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!


Home and House Archive

Deciding on a Color Scheme (1956)

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

We’re about to embark on a bathroom renovation on Monday, so we’ve (well, let me clarify  ~  I’ve  ~  the hubby is tolerating all of this with good nature) have been obsessing about large tubs and tiles and fixtures for quite some time.

I should be cleaning out the old bathroom right now, but instead decided to dig through the books to see if there was any advice that could help me as they start to tear up our bathroom. Didn’t immediately find anything on dealing with the chaos of construction, but I did enjoy this about selecting paint colors from a great book I received from my family at Christmas. The book is called The Complete Book of Absolutely Perfect Housekeeping: An Uproarious Guide for Disorganized Housewives (with Neat Solutions to Sloppy Problems), published in 1956 by Elinor Goulding Smith. Since our house is already filled with a crazy color scheme (selected mostly by yours truly), I really enjoyed the following:

"The very first thing [when decorating your home] is to decide on your color scheme. Now is the time to fling off the yolk of convention, and let yourself go. There is no color scheme that isn’t right if you like it. It would be too bad to finish the whole job and then find that it was really very ordinary, so don’t be afraid to take chances. What you want is something different. something that will make your friends talk. Try doing a room in black and purple, with perhaps puce accent just for laughs. Then invite your friends in for an evening of Russian roulette.

Remember that color, and color alone, will give your home its individual character, and an exciting choice of colors that suit your own personality can give your living room an air of distinguished sophistication and good taste that will endure even after it’s all dingy and shabby again, which will be soon. Very soon. Probably, with a little extra effort on the part of stray children, cats and other extraneous matter that drift into your home, day after tomorrow.

If you follow accurately the following few simple rules, you should have really striking results. So pay close attention, follow the easy steps, and go ahead with confidence:

I. Choose your favorite color and then immediately eliminate that as a possibility. If you go spreading your favorite color all over your walls, you’re going to get awfully sick of it. Choose one you’re not really crazy about, and you’ll find you’re far less likely to tire of it. This is your basic color.

II. Now, for the proper accent, choose carefully a color that is much darker or much lighter than the first, and of a different hue and intensity. Should it happen, by some horrid mischance, that at any time you select Cream, Oatmeal, or Tan, discard them immediately as possibilities. The reason for this is extremely technical, and without professional training you probably wouldn’t understand the reason which is that I can’t stand the sight of them.

III. For the next two colors, to be used in small areas for that exhilarating touch of spice, you can safely let yourself go, even to the wildest flights of lime, avocado, or persimmon. Watermelon and raspberry are nice, too, if in season and thoroughly ripe.

This is now your personal color scheme selected by you, to suit your personality. Only you will have this highly individual color combination, chosen to enhance your complexion, hair-coloring, and your favorite nail polish."

1928: Installing a Shower-Bath

Monday, December 19th, 2011

We’re in the midst of planning a bathroom renovation, and although the driving force behind it is to replace the tub with a deep one that I can actually bathe in, I was amused to find this advice about “Installing a Shower-Bath.” It appears in The House-Owner’s Book, written by Allen L. Churchill and Leonard Wickenden in 1928 (the decade our house was born). The book is mostly for those constructing their own new houses, and is beyond my expertise, but I did also enjoy the chapter on “Special Appliances” where they describe, among other things, an “Iceless Ice-box”; an in-house system to burn your own garbage to then fuel the house; and a central vacuum cleaning system which will “be as common, in a few years, as central heat.” Sounds an awful lot like my mom and stepdad’s whole house vacuum that was installed when they built their house a few years ago, still a pretty rare item in today’s homes.

But I digress ~ back to the bathroom!

"If no house is complete without a bathroom, no bathroom is complete without a shower-bath. It is no so long ago that the man who proclaimed that he preferred a shower- to a tub-bath was considered a freak or a poser. But those days are past. It is now recognized that a shower-bath is not only more invigorating,~ it is more cleansing. Fresh water constantly pours upon the body, washing away all impurities, and producing a sensation of cleanliness and well-being which the tub-bath can never give. . . .

