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!


Petting and Sex Archive

Special Driver’s Permit

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Special Driver's PermitDid you score a group date with some friends this weekend? Today’s installment of the Lover’s Fun Card Set is one that could come in handy, particularly if you plan on cruising around with a carload of friends who are more into whooping it up, and less into safe driving. No worries about being considered a dullard – just fill in your name and present this to the driver. I’m sure he or she will respect your driving opinions. While we’re at it, here’s a some advice from the site on the topic of automobiles.

This one about “joy-riding to the roadhouse“, from Elinor Glyn, is a favorite of mine.

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.”

Is a Man Abnormal if He Likes Art and Dislikes Sports?

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Sex Questions and AnswersI’ve got a husband who likes art and dislikes sports (and he seems to be well-adjusted), so I was a bit intrigued to read this excerpt in a new addition to my collection, the book Sex Questions and Answers: A Guide to Happy Marriage by Fred Brown and Rudolf T. Kempton. I’m not sure what this has to do with sex, though the authors may have felt it was an important issue ~ it’s in the chapter titled “Problems of Sexual Adjustment.”


Every normal man has a bit of woman in him and every woman contains some of the male in her personality. There is, generally speaking, no such thing as an “ideal” combination of masculinity and femininity in one person. In some primitive societies the females are breadwinners while the males do the housework and gossip. In other societies both men and women play dominant roles. Among ourselves it has, until very recently, been the accepted pattern for males to be dominant or “masculine” while females were expected to be “feminine” or passive. The ideal combination of traits, evidently, is whatever is regarded as most desirable in the particular society in which the person lives. Our standard requires that a man be aggressive and “ambitious” in his lifework, that he exhibit an acceptable interest in “male” recreations such as sports, that he look forward to marriage and the rearing of family, and that he seek enjoyment from the companionship of other men. The feminine part of him should enable him to show warmth and affection toward others, an interest in the arts, kindness and consideration. There are many men who would have a feeling for fine paintings, flowers, and the gentler aspects of life if this sensitivity had not been squelched early in life by an insecure father who insisted that these represented “sissy” interests. An excessive interest in sports to the exclusion of other interests may reveal limitations in the personality range and, in excess, a prolonged adolescent identification of manliness with the possession of physical prowess. Everyone tries to select from the environment those aspects of it which suit his intellectual and emotional needs. Some of those selections will be based upon inner weaknesses which require identification with a powerful football team and the need to win, while others will seek more passive and less muscular pursuits. Neither one nor the other is “abnormal” but merely reflects the different ways in which individual differences cause people to take from the environment whatever they need. The best balance of masculine and feminine traits is achieved when the individual is able to mingle with members of his own and the opposite sex without experiencing tension and strain.


Now that I think about it, I suppose tension and strain during sex might be a problem.

Party Out of Bounds

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

scavenger hunt anyone?Friends, I selected this one in anticipation of my big birthday party on June 7th. Everyone is invited, but please, leave that bad, bad liquor at home!

1967: Party Out of Bounds

Sometimes you’re at a party that has gotton out of hand. Perhaps there is drinking that you had not anticipated. Maybe it has turned into a petting session. Some teen-agers are disgusted, because parties so often turn into unpleasant situations.

Usually parties get out of bounds because of insufficient planning. If the activities and games are planned for a party, it is unlikely that it will degenerate. People find no need particularly to turn away from relaxing fun and entertainment to other veins.

Sometimes there are parties without adults on tap. Chaperons may seem old-fashioned, but it does help to have adults at social affairs; their very presence keeps things under control. Regardless of how carefully you plan parties, incidents may arise that need a firm adult outlook. Suppose some fellows try to crash your party, bringing liquor with them. This is a hard situation for you to handle alone, but your parents would be able to put a stop to it at once.

Who Is to Blame?

When a party gets out of hand it’s usually blamed on the hosts or hostesses. True, much of the fault is theirs. If they had planned the party properly, and made sure adults were present, the trouble might not have started. In one sense, however, every person at the party is responsible when it gets out of control. If you’re at a gathering, and it seems to be getting wild, you might try to help steer it back to safety. The time to act is the moment the party starts to get rough. It does no good to wait until the next morning and then condemn the host.

