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!

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Advice Archive

Antique Vibrator Collection

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Arctic Vibrator, No. 731

Miss Abigail has a little thing, I guess you could say, about antique vibrators. Don’t get any wild ideas ~ it’s nothing dirty (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) ~  I just love the packaging on those old boxes, trying so carefully to talk about the health benefits of use and the calming effect their products would have on the women who used them, without really mentioning <ahem> the probable use of them.

An example: The directions for the The Arctic Vibrator, which was produced by Sears, Robuck and Company (hey look, they still sell massagers!), state that “Massage is a form of curative treatment which has been known for years, but it is only recently that scientific research has enabled us to put it into practice in a way to obtain quicker and better results. The old fashioned hand massage has been supplanted by the rapid and uniform massage of the electric vibrator.” The instructions go on to suggest the Arctic be used to combat wrinkles and your double chin, for hair and scalp, and after shaving. A perfect product for the home! The closest thing we get to racy is this, about using it for bust development:

Vibratory massage should appeal to women with flat unattractive busts. Apply applicator directly on the bust and massage gently in a circular movement from three to five minutes every day. Do not expect immediate results.

I’ve been meaning to do this for some time, but finally got around to snapping admittedly not-so-great photos of my modest collection. I threw in a few health belts that I also had sitting around, for your viewing pleasure. They’ve got to get packed away for a bit ~ we’re about to put our house on the market and I imagine they might scare potential buyers away!

Arctic Vibrator For more about antique vibrators, visit the Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum. They have a great history section and much better photos than mine!

 

 

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

Apparently I’ve Been Channeling My Grandmother All These Years

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Building Healthy Sex Knowledge, 1937A few months ago, my mother uncovered a college paper that my Grandmother Bailey (her mother) had written when she was at Oberlin College. She saw that the topic was right up my alley, so sent it along to me.

The paper is titled “Building Healthy Sex Knowledge” and was written for a child development course (and is marked up by the professor) by Virginia Moore Patterson 75 years ago ~ on December 15, 1937. I recently scanned the whole thing in and posted it over on Flickr.

Virginia Moore Patterson Bailey

Virginia married Allen Bailey in the summer of 1938, and they went on to have three girls (my mother is the eldest). Here’s a picture of Grandmother Bailey, in a photo dated July 1941, after they’d been married a few years. By the way, Virginia was also the one who enrolled me in charm school when I was in junior high.

Imagine my excitement to read this paper! And to see that my grandmother had cited many books that are in my own collection! They include Growing Up (I’ve got the 1945 edition), Sex Life of Youth (I’ve got the 1948 10th printing), and New Patterns in Sex Teaching (1934).

She starts out the paper by writing “One of my ‘when I grow up’ resolves has been to see that my children where not, like myself, left to their own devices to find out facts about human reproduction, or left to fantastic imaginings as substitutes for knowledge.” Hmm… Maybe my mom and my aunts can let us know how things turned out with that in the comments.

I chuckled at some of the markup, such as on page 10, where next to the text “Here there is a particularly fine presentation on the problems of necking and petting,” the professor writes “be specific here.”  She does go on to mention the “seven tests on page 66 through 72” of The Sex Life of Youth. Though I have a later edition, I excitedly turned to my copy of the book to see if those seven tests would appear, and lo and behold, they were there! I was able to read the seven tests that my grandmother had read and cited 75 years before. I won’t reproduce the full details here, but the topics were:

1) Sensual or Spiritual? How far is the petting a matter of sheer sensual gratification, without any particular respect for the person concerned, and how far is it a natural expression of an understanding which has grown up in the realm of the spirit, and which has become something rarely beautiful and respected?

2) After-Taste? What sort of a taste is left in the mind as one looks back upon the experience?

3) Mutual? Is the relationship honestly shared by both?

4) Habit-Forming? Is the petting so light or temporary that is could hardly result in the fixing of a habit, or is it intense and prolonged and oft-repeated?

5) Further Effects? Is the petting likely to lead to a loss of rational controls and to an indulgence in sex intercourse which one or both will later regret?

6) Socially Acceptable? What is the social status of the person who pets, or who refuses to pet?

7) Exclude Other Activities? What other type of enjoyment is petting preventing?