The ordinary head-shower is sometimes unpopular with the women of the household because, with it, there is difficulty in avoiding wetting the hair. The type of shower which sprays water onto the body in a semi-horizontal manner usually finds more favor with them. It is claimed that with this type of shower, no curtain is needed because the water strikes the body at such an angle that it runs directly downward into the bath. This may be true if the user is of a placid disposition and takes his shower-bath in a calm and dignified manner. With most men, however, the sensation of water raining onto their bodies causes them to inflate their chests, and fling their limbs about generally. In any case, a shower-bath loses a good deal of its fun if one has to bear constantly in mind the need of avoiding violent activity, so that the curtain will usually be found well worth the slight extra cost."


Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

realizing the lovely bloomsPink geraniums, orange marigolds, sonata mix cosmos, sunscape daisy nasinga white, snow crystals alyssium, brachycomb, a tomato plant, and some herbs. They should be outside enjoying the spring, but tonight they sit in my living room waiting for the season’s last frost to pass us by. I’m certainly an amateur gardener, only filling a few boxes and pots on my brick patio out front, but still, it makes me happy, and that’s what it’s all about, right? I think that Adelaide Laura Van Duzer, one of the authors of home economics textbookEveryday Living for Girls would agree.

1936: Gardening

Pleasure in gardening is age-old and universal. Many find emotional satisfaction in the beauty of growing flowers. Persons who work at high tension find relaxation in digging in the soil, planting, caring for, and realizing the lovely blooms.

Gardening is such a natural, sane outlet for creative self-expression that it is often a means to mental health and contentment. Many a woman in ugly surroundings ~ on a grim, lonely farm or in a smoke-grimed cottage above a steel mill ~ has satisfied her beauty-hungry heart with the rich colors of flowers.

To the beholder, too, flower gardens are a delight. But the grower, the one who creates, gets the most joy from his own and from others’ gardens ~ an enjoyment analogous to that of the musician in his own or another artist’s playing.

Source: Van Duzer, Adelaide Laura, et. al. Everyday Living for Girls. Chicago: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1936.
~ p. 477 ~

Earning, Spending, and Saving

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

real thrift deals with little thingsFinancial woes ~ we are all familiar with them. With the new year upon us I’ve tried to get a handle on my own, so have done a bit of reading on the subject. Maude Richman Calvert’s First Course in Home Making offered some good tips for future savers, which I will share with you here. Who needs a financial planner when Maude is here to help?

1928: Earning, Spending, and Saving

How can we learn to be thrifty? How can we learn to save money? Why are most of the failures in the world caused by a lack of thrift? What do we mean by thrift? Does thrift apply only to saving money? Why should we learn to save money?

Spend Less than You Earn. Learn to be thrifty by spending less than you earn. Thrift is one of the chief objectives of education. Real thrift means making the most of time, money, food and self. By learning to conserve your time, your health, your talents and your money you can pick your own job, own your own home and be prepared for probable misfortune and old age.

Spend Intelligently. Intelligent spending is just as important as intelligent saving. When you spend all that you earn you are working for a mere living; when you spend more that you earn you are a financial failure. Much of our money is spent on clothing. Study clothing to know values; take care of your garments and when you decide that it is necessary to buy, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do I need this article?
2. Can I afford to buy it?
3. Is the quality good?
4. Is the price reasonable?
5. Is the dealer trustworthy?
6. Can I pay for it now?
7. Is the garment appropriate?

Buy Food Intelligently. To buy food intelligently you must know food values; you must know the difference in actual values of certain qualities and brands of food; you must know how to plan, prepare and serve a well-balanced meal; you must know how to order a well-balanced meal at a hotel, cafe or cafeteria.

Learn to Eliminate Waste. In one sense, thrift means the elimination of waste. We cannot practice thrift merely by ceasing to spend money. Genuine thrift consists not in making money ~ or in saving it ~ it consists as well in taking care of things. A careless person cannot be successful ~ except by accident. Real thrift deals with little things and can be practiced by any one. Do you:

1. Eat all the food on your plate?
2. Mend and repair your clothing?
3. Take care of furniture, books and household equipment?
4. Waste light and fuel at home and in public places?
5. Waste money by buying novelties in food and clothing?
6. Buy cheap jewelry?
7. Waste money on candy, soda water and cheap amusements?

