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!


Posts Tagged ‘1860s’

Summertime Hints

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Founded in 1868 by J. R. Watkins, the Watkins Company, as evidenced in their company history, was a pioneer in natural products to cure, clean, cook with, drink, and kill insects with.

Elaine Allen, Director of Home Economics at the company, put together the 1941 book Watkins Household Hints which I perused this morning to find some random handy hints to help make the last month of your summer even better!

Vacation Hints
Know the source of your drinking water and milk. If in doubt of its purity, boil the water. Never drink water from streams or wells. For a day’s outing, carry milk and water in a thermos bottle. When touring in Mexico and South America, all drinking water should be boiled or add chlorazine tablets to purify the water.

Exhale through the nose while under water and inhale through the mouth while swimming on the surface. This will maintain a positive air pressure in the nasal cavities, protecting the nose and ears from infection. Ear plugs or soft wool may be used in the ear.

Malaria and yellow fever are carried by certain kinds of mosquitoes. Use Watkins Fly Spray or Watkins Fly and Moth Spray freely when sitting on an unscreened porch, at picnics and outdoor gatherings. Kill young mosquitoes or wrigglers in pools, rain barrels, or where water collects, with Watkins Fly Spray. Pour a little of the liquid on the surface. Use household ammonia for mosquito bites and dust with Watkins Talcum.

Heat – Summer
Observe healthful living habits – sufficient sleep, daily baths, a well-selected and moderate diet, plenty of water, regular and thorough elimination. Eat less food in extremely hot weather. Eat crisp salads, green vegetables and fruit – leave the table a little hungry. Avoid hot drinks and alcoholic beverages, because they generate heat and increase discomfort. Iced tea is excellent. Exercise heats the body and should be taken in moderation, with frequent rest periods. Use a liberal amount of salt with food, unless your doctor has advised otherwise. Do not allow your thoughts to dwell on the heat, be calm, and keep out of the sun. A cloth wrung out of cold water and lightly covered with a piece of think cheesecloth will, if placed on the forehead, back of neck and over each wrist, reduce the temperature and induce sleep. Keep cloth cold, or use an ice bag.

Blueberry Stain
1. Use Watkins Spot Remover. Follow directions.
2. Sponge stain with lukewarm water. If stain remains, use a few drops of oxalic acid.
3. Rinse thoroughly.

Marshmallows and Wieners – To Roast
A wire corn popper is excellent for roasting wieners or marshmallows over an open fire. You can roast more at a time and the meat juice is not lost because of punctured skin.

The Desire of Pleasing

Monday, August 16th, 2010

restless pursuit of popularityHave you ever met anyone who must constantly please people? Someone who hates confrontation and likes to obey the rules? Well, you’re talking to her. I can’t help myself. All of my friends like to make fun of me, and yes, I know I’ve got a problem. I guess it’s just my good upbringing and desire to charm the pants off of people.

Here’s a little something on the topic, from a book I picked up at a small shop in downtown Atlanta while traveling for my real job.

1863: The Desire of Pleasing

The desire of pleasing is natural and strong in youth. If guided to correct channels, it is an incentive to improvement, and happiness. When it rejects the motive of selfishness, and seeks only to ‘please others for their edification,’ it becomes a Christian virtue. This may be easily distinguished from that restless pursuit of popularity, which being the offspring of ambition and pride, ever involves some elements of disappointment and envy.

In the art of pleasing, the instruments least dependent on contingencies, are undoubtedly good manners. They are of far more importance to the young, than the adventitious distinctions of dress and beauty: more valuable than the latter, because more permanent, and more certain in their results than the former, because a style of dress which attracts once class of admirers may be repulsive to another, but fine manners are intelligible to all mankind, and a passport in every country.

Source: Mrs. L. H. Sigourney. Letters to Young Ladies. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1863.
~ p. 105 ~

1869: Draw Up An Advertisement

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Oh my. Here we are in 2007, thinking we’re all so clever using the internet and newspaper classified ads to find dates and mates, but we’re not. I stumble across a quote from 1869 (yes, 1869!) suggesting that men having trouble finding a wife might want to take out an ad in newspapers. Widely circulated newspapers. Lots of them.

