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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Etiquette Archive

1928: Don’t Pull Anyone Else Down to Advance Yourself

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

I got to thinking this morning that this guidance from 1928’s What a Young Man Ought to Know might be a helpful reminder right now. We seem to have lost some of this common sense in recent times. Keep cool, everyone!

 

1891: Learning Something from All

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

I strive to live by this advice from Richard Wells each day ~ even though it seems harder and harder sometimes to do so! We must all try, as much as we can.

Wearing the Mask of Pretense, 1941

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

Here’s a good quote regarding “wearing the mask of pretense” from Lillian Eichler’s 1941 The New Book of Etiquette. I thought it might come in handy right now!

Sears Discovery Course: Chapter on Manners (1972)

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

There’s been renewed interest lately from readers of this site in the Sears Discovery Charm School courses that were available in the 1960s and 1970s; I’ve written about this before on the site, which is likely leading searchers to find their way to Miss Abigail.

A fan and attendee of the course recently wrote to say she was a graduate of the Sears Discovery Charm School during the early 70s in Racine, WI:  “I was wondering if you could provide the information from the 3 ring binder regarding manners. I really wish I could locate my binder, but so very appreciative that the information is still available!”

So I dug up my binder (from 1972), and scanned in the chapter for it and sent along. Given the number of emails I get on the topic, I thought others would like to see it to – so here you go! Pop on over to my Flickr account to see the whole chapter, or flip thru the images below. Enjoy!

 

Sears Charm Book available for sale

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

For those of you looking for copies of the Sears Discovery Charm School book, a reader over on Facebook says she’s got one she’d be willing to part with.

It’s got a 1965 copyright on it. “Great condition…..only my name is written in pencil in the front. Front page has 2 holes that pulled through,” she reports. She’s going to try to provide a photo soon…

If anyone’s interested, contact me via email (see above left).

Tips from the S. S. United States Passenger List Booklet (1956)

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

My mom and stepdad are avid cruisers in their retirement years. As I type they are sailing the (reportedly rough) high seas along the coast of Australia, headed soon to New Zealand.  So it was exciting for me to find a booklet in a local antiques shop from a cruise on the S.S. United States (“the world’s fastest and most modern liner”) from New York to Havre, Southampton, and Bremerhaven. The ship departed January 11, 1956. You can read more details about this ship on this preservation site. How neat that it is still around!

Along with the location of various rooms on each deck, and “how to know the ship’s officers by their sleeve stripes”, this booklet contains a list of first class passengers. It looks like the Kiefer sisters and their parents were onboard, as were the Macklin family, and some Negropontes. Mr. Borris Yane traveled alone. I wonder if he met up with Miss Emmaline Leconbla, who also appears solo? Perhaps they shared a dance. No Grotkes onboard this ship, alas.

I’ve never cruised so not sure how much of this is “quaint and curious” vs. “still happens on cruises today”, but I found a few parts of the information book interesting.

There was a beauty parlor on ship, where you could get:

Hair trimming $2
Hair cut $2.50
Hair set $2
Facial $3 up
Manicure $1.50
Shampoo $1.50
Permanent Wave $15 up
Tinting and Dying $7.50
Eyebrow Arching $1.25

Also available: Electric Baths and Massage, where you could request an assortment of massages, rubs (alcohol, oil or salt, anyone?), sun treatment, a “cabinet bath” and something called “Shower – Scotch Douche” (I’ll pass, thank you very much).

There were kennels aboard for the pups on ship. And they were air conditioned! With a trained Kennel Attendant. Luxurious!

  • A long list of safety instructions included:
  • Please do not run on the ship, and walk carefully when the deck is wet. Do not wear high heels, nor shoes with leather heels when playing deck games.
  • Do not move about in darkened rooms; make use of the lighting facilities.
  • Do not stroll about the ship unnecessarily. Remain seated in furniture which is secured.
  • Brace yourself when sitting in a straight-backed chair.
  • If your chair should move in the Dining Room while at meals, hold on to the table – do not attempt to save table utensils or equipment.

And, in case you are wondering (given the recent ship sinking event in Italy), printed in bold, highlighted by a box around the text:  “Passengers should familiarize themselves with the Notice in the Staterooms regarding Emergency Station and Life Boat Number, and also participate in the Fire and Boat Drills.”

