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!


Marriage and Family Archive

Happy Valentines Day!

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends! I thought I’d share with you some recent finds from a shopping trip I took in Austin, Texas, with my budding antique-loving 10 year old niece, Olivia. We had a grand day shopping at Uncommon Objects. She scored a great mechanical pencil and a cute little painted wooden bug, plus we both got some old coke bottle caps and inscribed them with our initials and dates to remember our fun trip by. Talk about love!

Anyway, my big score was four “Your Perfect Wife/Your Perfect Children” cards, from 1935. I have five of the “Your Perfect Husband” cards that I posted on my Facebook page awhile back – sadly I couldn’t immediately find the original images to repost on Flickr (so much for good personal digital preservation practices), and the original cards are somewhere in my messy office. But you might be able to get to them by clicking here.

I hope you enjoy these, I think they are a hoot!
Your Future Wife, Your Future Children

Your Future Wife, Your Future Children

Your Future Wife, Your Future Children

This one is my favorite (seeing as I married a musician):

Your Future Wife, Your Future Children

The Care and Feeding of Children: Airing (1907)

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

My fabulous friends Laura and Dave are, in the next few weeks, about to have their lives changed by the arrival of a bouncing baby boy. Upon realizing that I had an extra copy of a book called The Care and Feeding of Children, I passed along the 1920s version (I kept the 1907 copy for the collection) to counterbalance all of the probably-more-relevant advice they are getting from more modern-day baby books.

The book was written by L. Emmett Holt, who was a well-known pediatrician back in the day. The book, according to the NIH website, was “originally written as a manual to assist the training of nurses at the Babies’ Hospital” and was quite popular, with 12 editions and an amazing 75 printings. Check around your houses; no doubt there are many copies still out there in people’s attics! Wonderfully, you can see the whole text of the 1894 version here).

For Laura and David, who were recently shocked to learn at a baby class they should not leave the house with the child for months and months, I thought this advice on “airing” the baby would be fitting. Airing indoors sure sounds like fun!


How early may airing indoors be commenced and how long may it be continued?

Airing in the room may be begun, even in cold weather, when the child is one month old, at first for only fifteen minutes at a time. This period may be gradually lengthened by ten or fifteen minutes each day until it is four or five hours. This airing may be contained in almost all kinds of weather.

Is there is not great danger of a young baby’s taking cold when aired in this manner?

Not if the period is at first show and the baby accustomed to it gradually. Instead of rendering the child liable to take cold, it is the best means of preventing colds.

How should such an airing be given?

The child should be dressed with bonnet and light coat as if for the street and placed in its crib or carriage which should stand a few feet from the window. All the windows are then thrown wide open, but the doors closed to prevent draughts. Screens are unnecessary.

At what age may a child go out of doors?

In summer, when one week old; in spring and fall, usually about one month; in winter, when about three months old, on pleasant days, being kept in the sun and out of the wind.

What are the best hours for airing out of doors? 

In summer and early autumn a child may be out almost any time between seven in the morning and sunset; in winter and early spring, a young child only between 10 or 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., although this depends somewhat upon the climate. In New York and along the Atlantic coast the early mornings are apt to be damp and the afternoons raw and cloudy.

On what kind of days should a baby not go out?

In sharp winds, when the ground is covered with melting snow, and when it is extremely cold. A child under four months old should not usually go out if the thermometer is below freezing point; nor one under eight months old if it is below 20° F.

What are the most important things to be attended to when the child is out in its carriage?

To see that the wind never blows in its face, that the feet are properly covered and warm, and that the sun is never allowed to shine directly into the eyes when the child is either asleep or awake.

Of what advantage to the child is the going out?

Fresh air is required to renew and purify the blood, and this is just as necessary for health and growth as proper food.

What are the effects produced in infants by fresh air?

The appetite is improved, the digestion is better, the cheeks become red, and all signs of health are seen.

Is there any advantage in having a child take its airing during the first five or six months in the nurse’s arms?

None whatever. A child can be made much more comfortable in a baby carriage, and can be equally well protected against exposure by blankets and the carriage umbrella.

What are the objections to an infant’s sleeping out of doors?

There are no real objections. It is not true that infants take cold more easily when asleep than awake, while it is almost invariably the case that those who sleep out of doors are stronger children and less prone to take cold than others.

What can be done for infants who take cold upon the slightest provocation?

