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 ‘1880s’

Miss Abigail’s (Timeless) Holiday Gift Ideas 2010

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Dear Readers: Today I resurrect my every-so-often holiday gift ideas post and bring to you some book titles that might tickle the fancy of people on your lists. If you aren’t done shopping yet, and need some help, perhaps these will do!

First up, we have a gift for the woman in your life. Although I thought this book might tell the “woman who hates to clean” that she should just hire a housekeeper and call it a day, it does assume that the wife, no matter how much she hates it, will be the one cleaning. Drat. Still, it offers “hundreds of ways to take the drudgery out of cleaning.” That’s sure to be appreciated by women and men (who are hopefully chipping in) alike.

Good Housekeeping's Miracle Cleaning Book (1955)

Next up, a gift for sis. Is she wanting to be on America’s Next Top Model, but doesn’t quite have the looks for it yet? She’s love this book, which was penned by Princess Luciana Pignatelli. The flap copy gives a hint to what are the secrets of a beautiful woman: “self-discipline, private bedrooms, work, cosmetic surgery, facial exercises, rest, repose, having late babies, the right kinds of husbands and loves, yoga, isometrics, and walking.” Your sister might also benefit from those sunglasses. Ooh, baby!

The Beautiful People's Beauty Book, by Princess Luciana Pignatelli (1970)

Speaking of isometrics, this next book would be perfect for anyone on your list. I mean, who wouldn’t love exercise that requires no movement at all?

Vic Obeck's How to Exercise Without Moving A Muscle (1964)

Dad might really enjoy this “Greeting Card Book,” which can be sent directly via the mail.  You could even send it anonymously so he has no idea that you doubt his handyman skills!

The Unhandy Handyman's Book (1966)

Young, frantic parents in your life might really appreciate this helpful guide from the Department of Defense. Who wouldn’t have a better grasp on how to raise preschoolers?

Department of Defense, Caring for Preschoolers (1982)

Here’s another for just about anyone on your list, from the business executive to those starting out in life  ~ this book has 871 pages full of etiquette and more, more, more. I was going to list all of the topics but I figured it was easier to just share the title page (click on it to see a larger size).

The cover of The National Encyclopedia of Business and Social Forms... (1881)

Title page of the National Encyclopedia...

This final entry is for the car lovers in your family, particularly those with VWs. It’s not an advice book, but I found it on my shelves while poking around and it seemed like the perfect gift for both “Volks folks and Normal People.” Here’s a few to whet your appetite: “There was the Dallas oilman who paid for his new Cadillac with a $10,000 bill and took his change in Volkswagens” HA! Or how about: “Here’s a tip to help you quickly dry your VW after a washing. Pick it up by the windshield wiper and it will shake itself dry.” Hooboy, what a riot! Here’s one more: “Give a man with a big car an inch and he’ll take a mile, but give a VW owner a foot and he’ll park his car.”

The Jokeswagen Book (1966)

Well, that’s it for another year. I hope these ideas help with your last-minute gift shopping, and that you all have a wonderful holiday!

How and What to Read

Monday, August 30th, 2010

a single book may make or mar a lifeSince I have a great love of books, I thought that I would feature some words about books and reading, brought to you by C. H. Fowler and W. H. De Puy from Home and Health and Home Economics. It is interesting that in their preface they state:

“The preparation of these pages has been a constant delight. The privilege of putting so many hundred important suggestions into a hundred thousand homes, to enter into the convictions and manners and lives and destinies of so many young people, and bear the fruit of peace and comfort and gentleness and culture in a million homes of the future, is gratefully accepted as the opportunity of a life-time.”

Amazing ~ I was thinking that just the other day! Please excuse me while I wipe a tear from my eye and shout “right on!”

1880: How and What to Read

We live among books to find the good, the beautiful, and the true in them, and by them to be inspired and led into the heart of nature and into the soul of mankind. A few hints in this labyrinth is better than a master. Indiscriminate reading will give much information and lose more. It fixes no centers around which future acquisitions crystallize.

A course of reading should develop all the intellectual faculties.

A few books may give culture. Poverty, preventing you from buying many costly books, need not keep you from undertaking the culture of your mind. Lincoln read chiefly the Bible and Shakspeare [sic]. Good books can be frequently re-read with profit.

Choosing books is important business. A single book may make or mar a life. Voltaire learned an infidel poem when he was five years old, and it molded his life. Hume, when a boy, took the infidel side of a question in a debating society, and cast his die. What books will you let come into the place of your parents and friends?

Youth should be left to themselves in the selecting of books no more than in the selecting of companions.