What Can You Do?

Try to get some activity started to pull the party back in line. Suggest one that would be fun ~ really fun ~ to absorb the guests. Perhaps a game of charades will liven things up. Maybe there are enough table games around to capture people’s interest. How about a spur-of-the-moment scavenger hunt? Or maybe everyone would like to go out to the kitchen and make hamburgers or popcorn balls.

If a gang of boys try to crash a party, are you prepared to handle the situation? Do you know how to get help if they come looking for trouble? Many of the incidents that happen at parties can be avoided if each young adult takes responsibility for seeing that things run smoothly.

If you find that you can’t help keep the party under control, the next best thing is to leave. If people are are drinking too much and you’re not enjoying yourself, simply explain to your hostess that you had better be running along. No one has much fun at a party that has gone out of bounds. After you have left such a party, reflect on it a while. Maybe you can prevent it from happening next time ~ especially at your party!

Source: Duvall, Evelyn Millis. The Art of Dating. New York: Association Press, 1967.
~ pp. 164-66 ~

Dance ~ Contrived by Evil Minds

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

this giddy whirl goes onNow I bring you a selection from A Virtuous Woman by Oscar Lowry, who recommends in his introduction that “mothers place this volume in the hands of their daughters early in life.” I’m sure daughters (and sons) everywhere would be thrilled to read this passage regarding dancing. Something concerns me, though; the author sounds a bit too knowledgeable on the subject. Don’t you suspect that dear, virtuous Mr. Lowry has done just a smidgen of dancing in his time? I do.

1938: Dance ~ Contrived by Evil Minds

Perfect dancing, as all dancers will readily admit, demands perfect movement, that is, the two bodies must move as one. To this end the bodies are locked together by one arm placed about a woman’s waist as they stand facing each other, with one of the woman’s hands resting upon the man’s shoulder, her heaving breasts are against his while her right hand is held in his left, he places his foot between hers. To begin with, this position may be effected by the bodies being kept somewhat apart, but almost irresistibly the bodies come more and more in contact, mingling the sexes in such closeness of personal approach and contact as, outside the dance, is no where tolerated in respectable society. To this must be added, the young woman is improperly attired with a sleeveless, low-necked dress exposing more or less of her secondary sexual charms, her breasts. From this description any reasonable person can easily see that the modern dance has been contrived by evil minds for but one purpose, and that to awaken and arouse the sex nature, and to give human passions leave to disport themselves unreproved by conscience or reason, almost at will.

Now let us consider for a moment what this means. It is evening, the hour is late, the room is crowded, there is the intoxication of sensual jazz music which is intended to arouse the baser passions of both men and women. The women are dressed so as to set off their sexual charms, they are exposed to hot and poisoned air, perspiring bodies in close embrace, the personal electricity passing between the clasped hands, the hot breath of the man blown upon the exposed chest and arms of the woman, and still hour after hour this giddy whirl goes on until the dancers have covered a distance of from twelve to fifteen miles in an average evening’s dance. Oh, the horrors of it all!

Source: Lowry, Oscar. A Virtuous Woman: Sex Life in Relation to the Christian Life. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1938.
~ pp. 62-63 ~

To Live Without Sex

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

don't let me become bitterQ Dear Miss Abigail:

The prospects for men are not good in my life ~ I fear I’ll ever have sex again. How does a woman in my situation cope?


A Dear Flo:

With such a horrific situation like yours, it only seems appropriate to refer to the writings of a housewife who carried on conversations with God about “just about anything a woman thinks about during her day in the home or at work.” Lucky for you, she likes to share these prayers. Now repeat after me…

1969: To Live Without Sex

If I must live without sex, Lord, help me do so gracefully. Don’t let me become bitter and resentful, blaming you, the world, or anyone else.

Instead of self-pity, give me the strength and the cheerful acceptance that comes from self-respect.

Above all, give me the understanding; the wisdom to sort out complexities of this common human condition. It’s so easy to confuse what the body thinks it needs and wants with what the mind and the world dictate. Protect me from this confusion, Lord, don’t let me be misled.

