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 March, 2010

The Business of Getting Well

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

All this talk about the downright rude behavior of our politicians debating the health care bill has me feeling ill! Makes me wish Bernarr MacFadden’s International Health Resort was still around. I found this little undated pamphlet in my pile of “flat things” while looking for a book jacket for something else. It has some wonderful answers to the questions “why should I go way from home for treatment?” when one gets sick, and the reasons why you might want to visit his particular health resort, such as: “You will enjoy a complete change of scene – new places and new faces exert a wonderfully improving influence upon people who are sick.” And, “You will have the daily services – not of one physician, but of many specialists,each of whom will study your case in detail.” Or this one, which sounds like a lovely little vacation: “You will enjoy your stay here. Interesting health talks, musical concerts, refreshing games and drills in the big gymnasium; the association with cultured men and women, interested like yourself in regaining health, will make every day of your stay pleasant and congenial.”

Scans of the entire four-page pamphlet are posted over my Flickr account for your reading pleasure.

This reminded me also that I still need to read a bio about MacFadden. I said I was going to awhile back but never did. Bad me! I just ordered it. The author’s website has a ton more information about him, as does this site.

1950: Sleep

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I don’t know about you, but with this latest time change I’m having a heck of a time adjusting. I just don’t do well getting up when it is still dark out, and I am of course staying up way too late. What’s a girl to do? Why, dig up some sleep tips of course. These are just a few suggestions of things I might try from Ida Bailey Allen’s Youth After Forty, published in 1950. She has a whole chapter devoted to the topic!

What to Read Before Going to Bed
If you have been using your eyes steadily all day, reading should be avoided. But if you must read, choose what I call a “drowsing book,” unexciting, mildly interesting or amusing, or frankly dull. Or select something philosophical, or comfortingly religious, that induces a feeling of security in the Infinite to which you are about to entrust your body and soul in sleep.

Bedtime Routine
But don’t think you can merely jump into bed and have a good night’s rest. Getting ready for bed should be an unhurried process. After undressing arrange your hair for the night. Adjust a sleeping net to keep it in order, and have a pretty one. If you bathe at night, the bath should be tepid, not hot. If you are very tired, take a lazy relaxing bath. Then come the nightly facial and hand routines. Now stop a moment to check. Windows adjusted for fresh air? Alarm clock set? Glass of water on the bedside table? Carefully turn the covers way back. Lights out and into bed.

Get Tense to Relax
Stretch out full length until you feel tall. Stretch the arms wide on each side; rotate the feet. Rotate the legs. Wriggle the toes. And here’s the pay-off for real release from ordinary tension: To overcome tenseness resulting from the day’s push and rush you must first get tense. To do this stretch every muscle of the body as taut as possible, clench the hands, tense the feet, the toes ~ then slowly go limp all over and relax completely. Do this several times. Finally you keep that relaxed condition. The eyes slowly blink and finally close. Your whole body feels grateful for this release from tension. You welcome sleep.

Sweet Sleep Inducer ~ My Best Recipe
Lie flat and still. Don’t think about the day; its sorrows; disappointments; joys; triumphs. Don’t think about tomorrow. Forget yourself and give out something to others. What? Kind thoughts or blessings to everyone near and dear to you; to friends, acquaintances, persons in public life you perhaps have never met but who have helped others. You might even include some people you don’t like. This will make you more tolerant, and tolerance induces relaxation. If you try every night for the rest of your life you’ll never finish the list, sleep comes so soon and is so deep and “sweet.”

1949: Correct Proportions

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Someday I’ll do a comparison of all of the “average” or “ideal” weight charts, by age and height, in all of my books. I just stumbled across another one, a bit surprisingly in the Searchlight Homemaking Guide, revised in 1949 from an earlier 1937 edition published by Household Magazine. The chapter title, nestled among the ones on cooking and cleaning, caught my eye: “Exercise and Good Looks.”

But instead of focusing on the weight chart right now, I’d like to share something the authors titled “Correct Proportions.” This caught my eye, as I have recently been “reducing” as they used to say, and also had to get myself measured for the wedding dress in the past few months.

