Who is Miss Abigail?

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

Find me on…

Get the feed


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 October, 2006

1938: Iron and Spinach

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

I’ve always had low iron. I know because every time I go to the American Red Cross Blood Drive at work, I have to stock up on my multivitamins, spinach, and raisins in the week before, so I can donate successfully. And with this recent spinach scare, I’m going nuts! I am craving spinach. Must have spinach. Willing to risk life to eat dear, sweet, spinach.

Since I can’t eat it, I figured I’d read about the benefits of spinach (when not spreading E. coli). I turned to something in my collection called Health, Hygiene and Hooey. I love this book. It’s from 1938 and was written by W. W. Bauer, who debunks health and hygiene information that was coming out at that time. The flap copy tells us “the purpose of this book is not only to expose hooey, but to throw light on what is not hooey.” Some of the quakery from back then rings familiar today: he covers fad diets, insomnia cures, claims about various vitamins, harmful cosmetics, and “a fake for every ache” – all about pain relievers and whether or not to trust those dispensing them to desperate patients.

To get us back to the original topic, here’s an excerpt from Bauer’s chapter on “Mineral Madness.”

Have you warmth and magnetism? Do you bubble with creative ability, with vitality? Are you successful? How is your ambition? Is your life force in harmony? If all is not all well, in these important respects, perhaps you need more of the master chemical, iron. Well, you do need iron, of course, but not for these romantic reasons, which I admit are more intriguing than the prosaic but accurate ones I am about to set forth. You need iron primarily to supply the necessary chemical for the formation of hemoglobin, the red blood coloring matter which transports the oxygen from the lungs to the tissues, and most of the carbon dioxide back to the lungs to be exhaled. You need iron for important functions in cell life and cell division which determines the inherited qualities of succeeding generations. . . .

Iron is popularly believed to be contained only in spinach, and as a result innumberable innocent infants and children have been manhandled and womanhandled into eating this good but overrated and underappreciated vegetable. Many infants have a sense enough to stage a sit-down strike, threatening to starve in the midst of plenty, thus bringing their parents appropriately out of the spinach hallucination.

The author goes on to describe what other foods have iron (other green vegetables, liver, egg-yolks, etc.). But I don’t care what those infants think — I still want to buy, cook, and eat my spinach!!

Please? The restrictions have been eased, haven’t they? Sigh.

Look at Me

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

Look at Me is a cool collection of old photos that were “lost, forgotten, or thrown away” according to the site creator Frederic Bonn.

I started to click through to see all of the 616 photos online, but my mouse fingers got tired. Here are a few that I enjoyed:

~The New Look
~WWBA State Tournament 1955, Everett, Washington
~No title [check out those trunks!]
~Park Meedy 14 Aout 1939. 2 em. Madame, prenent un petit cou, ainci que Therese, sa petite fille, Mais sa soeur, Oh, L’inbesile Elle boit a traver le bouchon
~No title [woman cooking in diner]

Let me know if you see anything particularly amusing as you wander the site.

1869: Shun Small Waists

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

I finally got around to taking some books out of my car trunk: those that had been purchased on my travels to New England back in August, along with a bag of books that some friends donated to the Miss Abigail collection recently. These newest books are listed over here at Library Thing. The ones dated pre-1940 in this list were purchased at a used bookstore in New Bedford, Mass. All the rest, some varying editions of others in my collection, are from my friends Sarah and David, who tell me they come from the attic of a grandmother who sadly passed away recently. Grandma had quite the collection! I’m happy to take it in.

To give you a taste of the new books, here’s a little something from The Science of a New Life by John Cowen. Published in 1869, the book is “most respectfully and lovingly” dedicated “To all the married, but particularly to those who contemplate marriage.” The following is from a lovely chapter titled “Qualities the Man Should Avoid in Choosing.” A wife, that is.

An outward indication of an abnormal, unhealthy and unphysiological life is a small waist, whether abnormally natural, or caused by the wearing of corsets; avoid them as you would the plagues of Egypt, for they encompass sickness, premature decay and death. Such women are not capable of pure love, or right judgment, or, what is so essentially important, giving birth to healthy, vigorous offspring. Their very souls are malformed in harmony with their bodies. Some men admire small waists, but they are men who possess but a modicum of brains–or, if otherwise, they may admire, but they carefully guard against ever marrying them. If it is your desire to secure a wife that will be free from eternal nervousness, headache, pains, ill temper, and especially if you aim to have children that will not be sickly and short-lived, I pray you avoid marrying a woman with a small waist. I consider this matter of large waists such a necessity, in a woman who aspires to be a wife and mother, that, to impress it more positively on the minds of all men in search of wives, I will again repeat, in large letters, SHUN SMALL WAISTS, and act on the rule of “NATURAL WAISTS, or no wives.”

Now that’s pretty convincing. Think “Small Waist or Natural Waist” should be a new search filter on Match.com?

Hello from women’s history talk

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

We’re blogging live from the Library of Congress women’s history brown bag. Hello everyone!

Server change

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

My site moved servers over the weekend and I’ve been having a bit of trouble with my email, posting here, and even viewing my own site when others could get to it! I think all the kinks are worked out but let me know if you see anything funky while browsing around. I know there’s at least one problem with the “Around the House” section of the advice pages. Hope to get that fixed shortly.

1936: Wise Use of Leisure

Monday, October 9th, 2006

Some of you may not be aware that I play the french horn. I have since fourth grade, and since graduating from college a bazillion years ago it’s been off and on whenever I can find a group to play with. (I don’t do so well solo.) I’m currently playing with my local Takoma Park Community Band, and I just put together a Web site for our group. (Disclaimer: I’m hoping that posting here will get Google to find the link and index the page for us.)

Not to completely make this about Google’s index, I thought I would share an excerpt from a chapter titled “Wise Use of Leisure.” It is from the 1936 book titled Everyday Living for Girls, by Adelaide Laura Van Duzer (“Formerly supervisor of home economics, Cleveland Public Schools”) and a handful of other Cleveland authors.

Leisure means your right to choose.Leisure time is generally considered free time, when you do the things you enjoy, when you choose what you want to do. Nobody or no outside force causes you to do or act. It is the time when you are not doing dishes, making beds, doing homework, dressing, or washing out silk stockings. Practicing a musical instrument might or might not be a leisure activity, according to whether you chose to do it for recreation, or were studying it vocationally. Leisure time might be spent in arranging flowers, or even in getting the living-room ready for a party. When you really enjoy doing something and choose to do it yourself, it is a leisure activity. . . .

Later in the chapter, the authors discuss the importance of community facilities when seeking out leisure activities:

Some girls do not take advantage of community facilities because they do not know about them. Find out what yours are. For instance, if you are musical and wish to join an amateur orchestra or string quartet, or would like to do ensemble singing, look around; find out if there is a group you may join or help form. In own town the young people established their own little theater. Opportunity for different types of self-expression was given. One group became responsible for the costumes, and splendid artistic effects were achieved at little cost.

All this talk about leisure seems fitting after the nice, long holiday weekend, that’s for sure.

Two Online Books

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

Ayesha, a reader from Villanova, Pennsylvania, forwarded me the following fabulous online finds:

Charm and Courtesy in Conversation written by Frances Bennett Callaway in 1904.

Fascinating Womanhood or The Art of Attracting Men. Ayesha claims that these are “the original 8 pamphlets from the 1920s which Helen Andelin’s 1960s work (Fascinating Womanhood. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1963) was based on. Highly recommended reading.”

Thanks Ayesha!