They should be kept in cool rooms, and especially when asleep. They should not wear such heavy clothing that they are in a perspiration much of the time. Every morning the body, particularly the chest and back, should be sponged with cold water (50° to 60° F.).

How should this cold sponge bath be given?

The child should stand in a tub containing a little warm water, and a large bath sponge filled with cold water should be squeezed two to three times over the body. This should be followed by a vigorous rubbing with a towel until the skin is quite red. This may be used at three years, and often at two years. In the case of infants a little higher temperature (65° to 70°) may be used."


A Helpmeet (1890)

Monday, August 8th, 2011

“A compendium of valuable information for women” so describes the title page of the 1890 book The Mother’s Guide and Daughter’s Friend. It’s true, this book covers just about anything a woman of the late 1800s might need to know. The anonymous author (who suggests that if you really must find out who [she or he] is, you can contact the publisher) has “read a large number of works each containing something valuable, some containing much that is untrue, others much that has no bearing on the subject…” to cull “a large amount of valuable information.”  Hmm ~ sounds a bit like yours truly! No wonder I like this book so much. The book actually has directions for its use, which I must share with you some other time, as it is quite handy. But in the meantime, since folks always seem to enjoy those quaint looks back at how men and women should act in marriage, here’s something from a section called “A Helpmeet”:

"Woman has a power over man stronger than she may dream if she only knows his peculiarities and adapts her conduct to them. Does your husband love to see things in order, then be careful and keep the house in good shape. Does he love a good dinner, then study your cook book and study his tastes. Does he like to be caressed, do your prettiest in that line. Does he admire beauty in women, then dress neatly and tidily and try to keep clean and in good health, and meet him with a smile. Is he a man of literary tastes, cultivate your literary taste, and be appreciative of his ability. If he loves beautiful things, study house decorations and defer to his tastes….

Most men like to be petted and deferred to. A wife may defer to her husband’s opinion and not lose her own independence nor lower herself in any way. The truly polite person is the one who is a good listener; who treats no one’s opinion lightly. A woman need only to be truly polite to her husband. It is also the husband’s duty to defer to his wife’s opinions. In many cases her opinion is the best. But if she would have her way at times, she must at times give way to her husband. Husband and wife should be mutually polite, mutually deferent, mutually obedient.

Does the man meet with disappointment and failure in business, the wife should not chide him, should not mope and sulk and wonder how they are going to get along now, but meet him with words of encouragement and love.

The happy pair are the man and wife who are constantly deferring to each other, who frequently caress each other, make sacrifices for each other, who are always striving to relieve each other’s burdens. Courtship should not stop with the wedding ceremony. Man and wife should court each other always. This is written especially for the wife to read, and I want to impress upon her the fact that love begets love, politeness begets politeness, and if she does her part the husband will be more likely to do his part, and that much depends upon her own individual effort…."


That’s right, ladies, it’s all up to you. But wait, one more thing:

"Man feels the need of recreation, perhaps, more than women, because his work is severer for the time he is at it. Women have more little breaks upon the monotony of their labor. They can chat a moment over the back fence with a neighbor, take up a book and read for a few minutes while  the kettle boils, take a nap in the afternoon, go out for an hour’s walk, or call upon a friend; but the man toils in his office, or store, or in the field for hours at a stretch, and then, perhaps, must think over his work outside of business hours. If then, he relishes hunting and fishing, has a passion for dogs or horses, or “goes crazy” in the collection of a cabinet of natural history specimens, or something of the kind, you should have charity for his peculiarities, and do not come to the conclusion that he thinks more of such things than he does of you."

Causes of Divorce (1950)

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

what every woman should know about financeIt turns out that business advice isn’t terrible amusing, at least not enough to share on the blog. On Thursday, Joyce Dewitt, who is now starring in Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage (the play), rang the NASDAQ closing bell. Finances and the stock exchange not being one of my normal interests, I thought I’d look up some advice to mark the occasion. I took a look at such books as Pots, Pans and Millions (“a study of woman’s right to be in business”), and What Every Woman Should Know About Finance, but to be honest, it was all a bit dry. Sorry, stock exchange, I know I should be interested, but, well, I’m just not that in to you. Can we just be friends?

My husband joined me in the office to hunt for some appropriate advice with me. Flipping through Personal Adjustment, Marriage and Family Living, which had a lot of advice for married couples about managing their finances, my husband started laughing. So upon his request (and no worries, we are very happily married), I bring you possibly the best pie chart ever, not for the content obviously (there’s nothing funny about cruelty and neglect!), but the graphics. I do wish drunkenness would have been illustrated. And I’m so glad “not balancing her checkbook” or “having too much clutter” aren’t on the chart.

