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!


Beauty and Charm Archive

Be Second Sexiest at Parties

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Many of you are no doubt heading out to New Year’s Eve parties this evening, celebrating with a loved one or perhaps going solo, in the hopes of meeting someone special to welcome 2011 with. Ellen Peck, author of the fabulous How to Get a Teen-age Boy and What to do With Him When You Get Him (1969), has a whole chapter devoted to party going, which is so much better than party giving, where you have to devote all your energy to making sure others are having fun.  “When you go to a party,” she writes, “you have no responsibilities to anybody but you. Just see that you have a good time.”

Her chapter outlines how to find out about parties, how to get invited to them, what time to arrive, who to arrive with (if you don’t have a date already), and more. Since this book is all about “getting” a teen-age boy there’s quite a bit about flirting (if you’ve seen the play or ready my book or this site, you’ve heard some of this already). Conversation starters are covered, of course, because “party talk is planned,” but she also says that “you should also be planning your appearance.” Read on:


Wear pretty much what the other girls are wearing. If they’re wearing tunics, you wear a tunic. But look slightly sexier than most of the girls. Now hear this. This does not mean low, low necklines, long, long, lashes, body jewels, and beauty marks. This “sudden starlet” bit won’t work; you’ll just end up looking like you belong somewhere else. Don’t be the sexiest girl there.

But ~ can you manage to be the second sexiest?

Again, here’s where it helps to know what the other girls are wearing. If you know Irene is going to show up showing décolletage to the naval, you may cut your neckline down a bit. After all, if Kathy’s parties end in neck-nibbling and related indoor sports, you might want to show off a nibbleable neck before lights out.

Looking second sexiest gives you a couple of advantages. Especially over the girl who looks sexiest. That girl (Irene) is going to look slightly out of place. She’s going to make the boys feel slightly self-conscious about approaching her. Oh, they’re turned on by the way she looks, all right. But a guy looks at Irene and knows if he picks tonight to make-out with her, he’s going to go through a lot of ribbing all next week!

Also, do you know how all the other girls are going to feel toward Irene? Maybe hostile.

Do you think Kathy is going to think twice about asking so much competition over again? Maybe definitely.

So, better be second (or even third) than sexiest, as far as your appearance is concerned!


How to Tell Disposition and Character by the Nose

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

The Grotke Nose

I’m digging around my books looking for things to feature in a holiday gift ideas post, but came across this and thought you might enjoy. It’s from Professor Jefferis’ and J.L. Nichols’ Search Lights on Health: Light on Dark Corners, which was published in 1911. This book is packed with information about sex, purity, love, courtship, marriage, families, diseases and other health related topics. It’s all here, including a whole section on “How to Read Character,” with the first part focusing on the nose…


1. Large Noses. ~ Bonaparte chose large-nosed men for his generals, and the opinion prevails that large noses indicate long heads and strong minds. Not that great noses cause great minds, but that the motive or powerful temperament cause both.

2. Flat Noses. ~ Flat noses indicate flatness of mind and character, by indicating a poor, low organic structure.

3. Broad Noses. ~ Broad noses indicate large passageways to the lungs, and this, large lungs and vital organs, and this, great strength of constitution, and hearty animal passions along with selfishness; for broad noses, broad shoulders, broad heads, and large animal organs go together. But when the nose is narrow at the base, the nostrils are small, because the lungs are small and need but small avenues for air; and this indicates a predisposition to consumptive complaints, along with an inactive brain and nervous system, and a passionate fondness for literary pursuits.

4. Sharp Noses. ~ Sharp noses indicate a quick, clear, penetrating, searching, knowing sagacious mind, and also a scold; indicate warmth of love, hate, generosity, moral sentiment ~ indeed, positiveness in everything.

5. Blunt Noses. ~ Blunt noses indicate and accompany obtuse intellects and perceptions, sluggish feelings, and a soulless character.

