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!


Health Archive

Keeping Fit to Fight

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Keeping Fit to FightIn honor of Veteran’s Day, I perused advice books in the collection geared towards military families and spouses, such as You…your children…and War and What Every Army Wife Should Know. But instead of giving you some advice about marrying before or after the young man goes to war, or some tips for Army wives in holding down the fort while her soldier is sent away, I couldn’t help but share something written specifically for the soldier. It’s from a 1918 pamphlet called Keeping Fit to Fight, which was “authorized and distributed by The War Department Commission on Training Camp Activities” and “prepared by the American Social Hygiene Association… at the request of and approval by the Surgeon General of the Army.” On first glance it appears to be a nice little health or fitness booklet. It starts off innocently enough, but soon cuts right to the chase on what the REAL message is!


This is a man-to-man talk, straight from the shoulder without gloves. It calls a spade a spade without camouflage. Read it because you are a soldier of the United States. Read it because you are loyal to the flag and because you want the respect and love of your comrades and those you have left at home.


Next to military obedience there is nothing so important in a soldier’s life as health, and if he practices military obedience, as every true soldier must, he will surely have good health.

Your health is even more important than ammunition. Without health, ammunition is worthless.

Your health is even more important than guns. Without health, guns cannot be effectively manned.

Your health is even more important than bravery. Bravery in bed does not win battles.

Your health is even more important than efficient officers. Without healthy soldiers, the greatest officer is helpless.

Disease used to kill more soldiers than bullets, but such diseases as smallpox, yellow fever and typhoid have been practically wiped out. Today the greatest menace to the vitality and fighting vigor of any army is venereal diseases (clap and syphilis). The escape from this danger is up to the patriotism and good sense of soldiers like yourself.

Will-power is the first preventative when temptation comes. If you and your comrades use the “I’ll-be-damned-if-I-do” will-power against sexual desire, venereal diseases in the army will be conquered and there will be much less to fear from the enemy.

Will-power and courage go together. A venereal disease contracted after deliberate exposure through intercourse with a prostitute, is as much of a disgrace as showing the white feather.

A soldier in the hospital with venereal disease is a slacker.

He keeps equipment idle.

He keeps a uniform out of service.

He leaves a break in the line.

He must have the attendance needed by men disabled in the honorable discharge of duty.

His medicine and care cost money that could be otherwise used to win the war.

He has lost the self-respect which is the backbone of every true soldier.

If you go with a prostitute, you endanger your country because you risk your health, and perhaps your life. You lessen the man-power of your company and throw extra burdens on your comrades. You are a moral shirker.


No matter how thirsty or hungry you were, you wouldn’t eat or drink anything that you knew in advance would weaken your vitality, poison your blood, cripple your limbs, rot your flesh, blind you and destroy your brain. They why take the same chance with a prostitute?


There’s much much more, written to scare the boots off of any soldier, with graphic details about what gonorrhea and syphilis does to a man (and to his wife, if he passes along the disease to her). And a bonus quote from President Woodrow Wilson on the back cover! “Let it be your pride, therefore, to show all men everywhere not only what good soldiers you are, but also what good men you are, keeping yourselves fit and straight in everything, and pure and clean through and through.”

How to Distinguish Death

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

in case there is great doubtThis week’s selection is from Professor T. W. Shannon’s Nature’s Secrets Revealed: Scientific Knowledge of The Laws of Sex Life and Heredity or, Eugenics. You never know ~ this might come in handy someday.

1916: How to Distinguish Death

As many instances occur of parties being buried alive, they being to all appearances dead, the great importance of knowing how to distinguish real from imaginary death need not be explained. The appearances which mostly accompany death, are an entire stoppage of breathing, of the heart’s action; the eyelids are partly closed, the eyes glassy, and the pupils usually dilated; the jaws are clenched, the fingers partially contracted, and the lips and nostrils more or less covered with frothy mucus, with increasing pallor and coldness of surface, and the muscles soon become rigid and the limbs fixed in their position. But as these same conditions may also exist in certain other cases of suspended animation, great care should be observed, whenever there is the least doubt concerning it, to prevent the unnecessary crowding of the room in which the corpse is, or of parties crowding around the body; nor should the body be allowed to remain lying on the back without the tongue being so secured as to prevent the glottis or orifice of the windpipe being closed by it; nor should the face be closely covered; nor rough usage of any kind be allowed. In case there is great doubt, the body should not be allowed to be inclosed in the coffin, and under no circumstances should burial be allowed until there are unmistakable signs of decomposition.

