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, 2011

How to Cure Chapped Lips (1916)

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Wondering how to cure chapped lips?

Instructions from a 1916 book by Professor T. W. Shannon:


Take 2 ounces of white wax, I ounce of spermaceti, 4 ounces of oil of almonds, 2 ounces of honey, 1/4 of an ounce of essence of bergamot, or any other scent. Melt the wax and spermaceti; then add the honey, and melt all together, and when hot add the almond oil by degrees, stirring until cold.

2. Take oil of almonds 3 ounces; spermaceti, 1/2 ounce; virgin rice, 1/2 ounce. Melt these together over a slow fire, mixing with them a little powder of alkane root to color it. Keep stirring till cold, and then add a few drops of the oil of rhodium.

3. Take oil of almonds, spermaceti, white wax and white sugar candy, equal parts.

These form a good, white lip salve.


Instructions from Miss Abigail, 2011:


1. Head on over to your local drugstore, down the toothpaste isle, and purchase lip balm.

2. Even easier: click here, pick one, place order. Wait until delivered.

These provide good, white (possible other colors) lip salves.



Country vs. City Kids (1891)

Monday, March 14th, 2011

“It cannot be claimed that children brought up in the country are better morally than those brought up in the cities. Evil exists in both places, and much of it cannot be kept from the knowledge of the young. It is seen in the city stripped of its glamour, and with its degrading effects more prominently in view, while in the country the unrestrained imagination is apt to supply fascinations which do not in reality exist. It is often better to know of dangers in order to avoid them than, in ignorance, to grow up with the chances of succumbing to their attractions.”

From the recently acquired book, The Daughter: Her Health, Education, and Wedlock.

Shopping for Books the Old Fashioned Way

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

“Sixth Thousand Now Ready!” “An Important Book for the Family and School!” “An Attractive and Useful Gift” read the ad, found in the back of the 1894 printing of The Physician’s Wife, which I recently I picked up in Baltimore. How could I not be intrigued? Ads often appear in the back of some of my older books, a great place for publishers to have advertised new titles. Unfortunately I couldn’t send away for a copy using the instructions in the ad (“price, post-paid: $1.00 net”) – although it appears the company is still in business. The interwebs became my friend, however, as I turned to AbeBooks to hunt down a copy of the 1891 The Daughter: Her Health, Education, and Wedlock. Lucky for me a seller had it for a reasonable price, and a few days later, a copy was in my collection!

The DaughterI’ve only just begun to read it, but already found some  gems like this, about a mother’s duty to inform her daughter of sexual matters:


To preserve the charm of true modesty and innocence, it is safer for the girl that she be instructed concerning the requirements of personal purity, rather than be allowed to grope amid chance experiences and to run the risks of unfriendly influences. Experience is the only teacher for all, but in many things the lessons may be taken at second hand, and the wise do well to profit by the experiences of others. Although it may be a difficult duty to perform, no careful mother will neglect to properly instruct her daughter in matters relating to the sexual nature. Thoughts upon this subject cannot be avoided, but will arise as mind and body develop, and they should be wisely and intelligently directed in confidential talks skillfully planned and discreetly managed by the mother.

Sexual matters are not motives and aims in life, but they imperiously mingle with and influence all motives and aims. They are inseparable from existence, and though important must be made subordinate, and though irrepressible must be held in subjection. To ignore them is as fatal to happiness and success in life as to allow them to be the objects of chief pursuit. To underrate their influence is a great mistake; it must be justly appreciated in order to maintain an effective control by the stronger forces of the intellect and the will. Let it be remembered how large a portion of human misery results from the disorderly animal passion. Much of this should be withheld from the knowledge of the young, but enough for their own safety may be pointed out by the mother, and be accompanied by such admonitions as seem suitable in each individual case. That the duty is a delicate one is surrounded by difficulties affords no reason for its avoidance, but rather calls for redoubled tact and a superior skill, which will not fail of their aim when instigated by the loving instinct of a true mother’s heart.


Flipping to the back of The Daughter, I of course notice a few more ads. I wonder if I can find Hartvig Nissen’s ABC of the Swedish System of Educational Gymnastics? or John V. Shoemaker’s  Heredity, Health, and Personal Beauty? Or Plain Talk on Avoided Subjects, by Henry N. Guernsey?



Recent Acquisitions

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Dear Vonda KayLast weekend I visited a favorite Baltimore spot: The Book Thing, mostly so I could drop off a donation of 5 boxes of books. I came home with only 7 books in return, which isn’t so bad given that all the books there are free and you are encouraged to take a lot home with you.

The loot list:

Dear Vonda Kay (1967): The flap copy describes this book like so: “In response to the many questions addressed to her by teen-agers across the country, Vonda Kay Van Dyke [Miss America 1965] speaks with candor and sympathy to today’s youth.” Typical teen angst topics are covered, including issues with family and friends, whether or not to go steady or make out, how to make decisions about getting a job or going to college, and so on.

The Care and Feeding of Children (1907): Turns out I already had a later edition of this in my collection, but obtaining the 1907 version is pretty cool.  A quote from the front matter: “To the young mothers of America, toward the solution of whose problems these pages have been devoted, this fourth edition is respectfully dedicated by the author.”

Gayelord Hauser’s New Guide to Intelligent Reducing (1955) has a handy guide at the end of the book. “Your Easy Key to Calories and the Yes and No Foods” helps those reducing know what to eat or not eat. Yes foods are easy – they are good for you. Yes Yes foods = eat generously. No foods = you are better off without them. No, No foods are described as “troublemakers.” Some of them say Yes and No, which is confusing but reminds me of the Weight Watchers program: “let your waistline and your conscience be your guide.” In case you are wondering: Artichokes? Yes. Doughnuts? No, No!

How to Get More Done in Less Time (1971) could be handy for most everyone today. With chapter titles such as “Where does your time go?” “Strategic Moments in Time,” “How to Multiply Yourself,” “Mastery of the Telephone,” and “The Art of Concentrating,” I bet I’m going to learn a lot. Ooh, they even have a chapter on “How to Work at Home”!

The Revolt of Modern Youth (1925) was written by Ben B. Lindsey, who was a judge in the Juvenile and Family Court of Denver. He describes this book as “the product of first-hand, intimate experiences with people, and it expresses convictions which have slowly and irresistibly forced themselves upon me because they are an integral and necessary part of that experience.” But that’s not why I was drawn to this book. It’s because it has a chapter called “The Conventions of Flapperdom.”

The Science of Beautistry (1932) was the official textbook for the “National Schools of Cosmeticians affiliated with Marinello.” (which still exists!) My version is marked up in pencil and looks like it was heavily used by student Mary Lee Barr, whose name appears in the front of the book.

And perhaps my favorite score: The Physician’s Wife and the Things that Pertain to Her Life (1894), by Ellen M. Firebaugh, which as the preface describes started out as a speech given at the semi-annual meeting of the Æsculapian Society of Wabash Valley. From there it became a published pamphlet, which was so well-received that the author expanded it into book form. Described as a book that “relates especially to the wives of country doctors” the author shares what is like to be a physician’s wife, drawn from her own experiences.