The desirableness of books depends upon their truth to nature, their euphony, language, ideas, and vigor. The best books are those that elevate the character by moving the heart.

Some books should be read, whether we like them or not, because they are necessary to educate and culture.

Some books should be read because they are so often alluded to by other writers and in general conversation.

One should be thoroughly acquainted with the books and names of the authors of his own land. Patriotism should lead a man to know the glory in the midst of which he lives.

Read occasionally good essays, biographies, standard books of travel, and a little standard fiction. Sometimes too protracted reading of heavy histories wearies the purpose of the uncultured, and the mind refuses to hold the results. Change of diet is good for body and mind.

Let each prominent fact become a center of arrangement for other facts. When the piles are thus driven, it is wonderful how soon the sea washes in a new formation and foundation for future building. Every book, and almost every paper, will add something to the stock of knowledge.

Some find a blank book and a pencil good companions in reading. Thus, marked passages can be retained for reference, or impressed on the mind of the work of writing.

If convenient, read with a friend. Discussion clears and fixes in the mind what you read.

Read aloud portions of every book. It enables you to test the style of the author.

Never read second-class stories. They steal the time and weaken the mind.

Never read what you do not wish to remember.

Source: Fowler, C. H. and W. H. De Puy. Home and Health and Home Economics. New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1880.
~ pp. 60-61 ~

A Sentimental Gift

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

the offspring of their gentle skillQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I have a friend that is leaving soon. He is from another country and is going home ~ forever! I really want to give him a sentimental but useful gift. Any ideas?


A Dear Charlotte:

Oooh! Presents! One of my favorite topics. Here are some gift-giving tips, and some bonus thoughts about giving and receiving them, from John A. Ruth’s Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiqutte and Dress of the Best American Society. Enjoy!

1880: Presents

Presents Among Friends. Among friends, presents ought to be made of things of small value; or, if valuable, their worth should be derived from the style of the workmanship, or from some accidental circumstance, rather than from the inherent and solid richness. Especially never offer to a lady a gift of great cost: it is in the highest degree indelicate, and looks as if you were desirous of placing her under an obligation to you, and of buying her good will. The gifts made by ladies to gentlemen are of the most refined nature possible: they should be little articles not purchased, but deriving a priceless value as being the offspring of their gentle skill; a little picture from their pencil, or a trifle from their needle.

Praising Presents. If you make a present, and it is praised by the receiver, you should not yourself commence undervaluing it. If one is offered to you, always accept it; and however small it may be, receive it with civil and expressed thanks, without any kind of affection. Avoid all such deprecatory phrases, as ‘I fear I rob you,’ etc.

Making Parade. A present should be made with as little parade and ceremony as possible. If it is a small matter, a gold pencil-case, a thimble to a lady, or an affair of that sort, it should not be offered formally, but in an indirect way, ~ left in her basket, or slipped on to her finger, by means of a ribbon attached to it without a remark of any kind.

How to Receive a Present. Receive a present in the spirit in which it is given and with a quiet expression of thanks. On the other hand, never, when what you have given is admired, spoil the effect by saying it is of no value, or worse still, that you have no use for it, have others, or anything of that kind. Simply remark that you are gratified at finding it has given pleasure.

Refusing a Gift. Never refuse a gift if offered in kindness unless the circumstances are such that you cannot with propriety or consistency receive it. Neither in receiving a present make such comments as ‘I am ashamed to rob you;’ ‘I am sure I ought not to take it,’ which seems to indicate that your friend cannot afford to make the gift.

Value of Presents. In the eyes of persons of delicacy, presents are of no worth, except from the manner in which they are bestowed; strive then to gain them this value.

Source: Ruth, John A. Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress of the Best American Society. New York: Union Publishing House, 1880.
~ pp. 219, 220-221 ~

A Quick Lesson in Table Manners

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

keep your elbows at your sideQ Dear Miss Abigail:

Please tell me ~ have simple table manners like holding cutlery properly and keeping elbows off the dining table gone out of fashion?


A Dear Nicole:

I don’t know about you, but table manners in my house have only improved with the advent of the TV. When leaning back on the couch, I never have to worry whether or not my elbows are on the table.

But I suppose a little refresher wouldn’t hurt. This from Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress of the Best American Society, published in 1880, still seems relevant for the most part. Now if I could just find my table under the piles of junk, I’d be all set.

1880: General Rules for Behavior at Table

Tea and coffee should never be poured into a saucer.

If a person wishes to be served with more tea or coffee, he should place his spoon in the saucer. If he has had sufficient, let it remain in the cup.