 

 

Recent Acquisition: The Answer Book on Naval Social Customs (1956)

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Naval Social Customs Yesterday a package arrived at the door: a book titled The Answer Book on Naval Social Customs, sent by the mother of a friend who wrote a week or so ago asking if I’d like it for the collection. She said: “It is a first edition, Jan 1956, Military Service Publishing Company.  What a kick!  These were the norms in place when I was dating young Naval officers in San Diego in the late 50’s and early 60’s.  I found it in a Dollar a Bag sale at the library in Bandon, OR.” My kind of book! Of course I said I’d take it. This will go quite nicely with What Every Army Wife Should Know.

In case you need any tips for what to do on a naval ship, here are some excerpts from a section titles “Going Aboard Ship”:

"One of the privileges a Navy wife enjoys is that of visiting her husband aboard ship. She should remember that she is a guest and a civilian, that she is a visitor where work and ship’s routine are being carried out, and that she is not at a social club. The ship is home to the officers on board. Therefore she should be careful not to wear out her welcome.

When may you expect to be invited aboard ship?

Usually when your husband has the duty and will have free time to spend with you. This will generally be for the evening meal, followed frequently by attendance at the ship’s movie. You and your husband may be invited aboard other ships by his fellow officers.

What do you wear when going aboard ship?

If you are a dinner guest or go aboard for a visit, wear a simple afternoon dress or suit and gloves. Wear a hat if suitable with your costume. Extremely high heels or wedge shoes are not advisable as they make getting in and out of boats, climbing gangways, and walking on board ship difficult. Take a wrap if you expect to attend the movie. Panties are a must. Skirts should be neither too tight nor too full. Carry a purse with an arm strap or handle so that your hands will be free when you go up and down the ladders. It is not advisable to carry packages as they will interfere with boarding a ship.

Miscellaneous information on conduct aboard a ship.

You should not go aboard a ship without an invitation.

You should not wander about a ship unescorted.

It is against regulations to serve intoxicants aboard ship.

Do not take a camera aboard ship.

Do not take a pet aboard ship.

An officer’s wife or guest should not ask any of the ship’s personnel to perform a service for her. They are on assigned duty and are not there for her convenience. A wife should remember that she is not in the Navy."

Anniversaries, Gifts, and Anniversary Weddings

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Today marks the occasion of my one-year wedding anniversary (time really flies when you are having fun!). While perusing my books on the subject, I was reminded of the usual custom of marking the occasion with a celebration or gifts made from certain types of materials.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that these appear to have changed over the years, depending on the etiquette expert you are referring to and the time period of the book. I always assumed they were etiquette 101 and had always been the same. Not so!

My more modern copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette (16th edition, 1997), has a very long list of anniversaries 1-20, then in five-year increments until year 60, then 70 and 75 are recognized. Here are the first ten years from her list:

1: Paper or Plastics
2: Calico or Cotton
3: Leather or simulated leather
4: Silk or synthetic material
5: Wood
6: Iron
7: Copper or wool
8: Electrical appliances
9: Pottery
10: Tin or aluminum

I dug deep into the etiquette archives to try to determine when this tradition started. Based on an informal study that consisted of me grabbing the oldest etiquette book I could find on the shelf behind me, I found mention of them in the 1877 book Decorum, by J. A. Ruth. I was surprised to find them called “Anniversary Weddings”:

"Celebrating Anniversary Weddings is a very pleasant custom which is coming gradually into general favor. Special anniversaries are designated by special names, indicating the presents suitable on each occasion.

THE PAPER WEDDING

The first anniversary is called the paper wedding. The invitations to this wedding should be issued on a gray paper, representing thin cardboard. Presents from the guests are appropriate, but not by any means obligatory. These presents, if given, should be only of articles made of paper. Thus, boxes of note-paper and envelopes, books, sheets of music, engravings and delicate knickknacks of papier mache are all appropriate for this occasion."

The author has less anniversaries described but is consistent with Emily Post’s list: he jumps to the Wooden Wedding, which he says to celebrate on the fifth year. Tin is for the 10th, crystal for 15th, china for the 20th, silver for 25th, gold for 50th, diamonds for 75th.

