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!

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Archive for September, 2012

Apparently I’ve Been Channeling My Grandmother All These Years

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Building Healthy Sex Knowledge, 1937A few months ago, my mother uncovered a college paper that my Grandmother Bailey (her mother) had written when she was at Oberlin College. She saw that the topic was right up my alley, so sent it along to me.

The paper is titled “Building Healthy Sex Knowledge” and was written for a child development course (and is marked up by the professor) by Virginia Moore Patterson 75 years ago ~ on December 15, 1937. I recently scanned the whole thing in and posted it over on Flickr.

Virginia Moore Patterson Bailey

Virginia married Allen Bailey in the summer of 1938, and they went on to have three girls (my mother is the eldest). Here’s a picture of Grandmother Bailey, in a photo dated July 1941, after they’d been married a few years. By the way, Virginia was also the one who enrolled me in charm school when I was in junior high.

Imagine my excitement to read this paper! And to see that my grandmother had cited many books that are in my own collection! They include Growing Up (I’ve got the 1945 edition), Sex Life of Youth (I’ve got the 1948 10th printing), and New Patterns in Sex Teaching (1934).

She starts out the paper by writing “One of my ‘when I grow up’ resolves has been to see that my children where not, like myself, left to their own devices to find out facts about human reproduction, or left to fantastic imaginings as substitutes for knowledge.” Hmm… Maybe my mom and my aunts can let us know how things turned out with that in the comments.

I chuckled at some of the markup, such as on page 10, where next to the text “Here there is a particularly fine presentation on the problems of necking and petting,” the professor writes “be specific here.”  She does go on to mention the “seven tests on page 66 through 72” of The Sex Life of Youth. Though I have a later edition, I excitedly turned to my copy of the book to see if those seven tests would appear, and lo and behold, they were there! I was able to read the seven tests that my grandmother had read and cited 75 years before. I won’t reproduce the full details here, but the topics were:

1) Sensual or Spiritual? How far is the petting a matter of sheer sensual gratification, without any particular respect for the person concerned, and how far is it a natural expression of an understanding which has grown up in the realm of the spirit, and which has become something rarely beautiful and respected?

2) After-Taste? What sort of a taste is left in the mind as one looks back upon the experience?

3) Mutual? Is the relationship honestly shared by both?

4) Habit-Forming? Is the petting so light or temporary that is could hardly result in the fixing of a habit, or is it intense and prolonged and oft-repeated?

5) Further Effects? Is the petting likely to lead to a loss of rational controls and to an indulgence in sex intercourse which one or both will later regret?

6) Socially Acceptable? What is the social status of the person who pets, or who refuses to pet?

7) Exclude Other Activities? What other type of enjoyment is petting preventing?

Sex Life of Youth - cover
The seven tests end with a section titled “Thoughtful Decision.” Here’s an excerpt: “Upon the answers to some such questions as these will depend the judgment in each individual case… Probably some experience with petting will lead any young person to realize the difference between physical stimulation and real love, and will thus help to avoid the difficulties which arose in some cases in which two young people, mistaking infatuation for love, become engaged as a result of a petting party.” Oh my, my grandmother was reading about petting parties possibly at the same time she was dating (and most likely engaged) to my grandfather! Scandalous!

It is refreshing to see how frank her writing is, for a woman of her age and in that era. And so very fun to learn a bit more about Virginia and her college days, and to know that she might have gotten a kick out of this Miss Abigail thing (which came about long after she died).

Thanks to mom for finding this and passing it along! And to Grandmother Bailey for writing it so many years ago.