Source: Shannon, T. W. Nature’s Secrets Revealed: Scientific Knowledge of The Laws of Sex Life and Heredity, or Eugenics. Marietta, Ohio: S. A. Mullikin Co., 1916.
~ pp. 503-504 ~

Fuzzy Math

Monday, August 30th, 2010

her moral energies are prostratedQ Dear Miss Abigail:

A man bought a number of eggs at three a dollar and as many eggs at four a dollar and sold them all at the rate of seven for two dollars, losing one dollar in the bargain. Find the number of eggs he bought.


A Dear Sreekumar:

I’m sorry ~ last week I was working and playing in New York City, and then when I got home Saturday night I went to a fabulous Halloween party. I really tried to concentrate on this problem of yours, but according to The Young Lady’s Aid to Usefulness and Happiness, which was written in 1838 by Jason Whitman, I can’t possibly answer your question. I need to rest for a few days, at least!

1838: Intellectual Improvement

In regard to amusements and recreations, I have sometimes thought that we overlooked or forgot the refreshment which may be derived from a mere change of pursuits. Consequently, we often fatigue and unfit ourselves for mental efforts, and destroy, for the time, our moral energies, by the exciting nature of our amusements. A young lady is often so engrossed in the anticipations of a ball or assembly, so absorbed in thought and feeling while preparing for it, and so highly excited amidst its scenes, that she is unfitted for any vigorous and profitable intellectual efforts for days after. And, then too, in the fatigue which follows, her moral energies are prostrated. Had this young lady simply danced at home, with her brothers and sisters, or with friends and neighbors who might be present, without any previous feverish anticipations, or any fatiguing preparations, it would have been a healthful and refreshing amusement. So if a young lady is fatigued with long continued study, or feels that she is in danger of neglecting to take sufficient exercise for her health, let her leave for a while her studies, and bestir herself in useful household labors, and she will find herself much refreshed.

Source: Whitman, Jason. The Young Lady’s Aid, to Usefulness and Happiness. Portland, Maine: S. H. Colesworthy, 1838.
~ pp. 189-90 ~

Eat More Vegetables

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

That is Nature's rule!Q Dear Miss Abigail:

How can I get my my boyfriend to eat vegetables?


A Dear Matthew:

I searched high and low for some good advice to pass along about the value of eating vegetables, and found many standard references in home economics books teaching young women how to plan menus for their families. But I think we all know that vegetables are good for us and that we should eat more of them (didn’t your mom teach you right?).

So I thought a different approach might work better for your sweetie. How about the following from Victor H. Lindlahr’s 1940 book titled You Are What You Eat? Lindlahr was a lecturer on health and nutrition “on radio stations from coast to coast” and president of the National Nutrition Society in his day. He’s quite serious about nutrition, and I think his words will help scare your boyfriend into eating his veggies.

1940: What Foods Can Do For You

Your body is composed of, and lives on, certain basic chemical substances. To be healthy, it must constantly receive new supplies of these. If replacements of these essential materials are not provided, in correct proportions and amounts, by the food you eat, then you are in trouble! Your body tissues cannot behave as they should. The result will be abnormal conditions ~ you call them symptoms of disease. That is Nature’s rule!

Providing the necessary chemical substances for your body, in proper amounts and proportions each day, with foods, means choosing a balanced diet! What is a balanced diet?

On every hand we hear people talking about ‘proper eating’ and ‘balanced diet.’ Your best friend’s little girl did not eat a balanced diet ~ did not get enough fruits and vegetables containing Vitamin A. So, the doctor explains, that is why she was unhealthy, an easy victim of measles, mumps, whooping cough, and frequent colds.

Your mother’s Cousin Joe did not eat a balanced diet ~ he ate too much meat and bread and rich food. And his joints became gnarled and twisted with rheumatism.

That lady down the street, your neighbor explains, did not eat a balanced diet. Her doctor has her on a strict one now, and follow it she must, or have her gall bladder removed. The penalty is severe.