Learn to Save. Ask your father or your teacher what the figures of insurance companies show about people who never learned how to spend and save their money while young. Find out why it is important to begin to save our money while we are still children. Ask your teacher what happens to people in middle life or old age who did not learn while they were young how to spend and save wisely. We should always spend less than we earn. We should decide on a definite amount to be saved each week. Government authorities tell us that any one who starts with his first earnings and ‘puts out at interest one day’s wages every week will have ten years’ wages saved before becoming gray headed.’

Source: Calvert, Maude Richman. First Course in Home Making. Atlanta, Ga.: Turner E. Smith Company,1928.
~ pp. 248-50 ~

The Cost of Clothing

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

What is it about January that makes me hate my clothes so much? I blame the extra sweets around the holidays. Whatever the reason, my closet just got a bit fuller thanks to a little shopping spree today. I probably should have read the following excerpt, from Mary Lockwood Matthews’ textbook Elementary Home Economics, before I left for the store. I think I may have caved into a fad or two! Oh no!

1925: The Cost of Clothing

Many persons spend more money for clothing than is necessary because they do not buy wisely; they select materials and garments that do not wear well, that fade, that are not suitable for the purpose, or that do not launder well. Persons who are careless about the care of their clothing spend more money than those who keep their clothing repaired, pressed and clean. Every girl should remember that her clothing is expensive, and should consider it her duty to take as good care of it as possible.

In order to realize the cost of clothing, it would be well for each girl to keep an account of the money she spent for her clothing each year, even though she does not buy it herself. Such an account will be begun in the ‘Clothing Book.’ Perhaps each member of the class will continue keeping it, so that when she begins buying her own clothing she will know the usual price of each article.

The buying of ‘fads,’ exaggerated styles, or novelty materials is not wise when clothing must be worn for very long periods. Fads in clothing go out of fashion quickly and must be discarded. The better plan is to select standard materials of good quality and then have the garments made in such a way that they may be worn two or even three years without being out of fashion.

Source: Matthews, Mary Lockwood. Elementary Home Economics. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company,1925.
~ p. 102 ~

Washing the Dishes

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

the large, greasy utensilsThis week’s selection is from a high school home economics book, but I don’t think I had to wait that long to learn how to do this fairly common childhood chore. My mom had me scraping and scrubbing dishes at a much younger age! For those of you still a bit clueless about this particular household task, here are some tips from How You Plan and Prepare Meals. It was written by experts Byrta Carson and MaRue Carson Ramee.

1962: Washing the Dishes

Preparing to Wash Dishes

Scrape and rinse the dishes that are especially soiled. Soak in cold water dishes that contained cereal, egg, or flour mixtures. Soak in hot water greasy dishes and those that were used for sugar mixtures.

If the pans or skillets are badly burned, fill them with water. Add a little baking soda, and boil them until clean.

Stack the dishes by putting similar things together. Place the glasses next to the sink since they should be washed first. Place the silverware next and then the china. Pots, pans, and other utensils should be last. Smaller and least-soiled cooking utensils should be placed so that they will be washed before the large, greasy utensils.

Washing the Dishes

1. Fill the sink or the dishpan half full with hot soapy water. The amount of soap or detergent that you should use depends upon the hardness of the water.

2. Put only a few dishes into the sink or the dishpan at one time.

3. Hold each dish in your left hand and the sponge or the dishcloth in your right hand as you wash dishes.

4. Rinse the dishes with plenty of very hot water. Glasses, cups, jars, and bottles should be rinsed inside and out. Plates, saucers, and so on, should be rinsed on both sides.

5. Place the dishes in the dish drainer at an angle at which they will drain best. For example, turn glasses and cups upside down after they have been scalded. Stand plates, saucers, and so on, at almost a right angle.