If anything unpleasant is found in the food, such as a hair in the bread or a fly in the coffee, remove it without remark. Though your own appetite be spoiled, it is well not to spoil that of others.

Never if possible, cough or sneeze at the table. If you feel the paroxysm coming on, leave the room. It may be worth while to know that a sneeze may be stifled by placing the finger firmly upon the upper lip.

Fold your napkin when you are done with it and place it in your ring, when at home. If you are visiting, leave your napkin unfolded beside your plate.

Never hold your knife and fork upright on each side of your plate while you are talking.

Do not cross your knife and fork upon your plate until you have finished.

When you send your plate to be refilled, place your knife and fork upon one side of it or put them upon your piece of bread.

Eat neither too fast nor too slow.

Never lean back in your chair nor sit too near or too far from the table.

Keep your elbows at your side, so that you may not inconvenience your neighbors.

Do not find fault with the food.

The old-fashioned habit of abstaining from taking the last piece upon the plate is no longer observed. It is to be supposed that the vacancy can be supplied if necessary.

If a plate is handed you at table, keep it yourself instead of passing it to a neighbor. If a dish is passed to you, serve yourself first, then pass it.

Source: Ruth, John A. Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress of the Best American Society. New York: Union Publishing House, 1880.
~ pp. 213-214 ~

Eating, Sleeping, and Speaking ~ Simple Precautions

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

never dine in excitementI’ve got a bad sore throat. While recovering on the couch today, I browsed through the “Temperment and Health” section of Home and Health and Home Economics, written in 1880 by C. H. Fowler and W. H. De Puy. These tips may not help me this week, but maybe, just maybe, they’ll help someone out there! That’s what it’s all about! Helping people!

Disclaimer: This advice is very, very, very, very old and may not be medically sound in this modern age. Please consult your doctor if you are not feeling well. Do not, I repeat, do not, use Miss Abigail for anything other than a good laugh. Thank you.

1880: Eating, Sleeping, and Speaking ~ Simple Precautions

Never eat hurriedly, because it causes indigestion.

Never dine in excitement, because the blood is called to the brain which ought to aid digestion.

Never swallow food without thorough chewing, because it brings on dyspepsia.

Never eat when you do not want it, because when you shall want you cannot eat.

Never sleep with your mouth open, because the air breathed with carbonic acid disturbs the mucous membranes.

Never go to rest without washing the hands and face, because more dirt accumulates on the skin in the day than in the night, and is re-absorbed during the night.

Never begin a journey until breakfast is eaten.

After speaking, singing, or preaching in a warm room in winter, do not leave it immediately. In leaving, close the mouth, put on the gloves, wrap up the neck, and put on a cloak or overcoat before passing out of the door. The neglect of these simple precautions has laid many a good and useful man into a premature grave.

Never speak under a hoarseness, especially if it requires an effort, or painful feeling.

Source: Fowler, C. H. and W. H. De Puy. Home and Health and Home Economics. New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1880.
~ p. 257 ~

Crying and Health

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

 a loud boo-hooI’ve read a lot about the benefits of laughing, but I think this is the first I’ve seen on crying. When I saw this paragraph, Al Gore and his groaning and sighing in the presidential debate [years ago] came to mind, so I thought it was appropriate to share. It was written by C. H. Fowler and W. H. De Puy in their Home and Health and Home Economics, published a long, long, time ago.

1880: Crying and Health

Probably most persons have experienced the effect of tears in relieving great sorrow. It is even curious how the feelings are allayed by free indulgence in groans and sighs. A French physician publishes a long dissertation on the advantages of groaning and crying in general, and especially during surgical operations. He contends that groaning and crying are two grand operations by which nature allays anguish; that those patients who give way to their natural feelings more speedily recover from accidents and operations than those who suppose it unworthy a man to betray such symptoms of cowardice as either to groan or cry. He tells of a man who reduced his pulse from one hundred and twenty-six to sixty in the course of a few hours by giving full vent to his emotions. ‘If people are at all unhappy about any thing, let them go into their room and comfort themselves with a loud boo-hoo, and they will feel a hundred per cent better afterward.’ Then let the eyes and mouth be regarded as the safety-valve through which nature discharges her surplus steam.

Source: Fowler, C. H. and W. H. De Puy. Home and Health and Home Economics. New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1880.
~ p. 209 ~

Qualities of a Good Doctor by a Doctor

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

he is neat and handyMy sweet sister is paying a quick visit to the hospital this week, so doctors are on my mind just a smidgen. Good doctors, that is. They better be very good doctors! They can just take this as a warning ~ don’t mess with Miss Abigail’s family! Oh, sorry, where was I . . . ah, yes, good doctors, nice doctors.

