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 June, 2006

1940: How to Telephone Your Doctor

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

My little sister Jen is expecting her third child, and is currently on bed rest ~ at the hospital!! ~ until the kid is born, hopefully within a few weeks. Other than the circumstances early Saturday morning that brought her there, she and baby are doing fine and she just needs to stay put rather than chase my nieces (ages 3 and 4) around the house. She should enjoy her quiet time while she has the chance!

She’s obviously on my mind a lot these days, so I thought I’d look to the books for some advice that might help her out. While she’s close enough now to her doctors that this might not be necessary, the following still seems like wise, if not fairly obvious, advice, to me: “Under all circumstances, talk to the doctor yourself if at all possible. To relay questions and answers back and forth through a third party is not only likely to result in a misleading story for the doctor, and garbled advice for you, but trebles the time consumed by the call.” This might be particularly handy for Jen, who once, after some procedure, had me call her doctor to ask when the pain would stop.

By the way, this quote was found in Nicholson J. Eastman’s Expectant Motherhood (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1940). Don’t worry, he’s a guy, yes, but he knows a little something about the topic. His credentials back then were listed as: Professor of Obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University; and Obstetrician-in-Chief to the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

1969: Types of Boys…The Non-Athlete Celebrity

Sunday, June 25th, 2006

In response to the recent excerpts from Ellen Peck’s How to Get a Teen-Age Boy and What to Do with Him when You Get Him, Jenn asked “Just out of curiosity…how do you get a non-athlete celebrity?”

Ellen describes these as “the editor of the school paper or yearbook, the student council vice-pres, and the Guy Who Organizes the School Assemblies. What about them?”

“As a group, they’re intelligent. And they’ve decided to use their intelligence in some way that will get them recognition. They’ve decided to, then worked at it. . . . [they] have put a lot of work and planning into getting where they are. Why? They need recognition ~ more than most. They want a little power. Power that will make them feel just as big as the football or basketball star. . . .

There are two aspects to the non-athlete-celeb’s activity: (1) need for recognition; (2) generally, a real interest in debate, writing, photography ~ whatever it is he’s doing. But the need for recognition is at least fifty percent of the picture. Appeal to this, rather than the interest area. That is, appreciating his skill in his field is better than jumping into the field yourself. You don’t have to love photography to impress the yearbook photographer. Just say, “Oh, what great pictures! How on earth did you get everybody just right?”

Is it going to matter if you don’t share his interest in what he does at all? Maybe. And maybe not. It depends on whether his interest in the field is strong, or whether he’s chosen it just as an arbitrary avenue to recognition. . . .

Ms. Peck does go on to say that “it won’t hurt you to learn something about whatever Bill does,” because it can help you with future conversations with him. Gee, thanks for that tip!

Blog Guilt

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

Apologies, my readers. I have been busy with the day job and setting up my new MacBook and wireless home network (woohoo! I splurged for my birthday a few weeks ago), and haven’t had a change to post lately. Blog guilt is setting in.

My to-do list:

1) I got another request for Ellen Peck’s advice on snagging the “non-athlete celebrity” – I’ll read up on her advice and post something soon about that.

2) A question just came in about email etiquette, which as you probably realize the classic advice books didn’t exactly cover, but I think I can find something relevant to share.

I’m off to do research!
~ Miss Abigail

1969: Types of Boys and How to Get Them: The Comic

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

In a recent post, I brought you an excerpt about a type of boy known as “the egghead,” described by Ellen Peck in her book from 1969 called How to Get a Teen-Age Boy and What to Do with Him when You Get Him. Reader Clare wondered who the audience was for this book (teenage girls from 1969, I presume, and those of us who can relate to ~ or gawk at ~ life as a teenage girl from 1969??).

