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 January, 2010

Music Etiquette

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Passing along few more etiquette rules from an 1848 book for gentlemen, featured earlier this week.

This one goes out to all the musicians (and music lovers) in the crowd!

If you intend to sing, do not affect to refuse when asked, but at once accede.
Endeavor to adapt the style of your song to the character of your audience.
If you are singing a second, do not, as it were, drag on, or tread upon the heels of your prima; people seldom attribute this to superior knowledge, but usually to want of judgment.
If playing an accompaniment, do not forget that your instrument is intended to aid, not to interrupt; that the instrument is to be subordinate to the song.
Never converse while singing or playing is going on.
When a lady is going to the piano, if near her, rise and give her your arm; if you can read music, turn over the leaves for her at the proper time.
If you are at a concert or a private musical party, do not beat time with your feet or cane upon the floor.

Conversation Etiquette from 1848

Monday, January 18th, 2010

“Be sparing of anecdote, and only resort to it when you have a good illustration of some subject, or a piece of information of general interest. Do not attempt to relate every particular; but seize upon the grand points. Never relate the same anecdote the second time to the same company.”

This tip comes from the 1848 itty bitty book (about 2 x 3 inches), A Hand-book of Etiquette for Gentlemen, penned by an unnamed “American Gentlemen.” Here are a few more miscellaneous conversation rules to keep in mind while posting on Facebook:

If you are a wit, do not let your witty remarks engross the whole conversation, as it wounds the self-love of your hearers, who also wish to be heard, and becomes excessively fatiguing.
Flattery is a powerful weapon in conversation; all are susceptible to it. It should be used skillfully, never direct, but inferred; better acted than uttered. Let it seem to be the unwitting and even the unwilling expression of genuine admiration, the honest expression of the feelings.
When conversing with young and gay women, do not discourse of metaphysics, but chat about the last fashion, the new opera or play, the last concert of novel, &c.; With single ladies past twenty-five, speak of literary matters, music, &c.;, and silently compliment them by a proper deference to their opinions. With married ladies, inquire about the health of their children, speak of their grace and beauty, &c.;
Never introduce your own affairs for the amusement of the company; such a discussion cannot be interesting to others, and the probability is that the most patient listener is a complete gossip, laying the foundation for some tale to make you appear ridiculous.

About Drinking

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

“Boys and girls, do practice self-denial and do not drink much soda water either. Remember that soda water is very bad for growing bones and teeth as well as for your stomach. Besides, by taking it, you get into the habit of drinking, and if you must have soda when you are young, you will probably think you must have much stronger drinks when you are older. Those who ‘cannot resist’ a glass of soda now, will not be able to ‘resist’ taking a glass of some stronger drink later on.”

This gem comes from a chapter called “Good and Bad Drinking Habits,” found in a 1913 book for children titled Yourself and Your House Wonderful (written by H.A. Guerber). Now, I don’t normally see advice books for young kids with such grownup topics (this book also has a chapter “About Smoking and Chewing”), so I had to learn more. Reading the introduction, I saw that the author explains “to parents and teachers,” and is quite confident sharing such information:

“I have become more and more convinced of the pressing need of a work dealing frankly and explicitly with all the matters usually discussed, but also of excretion, sex, and reproduction, topics to which most books merely allude, which good people approach in fear and trembling, and about which none but the impure speak freely at all times and refuse to be silenced.” He goes on to say “our children have the right to know the exact truth about themselves.”

Here’s some advice from the same chapter for young girls:

“I would advise every girl who reads his book not only to be very careful about her own food and drink at all times, but when she grows up never to marry any man who is too self-indulgent in this matter. If she does, she may find herself with a drunken husband, sickly children, ruined health and leading a most unhappy life.

When it is thoroughly understood that no good woman will ever marry a man who drinks even a little, the men who expect to marry some day, and have homes and children of their own, will realize that they must keep away from temptation. So you see, girls, even if you cannot vote or change the laws, you can help to bring about a better state of things. Are you willing to do it?”

Your Nighttime Beauty Routine

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

A reader wrote this week to ask if I could share the “nighttime beauty routine” from Constance Hart’s Handbook of Beauty. I featured the one-night-a-week beauty routine and the morning beauty routine years ago on the website, from this 1955 beauty paperback. All of these refer back to other sections of the book; if you’d like more details you’ll just have to dig up a copy for yourself.

This is a bit more time-consuming that probably your usual routine, but if you get started before dinner and devote the evening hours to this instead of watching TV or other trivial pursuits, I’m sure you can accomplish all of this!

Your Nighttime Beauty Routine (for both housewives and working girls)

1. Remove all make-up with cream.
2. Cream-cleanse or soup-and-water cleanse face.
3. Rest for 10 minutes in darkened room with feet up and cotton pads soaked in witch hazel over your eyelids.
4. Take a warm bath (see chapter on bath). This is optional if you plan to take a bath before bedtime.
5. Wash hands and nails; push back cuticles.
6. Apply hand lotion or hand cream.
7. Change into fresh clothing.

Brush teeth.

1. Massage scalp for at least 2 minutes.
2. Pin up hair if necessary; if not, brush hair for at least 50 strokes. This brushing is optional if you’ve had your brushing session in the morning.
3. Do 5 minutes of general and special exercises (see chapter on exercises). This step is optional if you’ve exercised earlier in the day.
4. Take a warm bath (see chapter on baths). Skip this bath if you’ve had one before dinner.
5. IF not bathing, scrub hands, nails, forearms, upper arms.
6. Apply body or hand lotion or cream to elbows, backs of heels, and any other rough spots.
7. Check fingernails for rough spots; file them with emery board.
8. Apply petroleum jelly or oil to nails (fingers and toes), lashes, brows, and (if you’re not going to have a bedtime snack) lips.
9. Apply emollient cream to areas around eyes.
10. IF skin is dry, apply a thin film of emollient cream all over your face; if skin is half-and-half, apply it only to dry patches. In both cases leave on overnight.
11. Apply touch of perfume, toilet water, or cologne below nostrils for easier sleeping.
12. IF underweight, have a light snack. IF overweight, write down list of what you’ve eaten during day and record the calorie count.
13. Massage gums for at least two minutes.
14. Use mouth wash.
15. Check bedroom for proper sleeping conditions (see chapter on sleep and rest).
16. To bed and lights out.

Source: Hart, Constance. The Handbook of Beauty. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1955.