Sex Life of Youth - cover
The seven tests end with a section titled “Thoughtful Decision.” Here’s an excerpt: “Upon the answers to some such questions as these will depend the judgment in each individual case… Probably some experience with petting will lead any young person to realize the difference between physical stimulation and real love, and will thus help to avoid the difficulties which arose in some cases in which two young people, mistaking infatuation for love, become engaged as a result of a petting party.” Oh my, my grandmother was reading about petting parties possibly at the same time she was dating (and most likely engaged) to my grandfather! Scandalous!

It is refreshing to see how frank her writing is, for a woman of her age and in that era. And so very fun to learn a bit more about Virginia and her college days, and to know that she might have gotten a kick out of this Miss Abigail thing (which came about long after she died).

Thanks to mom for finding this and passing it along! And to Grandmother Bailey for writing it so many years ago.

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).

Prostration by Heat (1931)

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog as of late. I’ve been posting over on Facebook and Twitter (the lazy blogger’s way of staying connected). The big news since I last updated here is that the Off-Broadway show that was loosely based on my book, has closed as of the end of June. It had a good long run! And the show is still playing in the Czech Republic, so that’s pretty cool. It’s also available for others to buy up the subsidiary rights.

The other news has been the crazy weather in the D.C. area this week. Between the derecho and power and cable and internet and phone outages and extreme hot temps, I think we’ve had about enough excitement. We didn’t quite hit the goal of the all-time-record of 106° yesterday here in the D.C. area, but that’s okay by me.

Besides napping yesterday and keeping cool, I spent some indoor time adding to my LibraryThing catalog. I have a backlog of books to include (at least a few hundred more), plus recent editions, like a huge tome called Domestic Medical Practice: A Household Advisor in the Treatment of Diseases, Arranged for Family Use that I got an an estate sale for $1 (score!). This book has 1463 pages of text, fabulous images, and certificates of membership in the “Domestic Medical Society” (I suppose that after you’ve read the book, you are worthy).

Certificate of Membership

The following section, titled “Prostration by Heat,” seemed particularly fitting to share today:

"This may results not only from direct exposure to the sun’s rays, but it is liable to occur under any circumstances where a person is overheated, and is more frequent in a moist atmosphere than in a dry….

The attack may come on quite suddenly, or it may be preceded by quite severe pain in the head, great sense of heat, and thirst. It is said, there is often frequent desire to make water. The patient may fall suddenly, or may gradually succumb, after having suffered a time from headache, heat, and a great sense of fatigue. The symptoms vary. Commonly, however, the pulse is frequent, though weak, in which it differs from the pulse of apoplexy, where the pulse is slow and strong. The circumstances under which a person becomes unconscious must serve to a certain extent as a guide to the unprofessional observer as to its cause, and should a person becomes unconscious when in the hot sun, or while exerting himself violently in a very highly heated atmosphere, and at the same time the skin be found very hot indeed, it would be proper to act upon the supposition the the person was suffering from sunstroke, as it is called. The danger arises from the great elevate of temperature….

hot stuff

The patient may be laid on the ground or floor, or anywhere else, and all clothing removed from the neck and chest. Ice may be applied to the head, or water may be poured over the head and neck, and even the chest. Should medical aid be within easy reach, these measures will suffice until its arrival….

It should be remembered that sunstroke is a grave accident, and its treatment should not be trusted to domestic remedies, since it is impossible to so describe its symptoms or treatment, as to safely guide an unskilled person in caring for a difficult case….

A person who has a slight attack of sunstroke as manifested by headache, dizziness, and great heat, should under no circumstances, after having been relieved by cold water and rest, return at once to work, since he is liable to suffer again, even more severely than at first."

The above image, while it was in this book, didn’t technically go with this section, but I thought it was amusing!

 

 

What’s Your Charm Rating? (1955)

Monday, April 9th, 2012

So here’s how things go around here somedays. Yesterday I thought about doing an Easter post, and then got distracted by the lovely D.C. weather and went to the National Arboretum with some friends instead. Then I meant to do the post last night, but ended up watching the toe-tapping movie Easter Parade on TV instead.

By the time I got around to doing this post this evening, Easter was way over and the game I was going to share with you, which involved tying strings to the ends of lilies and winding the strings around the house, with each guest following the path to find a candy Easter egg or little holiday trinkets (remember the “cobweb string game“? Like that!), seemed old news and a bit dull.