6. Roman Noses. ~ The Roman Nose indicates a martial spirit, love of debate, resistance, and strong passions, while hallow, pug noses indicate a tame, easy, inert, sly character, and straight, finely-formed Grecian noses harmonious characters. Seek their acquaintance.


The other ways to read character, according to the authors, are by:

  • Stature
  • The Walk
  • Laughing
  • The Mode of Shaking Hands
  • The Mouth and Eyes
  • Color of the Hair
  • a few bonus “secretive dispositions”

I’ll take requests if anyone would like to learn more about any of the above!

A Wise Purchase: Quellebelle Artisan Silk Scarves

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

My friend Nina, who happens to also be my book cover designer for the latest edition, just launched her new venture –  Quellebelle: Artisan Silk Scarves – and just in time for the holidays! The Vibrant Scarf is a favorite of mine (I think the color matches my site quite nicely), and it is even better in person. But they are all lovely. From Nina: “maybe someone on your holiday list would enjoy a gorgeous, delightfully silky scarf that will both bring her pleasure and evoke complements whenever she wears it! (I’m offeringfree shipping at the moment, too.).”

I think this would be considered a wise purchase (as this advice from 1929 describes), don’t you?

Congrats, Nina!


Sunday, November 7th, 2010

“Fidgeters begin at any early age to drive the people around them crazy,” reads advice from Secrets of Charm, which was written in 1954 by John Robert Powers and Mary Sue Miller. Let’s read on: “As children, they seem to wiggle everything, including their ears. A grown woman usually confines herself to twisting a handkerchief or fussing with hair and clothing. No model of charm she! She’s finished off with a simple equation:

Charm - c = harm

“There is only one way to break to fidget habit: stop it! Whenever you begin to move your hands, ask yourself, ‘Is this gesture necessary?’ Within a week, you will exile useless gesticulation and inane toying with objects.”

I think this proves that my books do contain advice on just about any topic you can think of!

Dressing Appropriately

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010
Geraldine Farrar

Geraldine Farrar, "whose individuality seems always to demand clothes extraordinaire - clothes that express the elegance of the opera"

I thought I’d do a bit more research on what might be appropriate to wear this weekend at the opening of the play inspired by my book, Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, or at any theatrical production, for that matter (as I’m now a season ticket-holder at Arena Stage in D.C.). I consulted with Mary Brooks Picken’s 1918 book titled The Secrets of Distinctive Dress. The author had this to say on dressing appropriately for the theater: “What you should wear to the theater depends largely on the seat you are to occupy. It is perfectly correct to wear the same garments and accessories as are provided for Informal Theater if a theater box is to be occupied; and it is very much better taste to do so if the trip to the theater is not made in a private conveyance.”

Ms. Picken goes on to talk more about formal wear:


Rather than slavishly follow the prevailing mode, you will find that the most beautiful, and decidedly the most practical, evening clothes are those which are designed to suit you, because they can be used for more than one season.

Formal dress should depend on the beauty of fabric and color, rather than on intricate style. Informal evening dress is best when made of inexpensive fabrics, with more regard to design, for such garments are subject to harder usage than the more formal evening gowns, and as they are worn oftener they have shorter life.

If your circumstances are moderate, one evening wrap of conservative design, color, and fabric should serve you at least two years, and for all seasons except summer.

Garments of unlined silk or of knitted or crocheted silk or wool are acceptable for summer.

If you are not accustomed to attending many formal affairs and attend more afternoon than evening functions, you should select an afternoon coat of neutral tone or very dark shade, and a style and fabric equally suitable for afternoon and evening wear.


It’s Fun to Be a [Popular] Girl

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

It's Fun to Be a GirlAlong with the rest of the nation, I’ve been watching and enjoying Glee. And as a card-carrying lifetime member of the band geek club, it’s been bringing up all those lovely memories of the popular kids vs. the geeks “battles” that went on ~ most of you probably had some experience, whatever side you were on.