Help me to remember, Lord, that many people endure afflictions and deprivations far worse. And that a great many people live happy, purposeful, inspiring lives that are devoid of sex.

Give me their secrets of acceptance, give me their grace.

If I am to live without sex, Lord, allow me to express and use this great force you have given me for some significant end.

Source: Marjorie Holmes, I’ve Got to Talk to Somebody, God. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1969.
~ pp. 48-49 ~

Where Do Babies Come From?

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

their favorite ways of showing loveQ Dear Miss Abigail:

Where do babies come from?


A Dear Sam:

“The medical facts in this book were checked by Dr. Charles Birdsall…” reads the editor’s foreward to Wonderfully Made. So this little excerpt must be trustworthy, right? The book is one of six in the Concodia Sex Education Series aimed at students in grades four through six. Those poor, confused children!

1967: Married Love

One of the sperm from the father’s body must find and join an egg in the mother’s body before a new person can be conceived, or start to grow. Here the love of parents comes into the story. In an act of love the father puts the sperm into the mother’s body.

Married people show their love in many different ways. Kisses and hugs are among these ways. They also help each other. They share happy times and sad ones. They enjoy just being together. Your parents have their favorite ways of showing love for each other.

At times the love between two married people makes them want to be alone and very close together in an act called sexual intercourse. In this act, sperm leave the father’s body and enter the mother’s. One of the sperm may unite with an egg cell. The egg cell is then fertilized and begins to grow into a new human being. This is one of God’s ways of continuing His creation today. He uses the love of husband and wife to carry on the human race.

A new life doesn’t start each time a man and woman have intercourse. An egg cell is in one of the Fallopian tubes only a few days each month, and only then can a baby be conceived. Since it is through intercourse that a baby can begin, God wants only a husband and his wife to make love in this way. Husbands and wives have promised to live together always and to make a home for their children. They as parents will take care of the babies born to them.

This, then, is the story of how your life began. You may have heard the old tale of how the stork brings babies. It wasn’t the stork who brought you. The truth is that your parents’ love brought you to life.

Source: Hummel, Ruth. Wonderfully Made. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1967.
~[no pagination] ~

Should a Boy Toy?

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

it will not weaken the individualQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I’m a twenty-two year old male from India. I have this habit of masturbating, very regularly. I started it three years back, after my first girlfriend ditched me. I never had sex with her. I used to feel guilty, but now I don’t. But I don’t want to go about telling it to every one. Something tells me it’s not right for my health.

I have no other bad habits like smoking, drinking, hanging around in discos, etc. Tell me if I’m wrong in masturbating and what do I do to stop it. I seriously want to stop it.


A Dear Saagar:

You and a number of other readers, my dear. I think this is the perfect time to show how advice has changed across the years. Check out the difference between Sylvanus Stall’s harsh words in 1909 to the more tame advice from the 1950s and 60s. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate how far we’ve come. Shall we?

And Saagar? Stop worrying and spend more time dancing. What’s wrong with discos?

1909: No Boy Can Toy

No boy can toy with the exposed portions of his reproductive system without finally suffering very serious consequences. In the beginning it may seem to a boy a trifling matter, and yet from the very first his conscience will tell him that he is doing something that is very wrong. It is on this account that a boy who yields to such an evil temptation will seek a secluded, solitary place, and it is because of this fact that it is called the “solitary vice.” Because the entire being of the one who indulges in this practice is debased and polluted by his own personal act it is also called “self-pollution.” It is also called “Onanism,” because for a similar offense, nearly four thousand years ago, God punished Onan with death (Genesis xxxviii, 3-10). This sin is also known by another name, and it is called “masturbation,” a word which is made from two Latin words which mean “To pollute by the hand.”

Source: Stall, Sylvanus. What a Young Boy Ought to Know. Philadelphia: The Vir Publishing Company,1909.
~ pp. 107-108 ~

1952: Will We Go Crazy?

“Doctor? Is there anything we can do that will keep us from going crazy?”

The doctor guessed what had led to this question, for he had heard it asked several times before. It took a little cross questioning, however, before the boys would admit what had happened. The truth was that Tom’s mother had suspected that he was handling his genital organs, and had told him in horrified tones that “the insane asylums are just full of people who have gone crazy because of such self-pollution.” What made it worse was that she really believed it; and she as so certain about it and so upset, that the boys believed it too. Of course, Tom at once told Jim.

