Who is Miss Abigail?

Abigail Grotke
Silver Spring, MD
email: missabigail at missabigail dot com
twitter: @DearMissAbigail

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About

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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About Miss Abigail

Abigail Grotke

Photograph by Barry Wheeler

Yes, there is a “Real” Miss Abigail

Hello there! I’m Abigail Grotke, aka Miss Abigail. I began collecting advice books back around 1985 (read about the book collection below), and the collection has grown to over 1,000 books since then. I’ve scoured these books to glean wisdom from advice-givers of yesteryear, and have been doling out advice from classic advice books here on the web since 1998.

My big “break” was in September of 1998, when Yahoo picked me as a Pick of the Week. From there the site grew in popularity and some people wrote some nice reviews about me. I had a weekly column in the London Times magazine for about a year and a half (September 2001 – February 2003). In 2006, this journey led to a book.

I have an extensive background in print and digital publications and a keen interest in historical materials and pop culture, not to mention a love of crawling around dirty used bookstores to find the perfect book to add to my collection. During the day, I work on digital library projects for the Library of Congress (currently I help archive the Internet), and have previously worked in the publications office of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In 2004, I was named one of 55 Library Journal “Movers and Shakers,” an annual feature which sets out to identify “emerging leaders in the Library world.”

I live in an old house in Silver Spring, Maryland, with my talented musician husband Denis Malloy, and our terrier mutt Lulu.

Now About the Play…

A play titled Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, which was inspired by my book, opened Off-Broadway in October 2010 and closed after a nice long run in June 2012. The play was written by Ken Davenport and Sarah Saltzberg. Actresses Eve Plumb, Joyce Dewitt, Christine Pedi, and Laurie Birmingham all played the character named Miss Abigail while in NY and on tour. The show was a lot of fun and used advice from the books. There was even a theme song! A version of it also played in Prague, Czech Republic. Visit MissAbigailsGuide.com for more information – the show is available for others to put on. And while it is now closed in NYC and Prague, occasionally a regional theater in the United States still puts it on, which is really neat.

The Book Collection

The Art of Dating

The place: Greensboro College, North Carolina. The year: 1985. One afternoon, my roommate, Carita, and I stumbled into a Salvation Army thrift store. While browsing the shelves we came across The Art of Dating (1967) by Evelyn Millis Duvall. Inscribed on the inside of the cover was the following:

To Cindy, Christmas 1967
From Daddy & Anne

Intriguing! Who was Cindy? we thought. What was the relationship of Daddy and Anne, and why did they feel the need to present dear Cindy with a book of dating tips?

To Cindy, Christmas 1967 From Daddy & Anne

Moments later, Carita and I purchased this masterpiece of advice for a mere fifty cents. A bargain. We took it back to campus and sat under a tree near our dorm. Between classes on beautiful North Carolina afternoons, we took to reading aloud Evelyn’s words of wisdom, written for the teens of 1967 (the year that Carita and I were born, I might add).

Twenty years from the date of that touching and mysterious inscription to Cindy, a second inscription was added to the book. I was leaving Greensboro to transfer to Swain School of Design in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Carita and I were parting.

My dearest Abigail ~
OK, you win. You get the book. But as a consequence, I get to write in it. I know you are not much into sentimental drivel, so I won’t tell you how much I’ve loved being your roommate and friend. Best of luck to you at your new school.
~ Carita, 1987
P.S. – Get some use out of this thing, will ya?

Carita's inscriptionI can’t say that I ever got much more than amusement and fun out of the book, but I can say that it started a collection that now includes over 1000 books (and continues to grow ~ did I mention that contributions are welcome?) spanning from the 1820s to the 1970s, all about puberty, dating, love, living together, marriage, sex, relationships, etiquette, home repair, and housekeeping.

A somewhat conscious decision was made to not extend the collection past the 1970s. For one thing, there are just too many crazy books on these topics (not particularly for teens anymore but a lot of sex handbooks and marriage guides and miscellaneous self-help books) for me to collect, and besides, they just aren’t as funny or interesting. Good illustrations, good advice for the times, a historical perspective, and especially the humor ~ that is what I search for, and, luckily for you, have been able to find! By the way, although some of this may seem authoritative, please be aware that I don’t take anything I read in these books very seriously. For example, the advice in a chapter titled “Never Go to a Man’s Apartment” from The Unfair Sex (1953) is probably not very realistic for our times. But then again, the next chapter in that same book is titled “What to Do When You Get There,” so maybe we should not dismiss what our mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers were told!

A Short History of MissAbigail.com

Because I do web archiving in my day job, I can’t help myself ~ here’s a little web history of this site. For a laugh check out an early version of Miss Abigail on an early webzine my friends and I created called  Chew-The-Parasite.com, courtesy of the Internet Archive. After Chew ceased its brief publication run, I moved Miss Abigail to my own site and later to this domain. This site was originally developed pre-blogging, so from 1998 to 2005 all posts were individual HTML pages. In 2005 I started using Blogger to update a portion of the site, but they stopped allowing FTP publishing in 2010, so the entire site was converted to WordPress in summer of 2010. During the conversion, the dates of when I posted the original Q&A and other content (pre-2006) were not retained, so the site archive dates might seem a bit odd.