Who is Miss Abigail?

Abigail Grotke
Silver Spring, MD
email: missabigail at missabigail dot com
twitter: @DearMissAbigail

Find me on…

Get the feed


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 ‘1890s’

A Helpmeet (1890)

Monday, August 8th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Invitation for a Drive (1891)

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

I’ve got this pretty beat up book from 1891 called The Business Manual; A Complete Guide in all Mercantile and Legal Transactions and Reference Book for Every Day Use (well used during it’s time, I presume). It covers a wide variety of topics, from how to measure coal, to how to make an ice chest. It also includes handy charts of the weights of cattle and the number of years seeds retain their vitality. It tell business folk of this amazing thing called the “telephone” and describes type-writing. Did you know that “an expert can write from 90 to 100 words a minute and commands a salary of from $10 to $15 a week”?

I loved this section, though, on the “Laws of the Road.” The vehicle of choice that time? Well, the accompanying image says it all:

Laws of the Road

Here’s what the author had to say about driving around at that time:

"The primary law of the road is that all persons using the same must exercise due care to prevent collisions and accidents. No one can claim damages for an injury mainly caused by his own negligence.

Vehicles of every kind, meeting on the highway must keep to the right, if at all possible. When there is no other vehicle near, a driver may use any part of the road he chooses. When two teams are going in the same direction, the one in the lead need not “turn out” if the one in the rear wishes to pass ahead, provided there is room enough at the side to pass by. Every driver is required to use moderation in speed; to keep his carriage, harness, etc., in proper condition, and always to give the right of way to a vehicle with a heavier load than his own.

Riders are not governed by any fixed rules, but are required to use reasonable prudence at all times to prevent accidents. They need less room and can make quicker movements, and are, therefore, not under as well defined rules as vehicles.

Foot-passengers have a right to use the driveway as well as the sidewalk. They must, however, with the driver and rider exercise great care to prevent injury to life and limb while thus walking in, or crossing a public road."

Obviously there were fewer distractions than we have today, but these simple rules could still come in handy.

Once you’ve mastered the road rules, you can send a nice note to a sweetheart to ask her out. This example is from the same book:

Invitation for a Drive

Country vs. City Kids (1891)

Monday, March 14th, 2011

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

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

Shopping for Books the Old Fashioned Way

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

“Sixth Thousand Now Ready!” “An Important Book for the Family and School!” “An Attractive and Useful Gift” read the ad, found in the back of the 1894 printing of The Physician’s Wife, which I recently I picked up in Baltimore. How could I not be intrigued? Ads often appear in the back of some of my older books, a great place for publishers to have advertised new titles. Unfortunately I couldn’t send away for a copy using the instructions in the ad (“price, post-paid: $1.00 net”) – although it appears the company is still in business. The interwebs became my friend, however, as I turned to AbeBooks to hunt down a copy of the 1891 The Daughter: Her Health, Education, and Wedlock. Lucky for me a seller had it for a reasonable price, and a few days later, a copy was in my collection!

The DaughterI’ve only just begun to read it, but already found some  gems like this, about a mother’s duty to inform her daughter of sexual matters:


To preserve the charm of true modesty and innocence, it is safer for the girl that she be instructed concerning the requirements of personal purity, rather than be allowed to grope amid chance experiences and to run the risks of unfriendly influences. Experience is the only teacher for all, but in many things the lessons may be taken at second hand, and the wise do well to profit by the experiences of others. Although it may be a difficult duty to perform, no careful mother will neglect to properly instruct her daughter in matters relating to the sexual nature. Thoughts upon this subject cannot be avoided, but will arise as mind and body develop, and they should be wisely and intelligently directed in confidential talks skillfully planned and discreetly managed by the mother.

Sexual matters are not motives and aims in life, but they imperiously mingle with and influence all motives and aims. They are inseparable from existence, and though important must be made subordinate, and though irrepressible must be held in subjection. To ignore them is as fatal to happiness and success in life as to allow them to be the objects of chief pursuit. To underrate their influence is a great mistake; it must be justly appreciated in order to maintain an effective control by the stronger forces of the intellect and the will. Let it be remembered how large a portion of human misery results from the disorderly animal passion. Much of this should be withheld from the knowledge of the young, but enough for their own safety may be pointed out by the mother, and be accompanied by such admonitions as seem suitable in each individual case. That the duty is a delicate one is surrounded by difficulties affords no reason for its avoidance, but rather calls for redoubled tact and a superior skill, which will not fail of their aim when instigated by the loving instinct of a true mother’s heart.