It’s been on my mind particularly as my 25th high school reunion approaches (I’ll be missing the festivities back in fun-city Punta Gorda, Florida, since its the same weekend of the opening of the play). Here’e some advice from Ruth Vaughn’s It’s Fun to Be a Girl, published in 1961, which alludes to the fact that musicians and artists can be popular too. Goody!


Popularity begins, not with making yourself important, but by becoming concerned and interested in other people. The result will bring happiness to you and others.

A group of girls were talking at a summer camp. One said, “It is so hard to maintain high standards and be popular.” Another girl spoke up, citing an incident where a girl with high ideals was crowned football queen.

“Sure,” the first girl remarked, “but she can play the flute, sing like a bird, and paint pictures. She can do almost anything. Most of us are not that talented!”

To be popular doesn’t require many talents. Everyone possesses at least one talent. The most important thing to do is to cultivate it. You play the piano? Develop it to the greatest popular capacity. You are pretty good with a tennis racket? Become very good. If your outstanding attribute is simply making friends and being a loyal, warm person ~ work at that. Being vastly talented is nice, but it certainly is not a requisite in this business of being popular.

Don’t try to be the best at everything. If Gail gives a reading which is a scream, don’t get up and try to compete with her or try to throw cold water on her praise. Add your part by getting a good seat to watch and applauding with all your heart for her talent. If Cheryl sings with such a radiance and warmth that it fills the entire room, don’t make a spectacle of yourself by trying to sing as well. Face yourself honestly and accept your own limitations. But develop and polish the talents which you possess.

Being the kind of girl who is popular takes self-discipline. The girl who has such a gay, appealing personality was not born that way. She learned to discipline herself pretty sternly because she knows the great rewards it brings.


Looking for Glove Etiquette or Info on the Sears Discovery Charm School?

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

With the site redesign, I had to completely redo how my old advice pages were displaying. They are now all blog posts.

Two popular posts from the old site are now in new locations. If you are looking for glove etiquette, it’s here: http://www.missabigail.com/advice/beauty-and-charm/2010/08/glove-etiquette/

And the one on the Sears charm school is here: http://www.missabigail.com/news/2008/01/sears-discovery-charm-school-ring-any-bells/

If you tried to post any comments since April to the charm school, I couldn’t transition them over to the new site unfortunately. Feel free to post again!

The search box works really well, as does the tag cloud into the advice, but if you’re having trouble finding something else you enjoyed from the old version of the site let me know and I can point you in the right direction.

-Miss Abigail

Making Conversation

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

why not just relax?Q Dear Miss Abigail:

I’ve noticed lately that I have a problem talking about things when I get introduced. I never know the proper response, and end up saying something dumb that doesn’t make any sense. Could you give me some advice on making conversation?


A Dear Michelle:

You are not alone, my dear. Personally, I have an awful times with names. Sometimes I don’t even try to remember them ~ it’s no use! And I know someone who pretends to sneeze in the event of a lull in the conversation, and countless friends who prefer to stay huddled in the corner at a rockin’ party rather than mingle with strangers.

Never fear, Vera Bloom (aka “the Entertaining Lady”) has a bit of advice for us all.

1949: Conversation

When you stop to think of it, the really great talkers and great wits have been so rare that, in nearly three centuries of conversation both here and in England, there are few we remember besides Dr. Johnson, Sidney Smith, Oscar Wilde, Whistler, Oliver Herford, Shaw, Alexander Woollcott, and Dorothy Parker. Why not just relax, and console ourselves with the though that wit is a very dangerous possession after all, especially for a woman. For in either talk or letters, wit and tact rarely go together, and the woman who lets her tongue rule her heart can hardly be surprised when she makes enemies right and left. No one likes to be a target ~ except for Cupid’s darts! So be gay and entertaining if you can; be witty if you must.