Most health authorities, including scientists, doctors and specialitsts whose articles appear in daily newspapers throughout the country, agree that a balanced diet or dietary changes will help cure a host of the ills to which the human flesh is heir.

Source: Lindlahr, Victor H. You Are What You Eat: How to Win and Keep Health With Diet. New York: National Nutritional Society, 1940.
~ p. 8 ~

Put Heart-Warmth in Your Voice

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

modulate it musicallyStill recovering from getting my wisdom teeth out last weekend, I’ve been doing some jaw exercises to relax the muscles and help lessen the pain. So when I came across this exercise of the voice, I found it helpful. Well, maybe not so helpful, but it sure made me laugh when I tried her suggestions, and so took my mind off the pain. The quote is from the third edition of The Woman You Want to Be: Margery Wilson’s Book of Charm.

1942: Put Heart-Warmth in Your Voice

Your voice reflects emotions as surely as a mirror gives back the image of what is placed before it. No amount of vocal excercises will put ‘soul’ into a voice. The magnetic, warm overtones that can make a homely woman seem charming are the definite results of sweetness, generosity and love of humanity. There is no way to imitate this warmth in the voice. It must come within. Throughout these lessons we bring out certain qualities of mind and character that give this entrancing timbre to the voice.

However, many of our noblest people pitch their voices so badly that the natural sweetness is choked out. It behooves everyone to place the speaking voice correctly and to modulate it musically. Here is an exercise that will take the shrillness and nasal quality out of any voice and lend it to a lovely mellowness.

EXERCISE: Yawn. Hold your throat open and repeat the word ‘mood’ very distinctly three times, pitches as low as you can without growling or producing a false tone. Imagine that the ‘oo’ sound comes from your chest. This vowel opens your throat. Now with your throat in the position it took to say ‘mood’ repeat the word ‘ice’ three times. Again ‘mood’ three times ~ then with the throat in the ‘oo’ position say ‘ice’ three times. Do this ten times. Now say ‘mood’ three times; with the throat in the ‘oo’ position say ‘early’ ~ then substitute the words ‘regular,’ ‘Mary,’ ‘pie,’ ‘fancy’ and ‘three.’ Always say ‘mood’ first and be sure to pronounce distinctly. This exercise will take the shrillness and nasal quality out of any voice and give it a lovely mellowness. Do this regularly and whenever possible and as long as you can without tiring unused muscles. Practice using the principles of contrast in conversation.

Source: Wilson, Margery. The Woman You Want to Be. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1942.
~ pp. 58-59 ~


Sunday, August 15th, 2010

the phlegmatic man will live longerRoad trip to Buffalo! I am heading out this week to visit dear old dad and sweet Grandma Rose, who turns 88 next month (Happy Birthday!). Her youthfulness got me thinking ~ will I be grow to be that age? Will I have her fabulous health and sense of humor? Is my career affecting my longevity? While searching for the answers, I found this helpful table from Light on Dark Corners.

By the way, this book was published in 1911, the year that Grandma was born. I’m going to have to ask her if she knows what those “Coopers,” “Calico Printers,” and “Operatives” doexactly.

1911: Longevity

The following table exhibits very recent mortality statistics, showing the average duration of life among persons of various classes:

Employment. Years.
Judges…………………. 65
Farmers……………….. 64
Bank Officers…………. 64
Coopers……………….. 58
Public Officers………… 57
Clergymen…………….. 56
Shipwrights……………. 55
Hatters…………………. 54
Lawyers……………….. 54
Rope Makers…………… 54
Blacksmiths……………. 51
Merchants………………. 51
Calico Printers…………. 51
Physicians……………… 51
Butchers……………….. 50
Carpenters……………… 49
Masons………………… 48
Traders…………………. 46
Tailors…………………. 44
Jewelers……………….. 44
Manufacturers…………. 43
Bakers…………………. 43
Painters………………… 43
Shoemakers……………. 43
Mechanics……………… 43
Editors…………………. 40
Musicians……………… 39
Printers………………… 38
Machinists……………… 36
Teachers……………….. 34
Clerks………………….. 34
Operatives……………… 32

It will be easily seen, by these figures, how a quiet or tranquil life affects longevity. The phlegmatic man will live longer, all other things being equal, than the sanguine, nervous individual. Marriage is favorable to longevity, and it has also been ascertained that women live longer than men.