Securing Divorces

This was on a section titled “Causes of Divorce.” Here’s another informative table from the same section:

rank order of marital grievances

What Dr. Spock Didn’t Tell Us (1958)

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Judas' RecallWith father’s day this weekend, it seems appropriate to share some advice for parents from a publication that came long before the pretty-darned-hilarious Go the F**k to Sleep that has been in the news and floating around Facebook recently. What Dr. Spock Didn’t Tell Us: Or, A Survival Kit for Parents, was written in 1958 by B. M. Atkinson, Jr. and illustrated by Whitney Darrow, Jr. The book is described as “an encyclopedic guide to hitherto uncatalogued afflictions, aberrations, exotic diseases of the American child,”  describing such allusive things as “Butt’s Disease,” “Goat Mouth,” “Serpent’s Tooth,” “McGuffey’s Panic,” and “Vigilante’s Dilemma.” The author learned about such things after his daughter was born. He asked an experienced neighbor (with 5 children) why Dr. Spock hadn’t written about these in his baby book. The neighbor replied “Don’t be silly! If those experts told everything about children, three wouldn’t be any more children, and with out any more children there wouldn’t be any more books about children.” So 15 years and 4 children later, the author put pen to paper to expose the truth. Here’s a sampling:

"PAUPER’S POUT. A recurring swelling and protrusion of the lower lip caused by delusions of extreme poverty in which any child insists that she received less allowance than any other child in town. Considered incurable. Always carried over into marriage.

JUDAS’ RECALL. An excruciating malfunction of the memory in which a four-year-old boy will cut loose with an oath that would do credit to a 104-year-old sailor and then, when taken under attack by his mother, will recall that he learned the word from his father, the father knowing damn well he learned it from the milkman. Occurs usually in the presence of guests, one a church worker.

SPAGHETTI LEG. Phenomenon resulting from attempts to put boots on a child, occurring as the parent orders the child to stiffen leg and push. Though the child ordinarily may have the bone structure of a Percheron and calcium deposits enough in each joint to be worth mining, this command to stiffen the leg causes a dissolving of all bones, joints and major muscles in said leg and reduces it to a state of limpness found only in overcooked spaghetti. A mother attempting to force the leg into a boot once it has achieved this jellied state might be more gainfully employed trying to thread a needle with an oyster.

UNIVAC’S QUIRK. An acute selectivity of the memory in which a child is unable to remember a parental command for five minutes but can remember a parental promise for ten years. The command may be leveled at the child in anything from a low roar to a raging bellow: “Quit jumping on that bed!” Five minutes later all will be forgotten and the boy and the bed will again sound like a kangaroo and a trampoline. The parental promise, however, may be made in anything from an unconscious grunt to an absent-minded grumble: “Yeah, four or five years from now Daddy’ll take you camping.” Four years later ~ to the day ~ the child will show up with a frying pan and a bed roll, usually snarling, “You promised!”

VESUVIAN BLADDER. A spectacular urethral expulsion of bodily liquids, resulting from sudden pressure of the bladder. Occurs exclusively among boy babies, usually from one to six months of age, and most often at bathtime when the child is without clothing and lying flat on his back. The expulsion takes the form of an arching stream and may attain a height of six to eight feet. Such heights, however, are rarely achieved, the stream generally arching only a few feet before striking the hovering parent between the eyes or, should the head be turned, in the ear. A new father, thus anointed for the first time, will usually back over a table or out the nearest window. His amazement, however, immediately gives way to parental pride, and for weeks the father will speak of the boy’s feat in terms usually reserved for men who put satellites in orbit."

Happy Fathers Day, all!

Country vs. City Kids (1891)

Monday, March 14th, 2011

“It cannot be claimed that children brought up in the country are better morally than those brought up in the cities. Evil exists in both places, and much of it cannot be kept from the knowledge of the young. It is seen in the city stripped of its glamour, and with its degrading effects more prominently in view, while in the country the unrestrained imagination is apt to supply fascinations which do not in reality exist. It is often better to know of dangers in order to avoid them than, in ignorance, to grow up with the chances of succumbing to their attractions.”

From the recently acquired book, The Daughter: Her Health, Education, and Wedlock.