She also was curious to hear more about another type from the list: “the comic”. Here it is:

Psychologists tell us that the comic types ~ people who always have funny things to say ~ really don’t like themselves very much. They’re afraid, deep down, that people are going to laugh at them. So they meet this fear head-on with humor. They give people something to laugh at, and thus avoid the idea that people laugh at them. People are laughing, instead, at the things they say. There’s a big difference, in the mind of the comic.

Way to meet a comic type? Well, there’s the opening line like, “I just have to tell you that this class would be so boring if it weren’t for you. You know, I was listening to Bill Cosby last night (or watching “Laugh-In,” or whatever the contemporary comedy show is) and compared to you, he’s absolutely nowhere.” . . .

Resist the tendency . . . to play his own game with him. . . . Don’t do it. Don’t compete. When with other people, be an audience. He’s found humor a way to get recognition. Don’t take it away from him by being funny yourself. . . .

But ~ keeping in mind that the humor may be a kind of defense ~ remember that the humor also be a kind of strain. Don’t push for funniness when the two of you are together. Invite him to drop the defense: “I dare you to be un-funny all the way to the bus stop.” (Or the school door, or the library.) See if he accepts the invitation.

You might also plant the idea that you’d like him even if he wasn’t such a cut-up. He says, “I like Marge; she’s so intellectual ~ always talking about Mary Worth.” Try responding, “And I like you because you’re so serious,” and keep your tone of voice soft and natural to take away the irony. The idea that he can be liked for something other than his jokes and stories might give him the confidence to break away from the constant use of them as crutches.

Now wait a second, Ellen, I’m confused. We’re supposed to let them shine as the comics (keeping oh-so-serious ourselves, as not to distract from his limelight), then turn around and suggest he tone it down a little? Sounds just a tad bit manipulative to me!

Auburn Citizen article

Sunday, June 11th, 2006

A lovely review of Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage appeared in the Citizen (Auburn, NY) on Sunday, June 11: “Dating Game Hits New Level” by Diane La Rue.

Bonus: learn all about Miss Abigail’s formative years, like the time my brother Chris made me stick berries in my nose! (Why did I do it, you ask? Never underestimate the influence of an older brother.)

1969: Types of Boys and How to Get Them: The Egghead

Saturday, June 10th, 2006

A fan of the site recently wrote to request some advice on “scooping” boys. Now, I’m not up to date on my slang terms, but I’m assuming this is the same as a pickup, or a come-on, getting the attention of those young gentlemen. Well, according to one of my favorite books, Ellen Peck’s How to Get a Teen-Age Boy and What to Do with Him when You Get Him (New York: Bernard Geis Associates, 1969), there are 10 types of boys out there that you might want to get (at least in school):

1. The superstar (athlete-celebrity)
2. The non-athlete-celebrity
3. The “social-register” type
4. The social reformer
5. The activities major
6. The egghead
7. The comic
8. The shadow
9. The escapist
10. The creep

Since the writer didn’t specific what type she might be interested in, I’ll pick one that seems a likely candidate for my circle of friends: the egghead. Let’s read what Ms. Peck has to say:

The egghead often doesn’t get along very well with people. He feels safer with books. Books are more trustworthy, calmer, and don’t require knowing what to say . . . which this intellectual type frequently doesn’t; unless it’s to another intellectual, about something in a book.

The key to your approach to the brainy type is not to be demanding. He’s not used to meeting demands from people. Go slow. Don’t ask him to phone you – even for the most logical of reasons. Don’t suggest anything social – even Cokes at the corner. Especially not during the early stages of approach.

The approach? It’s helpful to use one of his areas of superiority in school. Harold’s best subject is math? Once a week for two weeks, ask for help with classwork. If necessary, do some studying ahead of time, so that you can follow his explanation. That’s important!

For one thing, you don’t want to seem like a dummy. For another, his pride couldn’t take it if he failed to explain something he understands perfectly.

The third week (all but the shyest will be unafraid of you by this time) ask for some explanation twice during the week. And now let’s expand the discussion to other matters – current events or personalities in the news. Do a lot of appreciative nodding when he talks about the export balance.