So I turned around in my office chair, plucked Figure Correction and Beauty for You, by Virginia Fallon, off my shelf, and found this instead! Much more fun! I hope you enjoy. Next time I’ll quote from the following chapter, which is about “Spring Cleaning” yourself. Fits well given my recent bathroom renovation to include a deep tub.

"How can charm be measured? It is an indefinable something, and allure, difficult to capture artificially. If you try to force yourself into some pattern, you are in danger of becoming stilted and affected.

Many a girl has fallen into this trap. Aping the manners of some favourite film star, putting on a phoney accent, either American or British, trying to assume a suave sophistication, she grates on the nerves, becoming as awkward and tiring as a sore thumb.

For charm, above everything, must be natural. It must flow from an inner sincerity. There are a million imitation film stars ~ the advertisements of the cosmetic manufacturers seem to cater specially for them ~ but there is only one YOU.

YOU are different from anyone else in the world, from anyone who has ever lived, and from anyone yet to come. Reduce the body and mind to a parcel of chemicals and perhaps there isn’t much difference between people, but somehow in the way those chemicals have been mingled and built up, a new inimitable something has been created.

Give your individuality full play. Make the most of that difference. Concentrate on being YOURSELF.

A recent survey of over 1,000,000 American women conducted by the research department of a well-known University listed the following factors of feminine charm. Points are scored out of one hundred. Check your score against it and see how you rate.

Figure… 15 points
Personality… 12 points
Voice… 12 points
Posture… 10 points
Health…10 points
Skin… 8 points
Eyes… 8 points
Hair… 7 points
Teeth… 6 points
Intelligence… 6 points
Hands… 4 points
Dress… 2 points

I must confess that there are several surprises among the ratings. Intelligence is put extremely low, but I suppose it only goes to prove that University Dons, like other men, prefer a woman to have a good figure, with beauty of face and complexion rather than a bluestocking outlook.

Dress does not appear as high in the list as many people might imagine, but it is true that a woman can be charming and attractive without wearing Paris creations, whereas many women in the latest Dior gowns are far from attractive.

Important to notice is the high placing of that magic quality ‘personality’ and also that voice, posture and health come well up in the list. Why not check your rating against the charm list, and then go about improving your weak points till you score 100 per cent."

Now, Miss Abigail must confess that she was a bit confused about how to go about rating oneself. If I have a figure and skin, does that count for something? Or do my eyes and teeth have to be most excellent (by what standards, do tell?) to give me all the points I need? If you figure it out, let me know your score!

Glove Personalities (1961)

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

One of my more popular posts on this site has been one I did many years ago on glove etiquette. I recently (re)found in my piles of smaller thinner books the pamphlet that this came from, and thought it would be fun to share another excerpt. Gloves: Fashion & Etiquette was published in 1961 by the Hansen Glove Corporation.

I can just imagine the personalities of some of the gloves that they manufactured!

"…sometimes it’s the way a glove falls into folds that says ‘elegance’

…sometimes the very opposite creates the effect ~ a short snappy jauntiness like the flip of the wrist

…sometimes it’s what a glove is made of that suggests its role: narrow-wale corduroy to point up fashionable tweeds or country-life leathers; doeskin in pale colours with the look of thick Devonshire cream for pure luxury; jersey for a sophisticated teaming with coats or suits with bracelet sleeves; string gloves in colours or combined with leather for a made-to-order air; a polka-dot cotton for a smart young thing; a hand-embroadered floral, frankly feminine

…it may be the season of the year or the time of day that is immediately associated with the picture of the glove you were wearing on that very important occasion

…and because gloves do have personalities of their own, many women make a certain kind of glove a fashion signature … a fashion editor who keeps several pairs of pale chamois gloves in her desk drawer so that she always seems to be wearing a fresh pair … the best-dressed woman who wears nothing but white kid … the collector of handsome accessories whose glove plan spotlights fabric gloves because they offer such a variety of textures, colors, patterns "

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."

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

I had big plans for a post today about love, but my main computer went into the shop last night and I am typing on the iPad, which I admit I am not very speedy at doing! So instead of a big post here, I thought I would share snippets of love advice and other quotes about love on my twitter account @dearmissabigail (https://mobile.twitter.com/#!/dearmissabigail) and over on my Facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/MissAbigailsTimeWarpAdvice

I hope you will join me there!

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.”