In Correct Social Usage, an etiquette book published in 1903, a suggestion is made to recognize anniversaries much later, though the concept remains the same and the earlier years are described for the benefit of those who want to celebrate sooner:

"Wedding anniversaries are not generally observed until the twenty-fifth year ~ “the silver wedding.” There are people, however, who find pleasure in presenting their married friends with appropriate remembrances on some, if not all, of the established anniversaries. Such remembrances must be gifts made of material which corresponds with the same of the anniversary. These occasions have been designated in this way: first year, paper; fifth year, wooden; tenth year, tin; twelfth year, leather; fifteenth year, crystal; twentieth year, china; twenty-fifth year, silver; thirtieth year, ivory; fortieth year, woolen; forty-fifth year, silk; fiftieth year, golden; seventy-fifth year, diamond."

It looks to me like tin and wood have been fighting it out for 5th place for awhile. Hallie Erminie Rives’ The Complete Book of Etiquette, with Social Forms for All Ages and Occasions (1926) has this slightly different list (with less years represented):

"Wedding anniversaries… hold a unique place in the life of a married couple. About the earlier ones there is an air of informality and fun that cannot but infect every guest. As the pair grows older, the celebrations become decidedly important events, and the “golden wedding” carries with it a sense of climax and fruition which makes its day a sacred one indeed.

Symbols of the conventional anniversaries are as follows:

First year: Paper
Second year: Cotton
Third year: Leather
Fourth year: Wood
Fifth year: Tin
Fifteenth year: Crystal
Twentieth year: China
Twenty-fifth year: Silver
Thirtieth year: Pearl
Fortieth year: Ruby
Fiftieth year: Gold
Seventy-fifth year: Diamond

The comedy possibilities of informal entertainments given on the first and second anniversaries are realized to the full by those who gather to congratulate a happy young couple. Nor do the bride and bridegroom ~ who, after the first anniversary may count themselves graduated from the newly married status ~ fail to take advantage of the amusing opportunities for table and house decorations."

The author then goes on to describe some of the party antics that could occur, including this crazy idea, for the paper anniversary: “Both hostess and women guests sometimes where entire costumes of crêpe paper.” Or, at the Leather Wedding anniversary: “as far as decorations and costumes go, is apt to be a thing of shifts and straits.” I can’t wait til that third year!

 

Invitation for a Drive (1891)

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

I’ve got this pretty beat up book from 1891 called The Business Manual; A Complete Guide in all Mercantile and Legal Transactions and Reference Book for Every Day Use (well used during it’s time, I presume). It covers a wide variety of topics, from how to measure coal, to how to make an ice chest. It also includes handy charts of the weights of cattle and the number of years seeds retain their vitality. It tell business folk of this amazing thing called the “telephone” and describes type-writing. Did you know that “an expert can write from 90 to 100 words a minute and commands a salary of from $10 to $15 a week”?

I loved this section, though, on the “Laws of the Road.” The vehicle of choice that time? Well, the accompanying image says it all:

Laws of the Road

Here’s what the author had to say about driving around at that time:

"The primary law of the road is that all persons using the same must exercise due care to prevent collisions and accidents. No one can claim damages for an injury mainly caused by his own negligence.

Vehicles of every kind, meeting on the highway must keep to the right, if at all possible. When there is no other vehicle near, a driver may use any part of the road he chooses. When two teams are going in the same direction, the one in the lead need not “turn out” if the one in the rear wishes to pass ahead, provided there is room enough at the side to pass by. Every driver is required to use moderation in speed; to keep his carriage, harness, etc., in proper condition, and always to give the right of way to a vehicle with a heavier load than his own.

Riders are not governed by any fixed rules, but are required to use reasonable prudence at all times to prevent accidents. They need less room and can make quicker movements, and are, therefore, not under as well defined rules as vehicles.

Foot-passengers have a right to use the driveway as well as the sidewalk. They must, however, with the driver and rider exercise great care to prevent injury to life and limb while thus walking in, or crossing a public road."

Obviously there were fewer distractions than we have today, but these simple rules could still come in handy.

Once you’ve mastered the road rules, you can send a nice note to a sweetheart to ask her out. This example is from the same book:

Invitation for a Drive

How to Display the Flag

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

unfurl it, then hoist it quicklyI’ve seen American flags hanging from bridges overhanging the highways. I’ve seen them attached to cars and motorcycles, whipping in the wind as the vehicles pass by. I’ve seen paper flags taped to windows and doors. I’ve never seen so many flags. But do we really remember how to treat them correctly? Here are a few flag etiquette tips from Service Etiquette, written by Oretha Swartz. (more…)