Both the boys had stayed awake the greater part of that night, and the next, too; and had brooded over the matter pretty steadily ever since. Then they heard the doctor talk in school; but hadn’t gotton up the courage to ask him about the matter. At last they couldn’t stand it any longer, so they came to him in terror to find out if there was anything they could do to save them from this terrible end. . . .

The answer he was able to give them was prompt, direct and reassuring. He explained that while the habit they had been indulging in was anything but a desirable one, and had once been considered even by doctors to be a very dangerous one, they had nothing to fear. He told them that it is now known to be a scientific fact that, while it is something to be discontinued, it is nothing to worry about, unless they were to carry it on into their later adult years. And he was sure that they had sense enough not to do that.

Source: Richardson, Frank Howard. For Boys Only: The Doctor Discuss the Mysteries of Manhood. New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1952 (reprinted 1970).
~ pp. 55-56 ~

1963: Bugaboos of the Past

I want to emphasize the fact that the commonly quoted medical consequences of masturbation are almost entirely fictious. Masturbation will not impair the mind. It will not weaken the individual. It will not cause him to lose his ability to be a father. It will not interfere with the successful performance of the sexual function under normal conditions. Those are bugaboos of the past and should be discarded.

Source: Bauer, W. W. Moving into Manhood. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1963.
~ p. 14 ~

How Do I Explain Puberty?

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

one of the most interesting things a body doesQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I want to explain to my daughter what puberty is. Could you help me go about it?


A Dear Nancy:

In our continuing saga of “vague and slightly scary old advice to help teach children about sex and puberty” (see this other question), I bring you a little chat between a mother and daughter. Jane, “now eleven years old” has some questions that are probably similar to your daughter’s. Dr. Edith Hale Swift wrote Step by Step in Sex Education in 1947 for “those parents who feel their responsibilities and are perplexed about a proper approach to the subject of the sex education of their children,” so I’m sure it will help. And by the way, “Bert” is Jane’s brother.

1947: What’s In Those Machines?

JANE. (talking to Mother in a women’s restroom) What’s in those machines? I saw a woman drop a nickel in one and pull out a roll of something.

MOTHER. A gauze pad.

JANE. What did she want it for?

MOTHER. To soak up a flow that women have, once in a while, from the vagina. I have some pads home on my closet shelf in a box marked ‘Sanitary Pads.’ You see them in drug store windows frequently.

JANE. Why won’t toilet tissue do?

MOTHER. Because the flow lasts from four to five days, and the woman needs to protect her clothing.

JANE. When will I have to wear one?

MOTHER. When you have changed into a young woman ~ in two or three years. I’ll tell you all about it some day. Changing a girl into a woman is one of the most interesting things a body does. But we have a dress to buy now for a certain girl I know. What are you laughing at?

JANE. I was just remembering about Bert last Christmas, when we went shopping with Aunt Harriet for your presents. She wouldn’t let him buy those pads, at a special bargain. He said you used them somehow ~ he’d seen the boxes. But Aunt Harriet said he’d better buy something you didn’t really need, something pretty for the house. Remember how he bought the bed lamp?

MOTHER. I must explain to him, then, and also thank Aunt Harriet for steering him toward the lamp. I just love to read in bed.

Source: Swift, Edith Hale. Step by Step in Sex Education. New York: Macmillan Company, 1947.
~ 92-93 ~

I Think My Daughter is Having Sex

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

I'm a woman nowQ Dear Miss Abigail:

My child appears to be having sex. She is only fifteen years old. What shall I do?


A Dear Dickie:

I’ve been just waiting for a chance to use an excerpt from Dr. Edith Hale Swift’s Step by Step in Sex Education, which is written in the form of a play. Mother and Father start explaining the facts of life to their children at a very early age: Bert is “aged two years and a quarter” and Jane is a mere”three months old” when they begin. The narrative continues on throughout their adolescence, ending when Bert and Jane leave for college.