Of course there are as many kinds of conversation as there are kinds of people and kinds of situations they find themselves in. All of us grope for things to talk about in casual contacts ~ it’s only with tried and true friends, or in the friendly relaxation of good shop talk, that people can really lose themselves in their enthusiasms.

But in any situation simplicity, being yourself, and really hearing the person you’re talking to, instead of wasting your energy worrying about what impression you’re making, will do more toward making you a good conversationalist than all the high-pressure charm hints that have ever been given.

The good conversationalist is always a constructive listener. She is altruistic enough to be willing and able to make the other person feel more important than herself, which means that she is willing and able to fish around among a stranger’s or an acquaintance’s interests until she gets an enthusiastic nibble on her conversational bait.

Source: Bloom, Vera. The Entertaining Lady: An Informal Guide to Good Living. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1949.
~ pp. 192-93 ~

Do People Like You?

Monday, August 30th, 2010

do you avoid being bold and nervy?Okay, everybody, it’s quiz time again! Get those pencils sharpened, because being liked is a most wonderful thing, and I sure want all of you to be as likeable as you possibly can. This self-analysis tool was published in Unit One of the Personality Development Series, written by Estelle Hunter. And in case anyone was wondering, my score was 59. I suppose I’ve got a bit of improving to do, but no matter what, I absolutely refuse to change my answers to #4 or #35.

1939: Do People Like You?

Every normal, healthy individual wants to be liked by others. If you have ever said that you didn’t care whether or not people liked you, you probably weren’t really honest with yourself. Perhaps you were trying to cover up hurt pride. The person who says bitterly, ‘I don’t care,’ really does care a great deal. He should face the fact squarely and try to discover the reason for lack of harmony in his relationships with others.

Donald A. Laird, after a series of experiments made in the Colgate Psychological Laboratory to determine what traits were of most importance in making people liked or disliked, compiled the list of 45 questions which is quoted below.

Give yourself a score of 3 for each of these questions to which you can answer ‘Yes’:
1. Can you always be depended upon to do what you say you will?
2. Do you go out of your way cheerfully to help others?
3. Do you avoid exaggeration in all your statements?
4. Do you refrain from being sarcastic?
5. Do you refrain from showing off how much you know?
6. Do you feel inferior to most of your associates?
7. Do you refrain from bossing people not employed by you?
8. Do you keep from reprimanding people who do things that displease you?
9. Do you refrain from making fun of others behind their backs?
10. Do you keep from domineering others?

Give yourself a score of 2 for each of these questions to which you can answer ‘Yes’:
11. Do you keep your clothing neat and tidy?
12. Do you avoid being bold and nervy?
13. Do you refrain from laughing at the mistakes of others?
14. Is your attitude toward the opposite sex free from vulgarity?
15. Do you keep from finding fault with everyday things?
16. Do you let the mistakes of others pass without correcting them?
17. Do you loan things to others readily?
18. Are you careful not to tell jokes that will embarrass those listening?
19. Do you let others have their own way?
20. Do you always control your temper?
21. Do you keep out of arguments?
22. Do you smile pleasantly?
23. Do you refrain from talking almost continuously?
24. Do you keep your nose entirely out of other people’s business?

Give yourself a score of 1 for each of these questions to which you can answer ‘Yes’:
25. Do you have patience with modern ideas?
26. Do you refrain from flattering others?
27. Do you avoid gossiping?
28. Do you refrain from asking people to repeat what they have just said?
29. Do you avoid asking questions in keeping up a conversation?
30. Do you avoid asking favors of others?
31. Do you refrain from trying to reform others?
32. Do you keep your personal troubles to yourself?
33. Are you natural rather than dignified?
34. Are you usually cheerful?
35. Are you conservative in politics?
36. Are you enthusiastic rather than lethargic?
37. Do you pronounce words correctly?
38. Do you look upon others without suspicion?
39. Are you energetic?
40. Do you avoid borrowing things?
41. Do you refrain from telling people their moral duty?
42. Do you refrain from trying to convert people to your beliefs?
43. Do you refrain from talking rapidly?
44. Do you refrain from laughing loudly?
45. Do you refrain from making fun of people to their faces?