The book? The Science of a New Life, by John Cowan. Here’s an excerpt:

Do not regard it as absurd and wrong if I advise you to do precisely as a farmer would, who, desiring to purchase a farm, and having examined all within his country that are for sale, and finding none that will suit him–he advertises….The world, in its progressive, onward march, with its thorough intermixture of race and quality, offers a broader and wider field for the selection of a rightly constituted mate, than does the narrow field of a village or city ward, and the people of this wide-world area can in no better way be reached than through the advertising columns of the newspaper.

You draw up an advertisement, stating in as few words as possible your idiosyncrasies, and inviting replies from only those who imagine they approach your standard character. You insert it in one or more papers of large circulation, and it is read by thousands of marriageable women, and among them, it is possible, the one who would make you an unapproachable mate, and who, of course, could not possibly have ever heard of you other than in this way. A correspondence is commenced with a score of more of those having an appearance of suiting; a phrenological analysis of the character of each is requested by you [there’s an earlier section of the book that suggests this as an important step in the courtship process; I will spare you the details], and which, being received, is compared and returned; presently the right one is discovered, and an engagement follows.

Miss Abigail again: The author goes on to discuss the pros and cons of this sort of thing. Pros include “it allows an immensely wide field for a right selection” and something about the “Law of Choice… in writing unfolding each other’s characteristic traits; or, what is more preferable, more desirable…” and again he repeats the benefits of that phrenological chart. Cons: “Characters of impure formation … probably have adopted this way of securing a victim to their lustful natures.” Hmm… he seems to blame women for that one. Let’s skip ahead. He sums up his theory about the benefits of advertising yourself in the paper this way:

It needs no argument to show that there is something radically wrong in the present mode of mate-choosing. The every-day records of family quarrels, scandals, separations and divorces, too sadly prove the fact that the present method of forming matrimonial alliances must in some measure be changed, if a happy and enjoyable married existance is desired.

1869: Shun Small Waists

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

I finally got around to taking some books out of my car trunk: those that had been purchased on my travels to New England back in August, along with a bag of books that some friends donated to the Miss Abigail collection recently. These newest books are listed over here at Library Thing. The ones dated pre-1940 in this list were purchased at a used bookstore in New Bedford, Mass. All the rest, some varying editions of others in my collection, are from my friends Sarah and David, who tell me they come from the attic of a grandmother who sadly passed away recently. Grandma had quite the collection! I’m happy to take it in.

To give you a taste of the new books, here’s a little something from The Science of a New Life by John Cowen. Published in 1869, the book is “most respectfully and lovingly” dedicated “To all the married, but particularly to those who contemplate marriage.” The following is from a lovely chapter titled “Qualities the Man Should Avoid in Choosing.” A wife, that is.

An outward indication of an abnormal, unhealthy and unphysiological life is a small waist, whether abnormally natural, or caused by the wearing of corsets; avoid them as you would the plagues of Egypt, for they encompass sickness, premature decay and death. Such women are not capable of pure love, or right judgment, or, what is so essentially important, giving birth to healthy, vigorous offspring. Their very souls are malformed in harmony with their bodies. Some men admire small waists, but they are men who possess but a modicum of brains–or, if otherwise, they may admire, but they carefully guard against ever marrying them. If it is your desire to secure a wife that will be free from eternal nervousness, headache, pains, ill temper, and especially if you aim to have children that will not be sickly and short-lived, I pray you avoid marrying a woman with a small waist. I consider this matter of large waists such a necessity, in a woman who aspires to be a wife and mother, that, to impress it more positively on the minds of all men in search of wives, I will again repeat, in large letters, SHUN SMALL WAISTS, and act on the rule of “NATURAL WAISTS, or no wives.”

Now that’s pretty convincing. Think “Small Waist or Natural Waist” should be a new search filter on Match.com?