Source: Jefferis, B. G., and J. L. Nichols. Search Lights, or, Light on Dark Corners. Naperville, Ill.: J. L. Nichols & Co., 1911.
~ pp. 367 ~

To Retain Youthful Looks

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

wisdom comes with yearsPlease join me in celebrating my Grandma Rose’s birthday! She’s the most wonderful, joyful Grandma in the whole wide world, and maker of some pretty dang perfect mashed potatoes and the best grilled cheese sandwiches that I’ve ever had. Here’s a tidbit from a book titled How to Secure a Beautiful Complexion and Beautiful Eyes, published in the year of Grandma’s birth. It seems quite fitting, considering that she doesn’t look a day over seventy.

1911: To Retain Youthful Looks

Countless fortunes have been spent in searching for the Fountain of Youth, but never will this fountain be found until the searcher looks within. The secret lies there, open to the gaze of him who knows how to search, but, like all of nature’s secrets, it can not be purchased with money.

Birth is usually regarded as the beginning of life, and death as its end, but this is a mistaken view. The process of life is going on continuously; every second, every minute, every hour of the day we are casting off old material with every exhalation, and drawing in new material with every inhalation; it is a perpetual ‘beginning and ending during the whole of life. Every draught of water swallowed, every particle of food eaten, helps to keep this process of change in constant operation. Our hair, flesh, teeth, bones and every part of our bodies is practically renewed every few months, but so gently and so subtly does this change take place that we never become aware of it.’ . . .

When your birthday comes around do not sign over the fact that you are a year older; think rather with pleasure of all that has been accomplished during the year past and make plans for the year coming.

The thought that your body is a year older than last birthday is not correct; it is rather like a river, the waters of which rush rapidly onward and will never be seen again, yet the river remains, its waters continue to flow; they are constantly new waters, but the river is the same, rushing towards the sea with the same vigor, though centuries pass away.

Nature will attend to the changes with little help on your part, but you are the architect and must furnish the material. Every one can be master of his own body and has it within his power to make whatsoever alterations he desires. Mind does control matter and wisdom comes with years.

Source: Clarke, James J. How to Secure a Beautiful Complexion and Beautiful Eyes. Chicago: Advanced Thought Publishing, 1911.
~ pp. 92-93 ~

Oh, Woe is You

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

upsets only make matters worseEveryone’s got ’em . . . but maybe these words from Lois Pemberton’s classic The Stork Didn’t Bring You will help in your personal search for clear skin.

1965: Oh, Woe is You

Saddest of all the adolescent crosses to bear, and one that often leaves big mental as well as physical scars is ACNE. Very few boys or girls escape it, though some have milder and shorter sieges than others. woe is you!It does seem unfair, and why it’s necessary no one knows ~ though maybe it’s just one of nature’s strange character-molding devices. Best you can do is keep your chin up and know that acne does depart eventually for good.

You may, of course, feel self-conscious over it and plan staying home when you want terribly to go some place special. Well don’t. Don’t let it destroy your confidence and composure either.

If you’re a complete mess with a bumper crop from the start, have mother take you to a dermatologist, follow his advice, and apply his medications to the letter. Be sure to use only your own prescriptions and don’t fool around experimenting with stuff that worked for somebody else. Everyone is an individual case, reacting differently to different treatment. What worked swell for Joe or Jane may just prove poison for you.

If, however, you’re just one of the “regulars” with a normally healthy spattering, while you’re putting up with the unsightly spots and curbing the desire to bury your head in the sand till they subside, you can help yourself a lot. First of all, avoid being emotional about its appearance. Upsets only make matters worse, stirring up the circulation and increasing rather than decreasing the number of bumps. So keep calm, stay away from mirrors, and steer clear of company that insists on reminding you of it. . . .

A very good thing to bear in mind is: Those bumps don’t show to others nearly as much as you imagine they do. Because you are extra conscious and sensitive of them, you may feel they look big as all outdoors. They aren’t pretty; none of us likes to even see them, much less have them. Medical science is doing lots to straighten them out in the way of new treatments and diet; and perhaps, someday, acne won’t even be a part of growing up. But until then, there isn’t much more you can do.

