local hotel.
Then, life intervened. She gave birth to her daughter and focused on all of the responsibilities associated with raising and educating a child in DC as a single mother. Marianne continued to earn money as a model, but there was no time to devote to anything else.
About 15 years later, her love of teaching etiquette would come calling again.
“I was returning from a television show I had done in New York and wondering to myself, ‘is this what I want to do with the rest of my life,’” Marianne said. “Suddenly, a lightbulb went off in my head about a video I had seen concerning a young boys’ Catholic school in Northeast.”
The school was The Washington Jesuit Academy (WJA). The young students that she saw interacting with their parents and friends on the video would produce an epiphany that would spur Marianne on to start a new chapter in her life.
“Up until that time, I had only held classes for girls. But, for some reason, I guess it was meant to be; a voice in my head said, ‘those young men need to be taught etiquette too,’” she said with a tinge of knowing glee in her voice. “Right then, I knew it was what I was supposed to do.”
Marianne happened to have a friend who worked at the academy. She contacted her and was able to visit the school days later.
“Within a week, they had me coming over to teach the young men etiquette,” she proudly said. “Now, I think I’m on my ninth or tenth year teaching there. And, I absolutely love it.”
Today, Marianne teaches etiquette classes throughout the DMV. Mrs. Brennan’s School of Etiquette not only regularly teaches classes at WJA, but also in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Rockville, Arlington, and all over DC.
“If people of any age, of any group want to learn etiquette, I hope they call me because I will do my best to make it happen and be there,” Marianne said.
Marianne says that she can design any type of class that someone might want, from table manners and writing thank you notes, to dressing for interviews and work, or about anything that will help them in their daily interactions with others.
“It makes me sad that we have lost civility and stopped talking to one another in civil tones,” Marianne concluded. “I just want to stress, especially to young people – who aren’t getting this direction from society – that we need to learn how to be respectful to everyone. I think… I know that will go a long way to improving people’s lives day to day.”
If you want to learn more about Marianne Brennan and Mrs. Brennan’s School of Etiquette: Click Here
Learn more about Marianne from our conversation on my podcast, The Real Estate, Wine, & More podcast w/Howard Fletcher