Who is Miss Abigail?

Abigail Grotke
Silver Spring, MD
email: missabigail at missabigail dot com
twitter: @DearMissAbigail

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Miss Abigail has a collection of over 1,000 classic advice books, spanning from 1822 to 1978 and covering a variety of topics, from love and romance to etiquette and charm. The collection sparked the idea for this site, then a book, Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, which has inspired an Off-Broadway production of the same name!


Archive for May, 2006

Recent Acquisition

Monday, May 29th, 2006

I almost forgot! I picked up this book while on a work trip to Oakland, California a few weeks ago – it’s called Outwitting Our Nerves, written by Josephine A. Jackson and Helen M. Salisbury in 1921, and appears to have been a bestseller back in its day.

The fabulous Project Gutenberg has the full text here, in case you are feeling nervous and want to read it immediately.

1897: The Selection of a Wife

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

As promised, I’ve been reading through Sylvanus Stall’s What a Young Man Ought to Know to find you a representative excerpt from this 1897 book. There’s a lot in there, but I thought I’d focus in on this passage from a chapter titled “The Selection of a Wife.” With wedding season upon us, I’m sure there are plenty of young men who are wondering whether they picked the right gal to walk down the aisle with. Perhaps this will help?

You will need not only a wife, but you will need also a COMPANION. In such an alliance you should seek intelligence. A woman who is ignorant and stupid, or one who has simply learned to drum on the piano, to paint a few horrible pictures, to do a little embroidery, cannot properly be regarded as one suited for this important relation of life. There is also a large class of young women who deserve to be regarded as intelligent, whose deportment is irreproachable, who are at ease in good society, and who are sometimes even pious, but after all, who are devoid of those higher and nobler characteristics which would qualify them for companionship with a man of intelligence, and who has a real work to accomplish in life. Some of this class are even as pretty as the flowers, as pure as the snow, as sweet as the gentle breath of spring, “educated” and refined, but, after all, of no earthly use either to themselves or to anyone else. As wives and help-meets they can never be anything but worthless. They will make a home for no man, but as a class will build club-houses as refuges for many. If called upon to reason with a young man who was about to take upon himself such an incumbrance for life, we might not be able to formulate what to him would seem a valid argument against his alliance, but if forced to speak accurately we could scarely say anything more than they are, “Good, but good for nothing.” They are mere negative characters, can do little nothings nicely, but in real life they are not likely to undertake anything that is noble or worthy of true womanhood.

Hey, wait a second! Those sounds like pretty cool women to me.

1960: Gateway to Beauty: Your Mouth

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

OK, I admit it, I’m an America’s Next Top Model junkie. While watching the finale tonight, it dawned on me that it really all came down to the mouth this year. Winner Danielle’s voice and southern accent, Joanie’s bad-to-good teeth but still nervous smile, and Jade’s non-stop excuses for why the judges couldn’t see how fabulous she was. They were all beautiful gals, but their mouths really got the best of them.

Mouths have paid an important part in the classic beauty advice books. One example, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall by Gayelord Hauser (1960), has a whole chapter titled “Gateway to Beauty: Your Mouth.” There’s advice for all of our three finalists here:

The Voice of Beauty: I have seen good-looking women, beautifully groomed and gowned, destroy the illusion they had labored so hard to create, the minute they opened their mouths . . . . Make a recording of your voice and listen to yourself. It will tell you the truth about how you sound to others. You may be quite shocked at what you hear. . . . Your voice is you, showing your depth of feeling or lack of it, your warmth or selfishness. You can improve your voice just as you can improve your skin.”

Your Teeth, Keys to Beauty: Your teeth can make or destroy your beauty. They are your keys to beauty, not only of your face but of your whole person. . . . Look in your mirror. Smile! A smile lights up the face like the sun breaking through clouds. Does your smile do that?”

And Jade, dear Jade:
Silence is also Beautiful: Listening to a lecture by Dr. Spiske, the head physician at Dr. Buchinger’s famous clinic in Uberlingen-am-Bodensee, Germany, I learned a new word; he spoke of an ugly disease which is spreading all over the world. He called it verbalismus. Talking too much, idle chatter, can become such a waste of life. . . . If only we could learn to be silent unless we have something constructive to say, it would be a much more relaxed world to live in.”

Maybe Tyra would be wise to make the girls next season read a few beauty advice books for one of the weekly challenges. There could be a quiz at the end.

I’d be happy to be a guest judge, of course.

1937: How to Eat an Artichoke

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

Every year (for the last 8 or 9 years) I jointly host an artichoke party (yes, really) with friends Art and Lucille. We order the ‘chokes from Pezzini Farms in Castroville, California and gorge with friends and family for hours on end. The big event was yesterday. Loads of fun, as usual.

The early years of the party were child-free. Now it’s quite the family event, with tons of fabulous kids running around. We were joking that the artichokes must truly have something to do with it, for they are an aphrodisiac, as I’ve reported before. Ooh la la!