6. Dry the dishes with a clean dish towel, and put them in their proper places.

7. Hang up the dish towel neatly when you finish drying the dishes.

8. Pour the dishwater through a sink strainer unless you have a garbage disposal. Otherwise you may clog the sink.

9. Use soapy water to clean the sink, rubbing it hard. If the sink is especially dirty, use soda or a fine scouring powder. Use a bleach to remove stains.

10. Clean the table and the cabinet tops thoroughly, giving special attention to the edge of the table. Any food left on the table or in cracks is apt to attract insects.

Source: Carson, Byrta, and MaRue Carson Ramee. How You Plan and Prepare Meals. St. Louis, Mo.: Webster Division, McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1962.
~ pp. 402-403 ~

Laundry, at Home

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

hot enough to splutterI’m a bit obsessed with cleaning lately, can you tell? It might have something to do with the recent installation of a sump pump in my basement apartment. Let’s just say that jackhammers create quite a bit of dust, hence my interest in this subject. Elizabeth Craig offers this bit of advice in her 1000 Household Hints. I don’t know about you, but I am quite pleased that times have changed, at least when it comes to laundry.

1947: Laundry, at Home.

To soak. ~ Soak cotton and linen articles in lukewarm soapy water, or in cold water with borax ~ 2 tablespoons to the gallon. Soak handkerchiefs separately. Do not soak coloured or woollen articles.

To wash. ~ Wring out the clothes from the soaking water. Wash with plenty of hot soapy water made with shredded washing soap, soap flakes or jelly. Use two lots if necessary. Rub dirty clothes gently on a wash board with your hand or a nail brush. Do not rub silks, rayons, and woollens. Use only mild soap for them, and do not put them in very hot water.

To rinse. ~ Soften hard rinsing water with borax. Repeat warm rinses till the water is clear, and add a little glue to the last water for white cottons and linens.

To dry. ~ Dry out of doors when possible, but do not put silks and woollens in the sun or too near the fire. Hang white cottons and linens in the sun to bleach. Dry coloured articles in the shade, inside out.

To starch. ~ The heavier and wetter the material, the more starch you need, and if you wring with a wringer you need thicker starch than if you work by hand. Starch articles inside out, using hot starch for white things and cold tinted starch for coloured ones. Use blue to tint blue, cochineal for pink, coffee or tea for brown, and a vegetable dye for green. To mix starch ~ make a smooth paste with starch and cold water, using a wooden spoon, then add boiling water till the starch is clear.

To mangle. ~ Leave clothes till quite dry, then sprinkle them evenly. Fold and roll up, and leave them for an hour before mangling or ironing. Pull garments into shape and put them evenly between the rollers, protecting any buttons.

To iron. ~ The iron should be hot enough to splutter when touched with a wet finger, and you should iron as quickly as possible, continuing till the material is dry. To iron a garment, first go over all parts that hang off the board, then iron the centre. To bring out a pattern or monogram, iron on the wrong side over a thick pad. Have a very hot iron for starched articles and a moderate one for silks and woollens. Press damp knitted goods between Turkish towels.

To air. ~ If you have no heated linen cupboard, hang straight, folded articles on a clothes horse, and garments with sleeves on hangers to air in the sun or near the fire.

Source: Craig, Elizabeth. 1000 Household Hints. London: Collins Clear-Type Press, 1947.
~ pp. 43-44 ~

Should Guests Remove Their Shoes?

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

sprinkle with powdered boraxQ Dear Miss Abigail:

We recently moved into a new home that we built. We have beautiful carpet that cost a lot, and I worry constantly that it will get dirty. I want all guests to remove their shoes. Most of my family won’t abide by this, and my husband says its not right to ask them to, that it’s just carpet. We are having Christmas at our home this year and I am very worried. Stupid, huh? Some agree with me, but most people say it’s rude for me to invite people in then expect to do this, that it’s makes them uncomfortable. Dear Abby says that if you invite guests, you invite their shoes. Please help. I’m too obsessed with this. I think that my inlaws refuse just to spite me because it worries me so. Thanks.