Here are my favorite versions of the appreciative nod:
1. (Pensive) Lean chin on knuckles of right hand; bend torso slightly forward; look pensively at him; nod.
2. (Dreamy) Put forefinger to chin; lean slightly backward; look at him; nod.

Don’t be in any hurry to talk about personal matters. If the relationship is going to get anywhere, eventually you’ve got to talk to him on a personal level, of course. But take it slowly. Don’t ask him questions about himself, his feelings, his family. You can invite him to do this kind of talking by mentioning your personal opinions, your family. He may respond.


If you’re worried this won’t translate to adult boys, think of all those shy guys at work who are buried in their books at lunch. Surely you could ask them for help with a work assignment! Or try applying the appreciative nod in your dealings with others.

If anyone is interested in learning more about any of the other types, send me a comment with your requested type, and I’ll post some more on the topic.

August Book Tour

Sunday, June 4th, 2006

I’m busy making plans for a few events and signings while I’m on the road this August in New York State and New England.

So far, one has been confirmed: I’ll be appearing at the Borders in Cheektowaga, New York, (near Buffalo) on August 12. Once the other dates are sorted out, and as they get closer, I’ll let you know more details about the other events.

1941: If the Telephone Rings While You’re Away

Sunday, June 4th, 2006

I stumbled across this gem, which fall into the “my how things have changed” category of classic advice:

“If you wish to know if your telephone has rung during your absence, put a piece of paper and a piece of carbon paper between the clapper and the bell. A mark will be made on the paper if the bell has wrung.”


We have Janet D. Myers and her book 2002 Household Helps to thank for this. Originally published in 1933, my copy is from 1941. Although the first invention to record phone messages appeared as early as 1898, I suppose it’s doubtful that the 1935 version of the answering machine was in wide use when Ms. Myers reprinted her hints book.

1923: The Spending of Money

Saturday, June 3rd, 2006

I participated in a yard sale this weekend with some friends. In addition to parting with some household things that had piled up the basement, I sold some Miss Abigail books, gave away a bunch of promo postcards, and talked to many friendly folks about the book and Web site.

The three participating households were particularly struck by the number of items in our sale that were of the following three categories:

1) Things we should have returned but never got around to it (mostly hardware store items, mostly mine)
2) Things purchased at thrift stores in the heat of the moment. By the time of the yard sale “What was I thinking?” was a more appropriate sentiment (I had a lot of these too)
3) Unused wedding gifts (apparently no-one else wanted Liz and Neil’s crystal either, it never sold)

With this all this spending and buying in mind, I thought a little something about the spending of money might be fun to read about. This is from C. W. Taber’s Economics of the Family (J.B. Lippincott, 1923):

It is a mistake to feel that people always spend money as they please and for the things that they really want. To a very great extent money is spent and purchases are made because the consumer or money-spender is influenced in some way and the expenditure is a result of habit or convention rather than the result of a want or need that should be satisfied. . . . Clever advertising usually brings buyers and it is hardly believable that all such persons are really in need of the article advertised. There are organized and effective influences which exist for the purpose of inducing once to spend money ~ and it may be foolishly. Society is met by an army of trained salesmen with pleasing personality and plausible statements, confronted by attractive display windows, sign boards, circulars, advertisements, beautiful catalogues and special sales ~ all designed to influence the spending of money. Few persons are trained to resist this array of organized forces skilled in salesmanship. Many people save money only to spend it foolishly at a later time. Effective sales forces often succeed in wasting savings, earnings, investments, Liberty Bonds, and even the money received from insurance policies. Money spent should mean money value received in return. These sales forces are not to be deprecated entirely, but we must use them, not to be lead by them. The following tests may well be applied to proposed expenditures:
1) Do I need the article or service?
2) Can I afford to buy it?
3) Is the quality good?
4) Is the price reasonable?
5) Does my income warrant this purchase at this time?

I suppose I should be rational and apply this test to my current want: the new MacBook!