Dying to learn some etiquette about artichoke eating? Lucky for you, some friends at the party presented me with a binder of artichoke facts, copies of patents for artichoke holders and slicers, and this quote which was attributed to Lewis Carroll: “It is always allowable to ask for artichoke jelly with your boiled venison; however there are houses where this is not supplied.” Um, like my house! While that one is not terribly useful for everyday artichoke eating, this, from Margery Wilson’s The New Etiquette (1937) might be:

At a formal dinner when artichokes are served, the leaves are removed in the kitchen and only the heart is left, which may be eaten with a fork. But in informal service the whole artichoke is served. If it is meant to be a salad it will be cold and the sauce will be cold. If it is served hot with drawn butter, the butter will be in a dish to one side. The leaves are taken off one at a time with the fingers, the thick, lower part of the leaf is dipped in the sauce or butter and only the soft part at the bottom will be bitten off. The leaf is then laid on the side of the dish and the next one taken until the heart is reached. Then, with a knife, one cuts off the top fuzzy part from the heart and finishes the heart with a fork.


Recent Acquisitions

Monday, May 8th, 2006

I helped shelve books this afternoon for the 24th annual Library of Congress Professional Association (LCPA) Book Sale. Yup, in my real life I’m a Library of Congress “professional.” One of the perks of volunteering is getting a chance to scour the selections early and purchase prior to the big opening day crowds. I was able to find a few good titles:

*The Seventeen Book of Fashion and Beauty (1967)
*Young Beauty, by Elaine Budd (1967)
*Reduce, Relax, Rejuvenate in 7 Fun-Filled Days, by Manya Kahn (1962)
*How to Keep Slender and Fit after Thirty, by Bonnie Prudden (this edition is 1969)
*Sex Questions and Answers: A Guide to Happy Marriage, by Fred Brown and Rudolf T. Kempton (1950)
*The Unhandy Man’s Guide to Home Repairs: A Complete Manual of Home Maintenance for Men and Woman, by Barbara P. and Richard W. O’Neill (1966)

And the best, which was actually discovered by some friends and delivered to me in the hall as I made my way to help out: What a Young Man Ought to Know, by Sylvanus Stall (1897). This is one in his Self & Sex Series, and I’ve got two others already in my collection: What a Young Boy Ought to Know, and What a Woman of Forty-Five Ought to Know. I’m missing quite a few, including What a —
Young Husband
Man of Forty Five
Young Girl
Young Woman
Young Wife

— Ought to Know, so if you see these in your used bookshop browsing somewhere, let me know!

Details about the booksale are here. It’s open to the public, so swing by the Jefferson Building if you are in D.C. It runs May 9 -11th, 2006.

I’ll start reading Mr. Stall’s advice for young men, and will report back later if he’s got anything enlightening to share.

Syracuse Post-Standard mention

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

The latest mention of the Miss Abigail book appears in The Post-Standard up in Syracuse, New York. Laura T. Ryan wrote about it in her Shelf Life column on Sunday, April 30th. Hopefully that link will work for awhile.

Wondering what the New York state connection is? Welp, I was born in Auburn, N.Y. and lived there until 6th grade, so have roots in the area and a fondness for the Finger Lakes. I often go back to visit family and friends, so I’m very pleased of the announcement in this newspaper.

1941: Garden Hints

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

“Flowers, shrubs and trees add much to the beauty of a home, and well landscaped grounds, with flower gardens, give an artistic setting to even a small cottage,” reads a section titled “Garden Hints” in Elaine Allen’s Watkins Household Hints (Newark: J. R. Watkins Company, 1941). With this in mind, I tackled my garden last weekend, planting and digging (what’s with this mysterious root system I have underground?) and potting the pots on my deck. I’m certainly no expert gardener, still occasionally confused by the difference between annual and perennial, but I’m trying. Luckily I’ve got the Watkins book to help. Here are a few other tips I read:

Ashes–To Use On Garden Soil
Screened wood ashes from the fireplace are satisfactory to be used as a fertilizer, especially ashes from oak and hickory wood. Store in a dry place and use for garden fertilizer.

Flower Beds–To Plant
The morning sun is best for growing plants. Plan garden site accordingly.

Hands–To Protect While Gardening
Wear a pair of white cotton gloves from the ten cent store. Use Watkins Hand Lotion to keep hands soft and white.

Tools–For Home Garden
All that is required for a small garden is a spade, hoe, steel rake and a line fastened to ten stakes for seeding rows.

Trees and Shrubbery–To Plant
For landscape planting of the home grounds, consult a landscape architect or get advice from a reliable nursery. Successful planting requires expert knowledge of trees and shrubs.

I’ve definitely followed that last bit of advice. I’ve got a tree being delivered and planted (by the pros) this weekend, which should finish up the yard quite nicely!