This advice is from C. H. Fowler’s Home and Health and Home Economics. It’s somewhat helpful, though I don’t know how I feel about the need for the doctor to be “a man, in the true sense of the word.” Of course this was published in the 1800s, and based on the advice of an “able member of the profession,” so I guess I can’t be too critical.

1880: Qualities of a Good Doctor by a Doctor

Here is a very suggestive summary of hints covering the question of choosing a physician. It has the authority of an experienced and able member of the profession. Read and ponder: ~

Avoid the mean man, for you may be sure he will be a mean doctor, just as certainly as he would make a mean husband.

Avoid a dishonest man; he will not be honest with you as your physician.

Shun the doctor that you can buy to help you out of a scrape; a good doctor cannot be bought.

Avoid the untidy, course, blundering fellow, though he may bear the parchments of a medical college.

Avoid the doctor who flatters you, and humors your lusts and appetites.

Avoid the man who puts on an extra amount of airs; be assured that it is done to cover his ignorance.

Avoid the empty blow-horn, who boasts of his numerous cases, and tells you of his seeing forty or fifty patients a day, while he spends two hours to convince you of the fact. Put him down for a fool.

To be a doctor one must first be a man in the true sense of the word.

He should be a moral man, honest in his dealings.

He must have good sense, or he cannot be a good doctor.

He should be strictly temperate. No one should trust his life in the hands of an intemperate doctor.

He must have some mechanical genius, or it is impossible for him to be a good surgeon.

It is a good sign if he tells you how to keep well.

It is a good sign if the members of his own family respect him.

It is a good sign if the children like him.

It is a good sign if he is neat and handy at making pills and folding powders.

It is a good sign if he is still a student, and keeps posted in all the latest improvements known to the profession for alleviating human suffering.

Source: Fowler, C. H. and W. H. De Puy. Home and Health and Home Economics. New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1880.
~ pp. 66-67 ~

Miscellaneous Health Notes

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

attend to the little thingsThis time I have pulled out a few notes from 1880 about health. I thought it was important to let you know about the dangers of cold water. Be careful out there!

1880: Miscellaneous Health Notes

Pine Woods and Health. The pleasant odor emitted by fir-trees in a sunny atmosphere has long been thought serviceable to invalids, and the vicinity of pine woods has been declared salubrious.

Danger of Cold Water in the Face. It is dangerous to wash the face in cold water when much heated. It is not dangerous, but pleasantly efficacious, if warm water is used.

A Most Refreshing Bath. Sun baths cost nothing, and are the most refreshing, life-giving baths that one can take, whether sick or well. Read carefully our chapter on “Sunlight and Health.”

To Prevent Harm from Drinking Cold Water. It is a very safe rule to wet your wrists before drinking cold water if at all heated. The effect is immediate and grateful, and the danger of fatal results may be warded off by this simple precaution.

Position After Being Tired. If very tired physically, lie on the back, knees drawn up, the hands clasped above the head, or resting on the elbows, the fore-arm at right angles, and the hands hanging over by the bend of the wrists.

Pie Crust and Dyspepsia. Whoever eats heavy pie-crust commits a crime agains his physical well-being, and must pay the penalty. The good house-wife should see to it that all pastry and cakes are light; no others should be eaten.

Most Healthful Seat in a Car. Other things being equal, the forward seats in a street or railway car are the most healthful. The forward motion of the car causes a current of air backward, carrying with it the exhaltations from the lungs of the forward passengers. In all cases avoid as much as possible inhaling another’s “breath.”

Improper Sitting and its Evils. Consumptive people. and all afflicted with spinal deformities, sit habitually crooked, in one or more curves of the body. There was a time in all these when the body had its natural erectness, when there was not the first departure on the road to death. The make of our chairs, especially that great barbarism the unwieldy and disease-engendering rocking-chair, favors these diseases, and undoubtedly, in some instances, leads to bodily habits from which originate the ailments just named, to say nothing of piles, fistula, and the like. The painful or sore feeling which many are troubled with incessantly for years at the extremity of the backbone, is the result of sitting in such a position that it rests upon the seat of the chair at a point several inches forward of the chair-back.

To Cool a Room. Wet a cloth of any size, the larger the better, and suspend it in the room. Let the ventilation be good, and the temperature will sink from ten to twenty degrees in less than an hour.

Little Things and Health. The little causes must be looked for. There are the little errors in diet, the little violations in our habits of exercise, study, sleep, dress, etc., etc. The wise and prudent will carefully attend to the little things. 