Permit of Freedom

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Permit of Freedom

My dear sweet husband made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies today, and it’s the anniversary of the week of our first date (I know, sappy!), so I hereby dedicate this special Lover’s Fun Card to him.

Retaining the Sweetness of Love (1923)

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Here wraps up the tale of Richard and Sallie (featured recently in how to win a woman, from Elinor Glyn’s The Philosophy of Love. Glyn summarizes how this couple should work to keep their love going:


To keep love it requires the united effort of Richard and Sallie! It cannot be a one-sided affair!

To put the matter concisely:

(1) Love is caused by some attracting vibrations emanating from the two participants which draw each to each.

(2) Thus love depends, not upon the will of the individual, but upon what attracting power is in the other person.

(3) Thus obviously it lies with each to cultivate and continue to project the emanation if either desire to retain the love emotion of the other.

(4) When these points are clearly understood, intelligence can suggest the most suitable methods to use to accomplish the desired end, namely, the retaining of the power to draw love mutually.

So, as in everything we do in life, is it not well to use some intelligence and though over the great matters of Love?

For cynics may say what they please ~ Love is the supreme and only perfect happiness on earth. Everything else is second best ~ often a very good second, but nowhere near the real thing.

So why, when love is bound to come to us all sooner or later, not try to retain its sweetness?


How to Win a Woman, part II (1923)

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Recently, I featured some advice from the lovely and talented Elinor Glyn on how to win a woman. Excerpted from her 1923 book The Philosophy of Love, Glyn tells the story of Richard, who is trying to woo his love, Sallie. We left off wondering if any of Glyn’s tips might have paid off for our dear sweet Richard. Let’s read on and see…


He has met Sallie several times, but seems not to have been able to make much advance. He has been just ordinary and has talked of the everlasting old things that he has talked to every girl about since he first went to school. Now the next time they meet he must turn the conversation on to personal things and get her to tell him her likes and her tastes; he must make her talk about herself (not a very difficult matter with most women!), and he must plainly show his interest. He must let her feel her maneuvering to be alone with her and desires her company. And the more he lets her see that his character is strong, the more he will attract her.

It is not of the slightest consequence how masterful a man shows himself to be, if at the same time he is a passionate lover ~ the woman in the case will always adore him. It is coldness and casualness which disillusionise, and, as I said in another chapter, above all, mulish wordlessness!


Glyn goes on to give some examples of ways to show that a man loves a woman, depending on the type of girl she is and what she might respond to. It’s quite long so I will cut to the chase and get back to how Richard and Sallie are doing, in particular:


When he is quite sure that she loves him, and when the psychological moment has arrived that he asks her to marry him, he must see that his caresses are tender as well as passionate, for exquisite caresses are the strongest of love awakeners. The touch of a hand in passing is enough to make a delicious thrill! It starts the working of the magnet, and that is why continuous flirtations are so stupid.

Lovers always like to be close together. And if touching grows to mean nothing to them, then they may know very well that the intoxication is over, and at best a friendship is between them. Love always manifest itself in the desire to touch the Beloved One.

When Richard marries Sallie he can almost certainly keep her in love with him if he desires to do so. He has only to remain a masterful and fond lover to accomplish this miracle, and not subside into the usual stodgy, complacent husband, absorbed in business and too tired when he comes home to be agreeable!


In my next post, I’ll share some parting thoughts from Glyn on how Richard and Sallie (and all of you out there) might keep that love going.

Lover’s Fun Card Set: Kicking off the Month of Love

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Lover's Fun Card SetIt’s February, and you know what that means – Valentine’s Day! Which is super fantastic if you have a mate in your life. Of course, if you are still looking for — or on a break from — love, it can be a bit of a downer what with all that mushy red heart stuff happening all around you.

Never fear, Miss Abigail is here to help! All this month, I’ll be featuring advice for the lovelorn, advice for those in love, and those looking for love. I’ll highlight some of my favorite posts about love and heartbreak, the joys of being single, and the joys of making out.

As a special treat, I’m going to share with you something I forgot I had in my collection, until I found them on my bookshelf the other day. It’s the Lover’s Fun Card Set. “This card case has dozen real funny cards each one good” says the cover, so it’s bound to bring you some chuckles this month. I’m not sure of the date, so we’ll just have to go with “classic.” I’ll post the first one this weekend.

And if you haven’t picked up my book Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage yet, February would be a great time to do it, don’t you agree?