A Dear Missy:

I’m afraid I’ll have to side with your husband, Dear Abby, and all those who feel uncomfortable by your request. It is awfully strange to appear shoeless in someone else’s home. Perhaps if everyone had perfect, new socks and toenail fungus was not an issue, things would be different.

But Missy, there is hope. Have you forgotten that as long as people have been tracking in mud and spilling cocktails, homeowners have been practicing the fine art of stain removal? Here are some tips from America’s Housekeeping Book, which was compiled by the New York Herald Tribune Home Institute in 1941. Good luck, relax, enjoy your carpet and your company!

1941: Common Stains on Rugs and Carpets

Removing spots and stains from rugs is complicated by the fact that a pad cannot be used underneath to absorb the soil loosened by the reagent. However, clean white blotting paper can be applied to the surface after using the reagent, to blot up excess moisture and soil.

Old stains or stains made by fruits, medicine, dyes, etc., must be given professional treatment.

When soap and water are used for spot removal, be careful not to get the rug too wet. Be sure to rinse thoroughly, and to brush the pile erect while it is damp.

Type of Stain Treatment for Removal
Animal Stains Treat Immediately. Sponge with salt solution (1/4 cup salt to 1 pint water), then sponge with ammonia solution (1 part ammonia to 20 parts water). Specific cleansers for animal stains are available.
Blood Blot up as much as possible with clean blotting paper or absorbent cloth, being careful not to spread stain. Sponge with a cloth dampened with cold water. Brush pile erect while still damp.
Candle Wax Scrape off as much as possible with a spatula or dull knife. Sponge with carbon tetrachloride.
Candy Sponge with clear warm water.
Chewing Gum Rub with piece of ice until gum gathers in a ball. Sponge any remaining traces with carbon tetrachloride.
Chocolate Scrape off excess with spatula or dull knife. Sprinkle with powdered borax, moisten with cold water. Remove with damp cloth. Brush up borax when dry.
Cocktails Sponge at once with cloth wrung out of mild soapsuds. Rinse with cloth wrung out of clear water. Brush pile erect while damp. Fruit juice cocktail stains are difficult to remove and may require professional treatment.
Coffee and Tea ~ Clear Sponge with cloth wrung out of mild soapsuds. Rinse with cloth wrung out of clear water.
Coffee and Tea ~ With cream Sponge with carbon tetrachloride.
Grease and Oil Sponge with carbon tetrachloride. If color remains the spot will require professional treatment.
Ink Blot up as much as possible with clean blotting paper or absorbent cloth, being careful not to spread the stain. Sponge with lukewarm water. Sponging with milk is effective for some kinds of ink, but the milk must be removed by sponging with carbon tetrachloride. Stubborn ink stains require professional treatment.
Milk See Grease.
Mud Allow to dry thoroughly, then brush out.
Paint If fresh, sponge with turpentine. Old or stubborn paint stains require professional treatment.
Salad Dressing See Grease.

Source: New York Herald Tribune Home Institute, compiler. America’s Housekeeping Book. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941.
~ pp. 182-83 ~

The Vacuum Cleaner

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

discover how easy it isTo think, all my life I’ve been nonchalantly cleaning floors without a second thought about the machine that truly does all the work ~ the one, the only…

1941: The Vacuum Cleaner

A. Use.

1. Adjust the nozzle to rug or floor unless adjustment is automatic. To test for correct adjustment, place the cleaner on the rug with the handle in operating position. Turn on the motor. The rug should be lifted to the nozzle by suction and held there firmly. When an agitator type cleaner is used, the carpet or rug will vibrate if the nozzle is properly adjusted. This vibration can be felt if one’s hand is placed on the carpet just in front of the nozzle.

2. Operate the cleaner slowly in a straight line, lengthwise of the rug. Go over each section at least twice to remove embedded dirt and grit.

3. Keep the cord out of the way, releasing only the length actually required, to avoid tangling with lamp cords, etc., and possible damage to the cleaner cord itself.

4. Familiarize yourself with the attachments and their uses. Once you discover how easy it is to attach them and how many tasks they make easy, there wil be no danger of their becoming a poor investment through lack of use.