Source: Fowler, C. H. and W. H. De Puy. Home and Health and Home Economics. New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1880.
~ pp. 301-304, 306 ~

Facts for Parents

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

they warm the houseThis was originally posted to commemorate the birth of baby Alexandra, my niece, daughter of my stepsister Deb and her husband Lenn. Here are some thoughts on raising children.

1880: Facts for Parents

Paternity is earth’s highest dignity. The parent is the best human type of God. Paternal authority is the germ out of which are unfolded all governments and all religions. It combines law, authority, power, wisdom, providence, punishments, pardons, remedial agencies, mercy, love, sacrifice, instruction, leadership and companionship. It epitomizes nature, providence and grace.

Children are boons. They impart dignity to life and furnish a motive for work. They gather up the withering and fading plans for self, and cast them out into the future, renewed in vigor and hope. They cement they family in unity.

Children give new life to a home. They warm the house. They dispel the gloom. They constrain age to renewed youth. They transform a hall into a home.

Parents put their image and superscription upon their children. They beget them in their own image, and train them into their own faith and destiny. Selecting for them their toys, their playmates, their books and their churches, they are responsible for their moral character and social life.

Construct your home for your children. Home may be made the most attractive place on earth. Many lose their children as soon as they can escape. There is a mistake somewhere. If the house is glum and stiff, the children required to keep still while the parents read or doze ~ if the house is only a feeding and clothing place, or a workshop, it has none of the charms of home, and will be early empty. But the home should be more than a house. Fill it with good cheer, youthful hope, with instruction and entertainment and affection; then it will be a perpetual benediction. Your highest duty is your children. Make home so winsome to them that they will not go away from your eye for their pleasures. Be yourself a necessary and welcome part of their work and of their study and of their sports. It is not a service of bondage, but a reign of love in the midst of the growing sons and daughters, that you are to maintain.

Remember that children do grow old. We can hardly believe that they can be trusted as we were when we were of their age. We remember them as our little ones.

Recall, as distinctly as possible, your own youth. Profit by your own experience, and let your children also profit by it.

Source: Fowler, C. H. and W. H. De Puy. Home and Health and Home Economics. New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1880.
~ pp. 23-24 ~

How to Perpetuate the Honey-moon

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

take care of EngThis selection is in honor of my friend Kathy Feeney, who is taking the plunge this weekend and getting hitched to Jesse Chappell. Here’s some marriage advice for you both, all the way from 1880. Congrats, you crazy kids, you!

1880: How to Perpetuate the Honey-moon

Continue your courtship. Like causes produce like effects.

Do not assume a right to neglect your companion more after marriage than you did before.

Have no secretes that you keep from your companion. A third party is always disturbing.

Do not conceal your marriage for an hour. Busy bodies may perplex you with advice. Madame Le Brun kept her marriage a secret for a short time, when people advised her to drown herself rather than marry Le Brun. Even the Dutchess d’Arembourg said, “For Heaven’s sake, don’t marry him!” The very concealment begets perils. Integrity is the law of safety.

Avoid the appearance of evil. In matrimonial matters it is often that the mere appearance contains all of the evil. Love, as soon as it rises above calculation and becomes love, is exacting. It gives all, and demands all.

Once married, never open your mind to any change. If you keep the door of your purpose closed, evil or even desirable changes cannot make headway without your help.

Make the best of the inevitable. Persist in looking at and presenting the best side. Such is the subtle constitution of the human mind, that we believe what we will; also, what we frequently tell.

Keep step in mental development. A tree that grows for forty years may take all the sunlight from a tree that stops growing at twenty.

Keep a lively interest in the business of the firm. Two that do not pull together, are weaker than either alone.

Gauge your expenses by your revenues. Love must eat. The sheriff often levies on Cupid long before he takes away the old furniture.

Start from where your parents started rather than from where they are now. Hollow and showy boarding often furnishes the too strong temptation, while the quietness of a humble home would cement the hearts beyond risk.

Avoid debt. Spend your own money, then it will not be necessary to blame any one for spending other people’s.

Do not both get angry at the same time. It takes two to quarrel.

Do not allow yourself ever to come to an open rupture. Things unsaid need less repentance.

Study to understand your companion’s disposition, in order to please and avoid friction.

Study to confirm your tastes and habits to the tastes and habits of your companion. If two walk together, they must agree.

Chang and Eng were the Siamese Twins. Chang made Eng lie down when sick. It killed Eng, and Chang could not survive him. Take care of Eng. Few people survive divorce.

Source: Fowler, C. H. and W. H. De Puy. Home and Health and Home Economics. New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1880.
~ pp. 16-17 ~