The higher your score by this self-analysis the better liked you are in general. Each ‘No’ answer should be changed through self-guidance into a ‘Yes’ answer. The highest possible score is 79. About 10% of people have this score. The lowest score made by a person who was generally liked was 56. The average young person has a score of 64. The average score of a person who is generally disliked it 30. The lowest score we found was 12.

From these questions it is apparent that whether you are liked or disliked depends chiefly upon your attitude toward others. All your efforts at self-improvement will be of no avail if you think only of building up your own superiority. The consciously superior, the self-righteous person is never popular. If you would be liked, don’t try to impress the other person with your importance; make him feel important; show your interest in him.

Source: Hunter, Estelle B. Personality Development, Unit One: Your Physical Self. Chicago: The Better-Speech Institute of America, 1939.
~ pp. 120-22 ~

Everyone Wants To Be Liked

Monday, August 30th, 2010

It is a fine thing to have a sense of humorI apologize for the lag time since my last selection. The delay was due to a much-needed trip out to the woods, where I was nowhere near a computer. I hope you are not angry with me! I just want to be liked! Don’t you? Yes, I thought so. So let’s read a bit from Everyday Living for Girls: A Textbook in Personal Regimen in order to help us achieve this goal, shall we?

1936: Everyone Wants To Be Liked

Definitions of personality and character would often lead us to suppose they are one and the same. Perhaps the difference between character and personality can be most simply stated as follows: Character is one’s true moral worth, and personality its outward expression as seen by others. It is, then, quite possible to be of an upright and moral character and yet have an unpleasant personality, and vice versa. . . . Have you ever thought that we may admire our friends because they are good-looking and respect them because they are clever, but that we love them because they are pleasant and easy to get along with? Probably no one thing contributes more to popularity than being good natured. Have you tried it?

Traits others like in us. What, then, are some of the things that we should do or refrain from doing in order to be liked? In the first place, no one likes affectation on the part of others. “Be yourself,” has become a slang expression, but it is still good advice. The girl who tries to act and look more sophisticated or accomplished than she is, is making a great mistake.

People do not like interference. Do not be inquisitive about other people’s affairs, and certainly never take part in other people’s quarrels.

Do not argue. Hardly anyone can keep from getting angry or offensive when arguing, and as was said in the beginning, good nature is a great asset.

Be a good listener. Do not carry on a monologue, but give others a chance to talk. Never make fun of others. If you do, your listeners will never trust you not to make fun of them when their backs are turned.

Do not be moody. To say of one that she is always the same is a great compliment.

Sociability and friendliness are very useful and endearing traits. Friends are indispensable, and acquaintances are always possible friends.

It is a fine thing to have a sense of humor. Indeed, it is almost always listed as a necessary element in popularity. Cultivate it, if possible.

Learn what good taste is and practive it in dress, manners, and all social relations.

No one is better liked as a companion than one who is self-possessed, well poised, and who knows how to behave correctly under all circumstances.

Be interesting. Learn to talk about things rather than about people.

Do not be too sensitive. Think about other people, not about yourself and what kind of an impression you are making, and do not take offense quickly.

Do not be too critical of what others do or say, of entertainments, or conditions. There is no surer way of making others shun your companionship and of spoiling your own good times.

Always make acknowledgment of everything done for you, no matter how slight it may be. Do not look upon an act of courtesy or a favor as your just due.

These are only a few of the ways in which one may gain deserved popularity. See how many others you can add to the list.

Source: Van Duzer, Adelaide Laura, et. al. Everyday Living for Girls. Chicago: J. B. Lippincott Company,1936.
~ pp. 356-57 ~