B. Care.

1. Pick up pins, hairpins, tacks and any small sharp objects before using the vacuum cleaner. They may cut the belt of a motor-driven brush or agitator cleaner, or they may puncture the dust bag.

2. Empty the dust bag after each use (suction action is lessened by dirt in the bag). Shake the dirt into a deep waste basket lined with a paper bag, to avoid scattering dust. Every three months, turn the dust bag inside out, after emptying it, and brush the inside thoroughly. Never wash the bag because this destroys the dust-proof finish. Certain manufacturers provide disposable paper liners for the dust bag. These are emptied after each use, and disposed of when worn. Five liners constitute a year’s supply. They protect the cloth bag and do away with the necessity for cleaning it.

3. Remove the revolving cylinder and brushes, from a motor-driven brush cleaner once a week. Remove all threads and hairs.

4. Wind the cord loosely to avoid damaging the fine wires inside. Replace worn cords immediately. Turn off the current before pulling out the plug, or contacts may be burned.

5. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for lubrication of motor-driven brush or agitator cleaners. Overlubrication is as harmful to the motor as lack of lubrication.

6. Replace the belt and brush of motor-driven brush or agitator cleaners before they are badly worn.

7. Dust the motor housing and handle after each use.

8. Keep all attachments clean.

Source: New York Herald Tribune Home Institute, compiler. America’s Housekeeping Book. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941.
~ pp.131-32 ~

The Smart and Tidy Maid

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

chest out and stomach inLita Prince and Harriet Bonnet wrote Maidcraft: A Guide for the One-Maid Household for the “mistress” of the house. With sections on housework, table service, the laundry, and care of the children, the authors suggest that “you may want to hand it over to your maid to read ~ either some of it or all of it.” Those lucky, lucky maids.

1937: The Smart and Tidy Maid

A maid who is careless of her grooming around the house may often be made to realize how untidy she looks by a word or even a look from the mistress.

Here is a list of pointers that should be brought to the attention of any maid, if she is to look smart and tidy on all occasions:

1. She should bathe frequently ~ once a day, if possible. This will not only make her look fresher, but will be beneficial to her health.
2. It’s a good idea for her to use a deodorant, too, for in working anyone is likely to perspire.
3. She should not use perfume during working hours, for perfume and dust do not make a pleasing combination.
4. She should keep her teeth in good condition and use a mouth wash often.
5. She should not chew gum, especially when there are guests.
6. She should not smoke cigarettes around the house, even if she is permitted to smoke in her own room. Naturally she should smoke her own, not her employer’s cigarettes.
7. She should take care of her hands by using a hand lotion often. This is particularly important if she has her hands in water a great deal, for chapped, ugly hands do not look well when she is serving.
8. She should keep her nails immaculately clean and use a cuticle oil to keep her nails from becoming brittle and broken off.
9. She should not use bright-colored nail polish, at least during working hours.
10. She should wash and brush her hair often and keep it neatly dressed. It is advisable for her to wear a cap when cooking or dusting so as to keep odors and dust out of her hair, but certainly she should tie her hair back with a ribbon when she is cooking to keep any stray hairs out of her food.
11. She should stand up straight with her head up, chest out and stomach in. Not only will she look infinitely better, but she will feel more fit. Slouching will only tire her out.
12. She should wear good but comfortable shoes and, if she is on her feet much, she should have arch supports in her shoes. Run-down heels will throw her off balance and tire her out besides making her appear badly dressed. If white shoes are clean, they look best with white or light-colored uniforms, but they should never be worn with dark dresses. No maid should ever be permitted to shuffle around the house in bedroom slippers.
13. Rumpled, messy clothes, and stockings with runs in them or with seams zigzagging up the back of the leg look quite as bad around the house as they do on the street.
14. She may use some make-up, but she should remember that too much is worse than none at all.
15. Jewelry, especially jangling bracelets and earrings, should never be worn during working hours.

Source: Price, Lita and Harriet Bonnet. Maidcraft: A Guide for the One-Maid Household. Indianapolis, Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1937.
~ pp. 25-27 ~