Unfortunately I think this advice is a little too late for you, but we should all admire Mother and Father for opening up those doors of communication. So let’s listen in on an important conversation between Mother and Jane (who is “now about fourteen”). Perhaps you and a loved one could sit down and read their lines outloud. Too bad there is no stage direction.

1947: Step by Step in Sex Education

JANE. Sue’s mother says it’s very thoughtful of you to have all of us go to the early show, and then come home here for some eats.
MOTHER. Has Sue been to the movies with a boyfriend before?
JANE. Once or twice. But she said her mother always makes her come straight home.
MOTHER. Just as you will be doing tonight. There’s nothing much for young folks like you to do at that hour. All you would have to talk about is school, and ball games, and so forth. You’d have that all said in a half an hour. I’ve known boys and girls to sit around in parks and pet just for lack of something better to do.
JANE. But it’s all right to pet, isn’t it? Lots of girls do. They say the boys will drop you if you don’t.
MOTHER. I’d take it as a sign I wasn’t much of a companion if a boy turned me down because he couldn’t hug me all the time. But as to your question, the answer can’t be a blanket yes or no. Everyone who loves likes to be close to his dear one. Real loving makes petting look dishonest. Certainly the girls that you speak of can’t love every Tom, Dick, and Harry they go out with.
JANE. They say it makes them all trembly and queer inside. Why is that?
MOTHER. That’s a long story, but now that you are beginning to “date,” you’d better understand it. Let’s see how many of my questions you can answer. Why do girls like you get interested in boys, and when they get a bid to the movies, spend hours dressing? You didn’t use to care so much how you looked.
JANE. Why ~ because I’m a woman now, and some day I want to have a home of my own. So I have to choose a husband.
MOTHER. Good beginning. Now, how are you to go about choosing?
JANE. That’s easy. Knowing lots and lots of boys.
MOTHER. Which will take a long time. How will you know when you’ve found him?
JANE. I’ll thrill when he touches me, dream about him, pine away when he doesn’t write, get jealous when he goes with other girls ~ oh, I’ll know we were made for each other.
MOTHER. Not so fast! You’ll be thrilling and dreaming and pining over a dozen, perhaps. Why so?
JANE. You said once that we would be pushed into being lovers and would like it, just as we do when we eat to satisfy our hunger.
MOTHER. Then you expect to enjoy loving and being loved?
JANE. Of course. I just can’t wait.
MOTHER. How do you expect to show your love?
JANE. Oh ~ by hugging and kissing.
MOTHER. I notice you didn’t say petting. Why not?
JANE. Because that’s different. You don’t mean anything when you pet. It’s just fun.
MOTHER. I wonder why it’s fun when it’s just pretending.
JANE. As I tell you ~ the girls say they get all excited inside. Why is that?
MOTHER. I expect it’s the way something inside has of saying, “more ~ more.” That’s where trouble comes in. That something doesn’t seem to know whether you have a husband and a home. All it wants is to get two people closer and closer, until ~ well, one takes the other in that union which we call sexual intercourse.
JANE. Is that the way it happened with that May Jacobs who had to leave school, and then had to have her baby adopted?
MOTHER. I imagine so. There are always a good many who lose their heads. You see, our heads build the dreams for the future, and try to remind us what the plan means. But if we get to wanting something very much, our brains become dulled, so that they can’t think or remember. Our feelings and our wants increase until, finally, we take what we crave. That is why it is called, “losing one’s head.”
JANE. But I am sure I can take care of myself.
MOTHER. Perhaps ~ but how can you tell? After all, you’re no smarter than other girls. You’ll want boys to like you; you’ll try to please them; you’ll enjoy their affectionate ways. Under these conditions, things may get out of hand. There is still much to learn about all this. What I want you to understand now is that young boys and girls can hardly care to get serious with each other and so shouldn’t find themselves reduced to petting to fill up the time. We’ll try to plan interesting things for you all to do together. Tonight I’ll have such good snacks that they’ll want to come again.
JANE. David said he hoped you’d have brownies.
MOTHER. Then brownies it shall be. 

Source: Swift, Edith Hale. Step by Step in Sex Education. New York: Macmillan Company, 1947
~ pp. 142-45 ~