Source: Pemberton, Lois. The Stork Didn’t Bring You: Sex Education for Teen-Agers. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1965.
~ pp. 115 (drawing), 117-18, 120-21 ~

One More Inch to Grow, and Counting

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

you cannot help being tall or shortQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I am eighteen years of age and my problem may seem very petty, but to me it is a great deal. My father is six feet tall and my mother is five feet and three inches. I am five feet nine inches tall, but it is very difficult for me to accept the fact that I may never reach my father’s height. I still have about six months to go until I turn nineteen, however, and I am going to try my very best to gain as much height as possible. My father suggests I swim, which I did and in the past and put on an inch in a month. My question is, do I still have a chance of at least putting on two more inches if I swim? I do not have that sense of inner satisfaction until I can get somewhere close to my father in height. It’s a burning desire within me to show him that I can still do it.

Thank you,

A Dear Sid:

Wow. Quite a dilemma you have there, young man. In my humble opinion ~ and I know I’m not your father, but you did come to me for advice after all ~ five feet nine seems awfully close to six feet. Please promise me that you’ll spare yourself the struggle to gain height and just be.

The following is from a 1950s health textbook titled You’re Growing Up.

1950: Accept Yourself

As your body grows and changes, so must your thoughts and feelings about yourself grow and change. Then you will be able to regard yourself as you really are – to accept yourself and to make the most of your personality. . .

Think over your own friends. Do you choose them because of their height and weight, or because they are friendly, interesting, and pleasant?

Look at the boys and girls who are liked in your school and in your neighborhood. You will find that this group includes both tall and short, slender and stocky. . .

You will discover that body build and success in life’s activities show no relationship. You cannot help being tall or short. But whether tall or short, it is possible for you to be happy, healthy, and successful in some undertaking of your choice.

Source: Shacter, Helen, Gladys Gardner Jenkins, and W. W. Bauer. You’re Growing Up. Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1950.
~ pp. 41, 44 ~

Growth Hurts

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

the gawky stageQ Dear Miss Abigail:

Heeeeelp! I’m less than five feet tall and I’m already fourteen. How can I get taller without subscribing to these Internet programs. The prices are high and I don’t think I can afford it. My younger brother is taller than I am and I’m ashamed because I’m sooooo small. Please help.


A Dear Tiny:

I must admit I’m not familar with those Internet subscription growth programs. It all sounds a bit suspicious to me. Not to mention the fact that you appear perfectly normal, according to Lester Beck’s Human Growth: The Story of How Life Begins and Goes On, which was written in 1949. Dr. Beck was the “guiding spirit” behind the 1950s sex-ed film titled “Human Beginnings,” so he seems pretty trustworthy.

1949: Growing…Growing…Grown!

When they are ten or eleven years old, girls start growing more rapidly, passing boys in both height and weight. This ‘growth spurt’ lasts until they reach thirteen or fourteen. Thus girls become physically mature about two years sooner than boys. This means that most girls of twelve and thirteen are bigger than most boys of the same age. Then it is the boys’ turn. At twelve to thirteen, they start outgrowing their clothes at a surprising speed. By fifteen, they are equal to girls in size.

This is the period known as adolescence. In girls adolescence usually begins at the age of about twelve to thirteen, in boys at about fourteen to fifteen, and continues until they have reached maturity. Though the growth rate now slows down for girls, boys keep growing rapidly for another year or two. The time just described is the second period of rapid growth which occurs in all people. The first period, remember, came immediately after birth.

No two children, however, grow at precisely the same speed. Just as all human beings differ in appearance and behavior, so they differ in the way they grow. Take three fifteen-year-old boys, for example. One may still look like a child, with his straight slim build and small-boy features. Another may be in the gawky stage. Yet another may look like a grown man, even though he is just starting high school.

Growth also produces great differences in build. While one young girl is short and slender, another may be short and plump. Again, some boys and girls are tall and slender, others tall and heavy. Similar differences in shape and size can be seen in any group of adults.

At about twenty years of age, the average boy is five inches taller and fifteen pounds heavier than the average girl. By this time ~ the late teens or early twenties ~ physical maturity has been reached. At eighteen, girls are fully grown, while boys continue growing a little taller up to the age of twenty or so.

Source: Beck, Lester F. Human Growth. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1949.
~ pp. 25-28 ~