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 August, 2011

The Frighteningly Illustrated Encyclopedia of Sex (1950/1977)

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Illustrated Encyclopedia of SexI meant to post this earlier this week, but in the D.C. region we’ve been overcome in the last few days by earthquakes and impending hurricanes, so it’s been a bit hectic. As I reported over on my Facebook page, a few stacks of paperbacks fell off the tops of my bookshelves during the earthquake this week, but all in all we fared pretty well and the books stayed on the shelves, and the shelves remained upright. Whew! My parent’s house (near the fault line), also full of books, didn’t have much damage either, luckily. But still, a crazy week!

This was worth the wait, I must tell you. I’ve been wanting to do a post on this book for some time, but for whatever reasons over the years I thought it might be a bit too racy for a general audience. But heck, we’re in 2011, and if you can’t look at a 1950s book with wacko illustrations trying to explain sex, you shouldn’t be on my site.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Sex, written by Dr. A Willy, Dr. L. Vander, and Dr. O Fisher “and other authorities” was first published in England in 1950. Revised editions appeared later, and I’ve actually got a paperback 8th printing from October 1977 (the first printing in the U.S.!) in my collection. The preface of this later edition discusses the “important new discovers in the field of sexology… relating to very recent developments in birth control.”

I must admit I’ve never managed to actually read this book. Every time I open it I get so distracted by the images that I can’t help myself. I think the authors would be okay with that, though. The preface explains: “there is one feature of this book of which we are particularly proud ~ the illustrations! One hundred and seventy-six of them, representing every aspect of sex, but particularly the functional aspect, and explaining every process in the male and femail organism so clearly that no one can fail to understand them. We can say, with every confidence, that this long series of illustrations, is unique and unprecedented.” To say the least.



“Picture story of woman’s excitation curve. The menstrual cycle of woman for two consecutive months.” I’m certainly glad I didn’t see this when I first got my period! I would have been terrified.

Foods that Improve Sexual Function

I always enjoy learning what foods might improve sexual function. The books have quite a bit of information on this topic, including this one (apologies for the faint scan, it was hard to get).”

Birth Control

This was in the section on birth control, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to learn from this: “A section of the fallopian tube considerably enlarged, showing in three dimensions, the strange interior. How the spermatozoa hasten to meet the ovum which proceeds toward the uterus.”

The Ovary
“Larger than life-size picture of interior of ovary, in woman’s process of impregnation.” What the heck is that in the lower right? I didn’t know I had a flower growing inside of me.

Physical Causes of Sexual Impotence
Apparently this is the “Picture story of normal physical and psychological potency.” I guess this is what happens when boys are making googly eyes at us ladies.

Delaying Sexual Death

“Picture story of man at different ages.” Yeah, that looks about right.

If you want a further glance at (color!) images from another edition, head on over to the fabulous Studies in Crap blog on the LA Weekly site. I found this post while Googling for more information about the book, and decided not to rescan the ones he’d featured but give you some others to look at. EXCEPT for this one, which was clearly updated for my version! I think my ladies at the top is a bit more enticing, don’t you? The ’70s were way more fun, clearly.

Why Man has nocturnal losses of seman

 Note: post edited September 8, 2011 to redo the images. They now point off to Flickr…

A Helpmeet (1890)

Monday, August 8th, 2011

“A compendium of valuable information for women” so describes the title page of the 1890 book The Mother’s Guide and Daughter’s Friend. It’s true, this book covers just about anything a woman of the late 1800s might need to know. The anonymous author (who suggests that if you really must find out who [she or he] is, you can contact the publisher) has “read a large number of works each containing something valuable, some containing much that is untrue, others much that has no bearing on the subject…” to cull “a large amount of valuable information.”  Hmm ~ sounds a bit like yours truly! No wonder I like this book so much. The book actually has directions for its use, which I must share with you some other time, as it is quite handy. But in the meantime, since folks always seem to enjoy those quaint looks back at how men and women should act in marriage, here’s something from a section called “A Helpmeet”:

"Woman has a power over man stronger than she may dream if she only knows his peculiarities and adapts her conduct to them. Does your husband love to see things in order, then be careful and keep the house in good shape. Does he love a good dinner, then study your cook book and study his tastes. Does he like to be caressed, do your prettiest in that line. Does he admire beauty in women, then dress neatly and tidily and try to keep clean and in good health, and meet him with a smile. Is he a man of literary tastes, cultivate your literary taste, and be appreciative of his ability. If he loves beautiful things, study house decorations and defer to his tastes….

Most men like to be petted and deferred to. A wife may defer to her husband’s opinion and not lose her own independence nor lower herself in any way. The truly polite person is the one who is a good listener; who treats no one’s opinion lightly. A woman need only to be truly polite to her husband. It is also the husband’s duty to defer to his wife’s opinions. In many cases her opinion is the best. But if she would have her way at times, she must at times give way to her husband. Husband and wife should be mutually polite, mutually deferent, mutually obedient.

Does the man meet with disappointment and failure in business, the wife should not chide him, should not mope and sulk and wonder how they are going to get along now, but meet him with words of encouragement and love.

The happy pair are the man and wife who are constantly deferring to each other, who frequently caress each other, make sacrifices for each other, who are always striving to relieve each other’s burdens. Courtship should not stop with the wedding ceremony. Man and wife should court each other always. This is written especially for the wife to read, and I want to impress upon her the fact that love begets love, politeness begets politeness, and if she does her part the husband will be more likely to do his part, and that much depends upon her own individual effort…."


That’s right, ladies, it’s all up to you. But wait, one more thing:

"Man feels the need of recreation, perhaps, more than women, because his work is severer for the time he is at it. Women have more little breaks upon the monotony of their labor. They can chat a moment over the back fence with a neighbor, take up a book and read for a few minutes while  the kettle boils, take a nap in the afternoon, go out for an hour’s walk, or call upon a friend; but the man toils in his office, or store, or in the field for hours at a stretch, and then, perhaps, must think over his work outside of business hours. If then, he relishes hunting and fishing, has a passion for dogs or horses, or “goes crazy” in the collection of a cabinet of natural history specimens, or something of the kind, you should have charity for his peculiarities, and do not come to the conclusion that he thinks more of such things than he does of you."