Many women like to have some basis for correct proportions of the body to guide them, especially if they are attempting to gain or lose weight. The following figures will serve as a guide. Measurements should be increased a little for persons of greater height, and reduced a little for shorter persons.

Height…………………………5 feet 5 inches
Shoulders, over arms…… 42 inches
Bust…………………………… 34 inches
Waist…………………………. 26 inches
Hips………………………….. 38 inches
Ankle………………………… 8 inches
Wrist…………………………. 6 inches
Weight………………………. 122 pounds
Who knew there were guidelines for what the ideal size of women’s wrists and ankles should have been!?

1936: Oatmeal Porridge

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Today, March 7, is National Cereal Day! I love cereal of all sorts, and love to mix cold cereals together for a unique combination. In winter time, though, we have a steady diet of blueberry oatmeal cooked overnight in the crockpot (trying it yourself? use steelcut oats and frozen blueberries). Top some maple syrup and maple sugar on top with some milk in the morning, and YUM.

So in honor of National Cereal Day, I bring you these oatmeal porridge methods (requiring slightly more effort than our trusty crockpot) from the classic Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management. My edition is from 1936, and I bought it years ago when visiting London. At 1680 pages plus advertisements, it was a bit challenging to carry home, but worth it. Happy cereal eating!

Ingredients. Oatmeal, salt, water.
Method. There are several ways of making porridge. The one generally adopted ~ although by no means the best ~ is to sprinkle the oatmeal into boiling, slightly salted water with the left hand, meanwhile stirring briskly with a wooden spoon or spatula. When the porridge is thick enough, the stewpan is drawn to the side of the fire, and the contents slowly cooked from 20-30 minutes, being occasionally stirred to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pan. A better method is to soak 4 ozs. of oatmeal in 1 1/2 pints of cold water overnight, and in the morning strain the water into a stewpan, and when boiling add the oatmeal, and salt to taste. Twenty minutes’ gentle simmering will sufficiently cook it, and it must be well stirred during the process. Probably the best plan of all is to use a water-jacketed saucepan for making porridge, for it is always desireable to have oatmeal thoroughly cooked, and as the water in the outer pan obviates the necessity of frequent stirring, the porridge may, with little trouble, be cooked for 2 or 3 hours on the previous day, and reheated when required; a pinch of salt should always be added to the porridge. Fully and partially cooked oatmeals can be prepared in a few minutes. Full instructions are given on the packages.

1956: Framework for your Lingerie Trousseau

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Last time I introduced you to the concept of the lingerie trousseau, and promised more details from Marguerite Bentley’s Wedding Etiquette Complete. Her entry on this special trousseau continues below. This should help brides-to-be (or others just trying to stock up) plan their shopping lists.

I have compiled a sort of framework for your lingerie trousseau that may serve as a reminder from which you may choose in making your ultimate selections. There is enough here for any bride; too much for you perhaps, or not enough for you if you are to live on a grander scale that requires more garments because of frequent trips, deferred laundering, and other reasons. But here it is for your inspection ~ and do not forget nylon with its quick drying quality!

Lingerie Trousseau

Bridal Set ~ “best”
Negligee ~ lace-trimmed
Bed jacket to match
Slip to match
Panty or step-in to match

“Second-best” sets
3 lace-trimmed or somewhat fancy nightgowns
3 slips to match
3 step-ins to match

Tailored sets
3-6 tailored nightgowns, or pajamas
3-6 slips to match
3-6 step-ins to match, or short, close-fitting panties of glove silk

Miscellaneous Suggestions
Tailored crepe robe ~ also nice for traveling
Quilted robe or woolen housecoat for winter
1 negligee ~ soft, dainty type
Bed jacket
Tea or hostess gown ~ not a “must,” but nice to own
2-3 pairs of mules or bedroom slippers
2 daytime girdles or foundation garments
2 sport girdles
1 evening girdle
2 evening slips
6 daytime brassieres
3 evening brassieres
6-12 pairs of day stockings ~ the same shade for economy
6 pairs of sheer stockings for late afternoon and evening

Monograms are always as much of an addition to lingerie as they are to linen. Have them embroidered on your sets if you can afford this.