Flipping to the back of The Daughter, I of course notice a few more ads. I wonder if I can find Hartvig Nissen’s ABC of the Swedish System of Educational Gymnastics? or John V. Shoemaker’s  Heredity, Health, and Personal Beauty? Or Plain Talk on Avoided Subjects, by Henry N. Guernsey?



Trying Your Hand in Writing

Monday, August 30th, 2010

make no apology for writing itWhile written with journalists in mind, this one seemed quite appropriate for this column as well. It’s from a book called Mother’s Guide and Daughter’s Friend, written by an “old practitioner” ~ otherwise unidentified ~ in 1890.

1890: Trying Your Hand in Writing

There will be no harm . . . in trying your hand at various kinds of writing. You do not know your own powers, may be, and if you do not place your hopes high you can not suffer great disappointment if you fail to please. In order to secure a reading for your manuscript use a little business sense in preparing it. If you have a reputation already established it matters not upon what you write nor how careless your penmanship, it will be published, otherwise it is necessary to observe the following rules:

Write as plainly as possible, on one side of the paper only; be very particular as to spelling, punctuation and capitalization; use good paper and black ink. If you send your communication to a strange paper enclose stamps sufficient for its return if not accepted. Make no apology for writing it, but in as few words as possible request an examination of the manuscript and its publication if acceptable, or its return if not.

If you have exhibited real literary power it will soon be discovered; if you have not the person who rejects your manuscript has done you a favor.

Source: “An Old Practitioner.” The Mother’s Guide and Daughter’s Friend. Indianapolis, Ind.: Normal Publishing House, 1890.
~ p. 507 ~

He’s a Bust With Dust!

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

carriers of disease or infectionQ Dear Miss Abigail:

How do you train your husband to help around the house? I’ve asked him, pleaded with him, threatened him, but he still can’t “see” the mess around him and will not take the initiative to clean it up.

We both work out of the home with competitive salaries, and I feel that I shouldn’t bear the whole burden of housekeeping.

I need your help.


A Dear Katie:

Unfortunately, I had absolutely no luck finding some old advice that even comes close to hinting that husbands do housework. So let’s take a moment and reflect upon the past, and rejoice in our modern times. In this day and age, we all know that husbands have absolutely no excuse for not helping around the house. Right? RIGHT.

Perhaps this description of dust will scare your husband into picking up a broom. It’s from A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed, published by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in 1898. MetLife has a history of distributing health literature to its policyholders, and this little book was their earliest.

1898: Dust

Dust is one of the greatest causes of impurity of the air in houses. It consists of a great variety of substances, such as soot, wool, cotton, straw, sand, starch, debris from the skin, and other refuse, in a state of minute pulverization. It also contains living germs of one sort or another, according to situation. These may be perfectly harmless, or be the carriers of disease or infection. They are known by various names: perhaps bacteria is the most inclusive. There are several varieties of them known each to carry a specific disease ~ the bacteria of typhoid, of erysipelas, of consumption, leprosy, malaria, and others. They are easily destroyed by heat and certain chemicals (germicides), but their seeds (spores) are not so easily got rid of, and possess great vitality. Frost will not kill them, hence the necessity of procuring ice for household use from an unpolluted source.

From the nature and origin of dust it is plainly seen that it may be productive of a low state of the general health, particularly in over-crowded dirty houses. It, however, cannot practically be got rid of, but a great deal may be done to lessen the nuisance by having the floors painted, by the avoidance of close-fitting carpets, heavy curtains and other upholstery, and the substitution of rugs or mats, which may be easily shaken out of doors at frequent intervals, and light muslin curtains easily washed. The coverings of the wall should be smooth, and of a material which admits of being cleaned with a damp cloth ~ varnished paper, for example. Wall paper of a green color often contains arsenic, which finds its way in some shape into the air, and sometimes produces distressing and even dangerous symptoms.

When without objection on the score of material, it is a good plan to remove dust from furniture walls and floors with a damp broom or cloth.

Source: Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed: Health Hints for the Home. New York: Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, 1898.
~ pp. 65-66 ~

A Bath-Room

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

any one can make a bath-tubMom and I spent some time perusing some of my books while she was here over Thanksgiving, including a one appropriately titled Mother’s Guide and Daughter’s Friend, which was written by “an old practitioner” in 1890. This bit about building a tub was one that mom insists you read. She is a mother, after all. She knows best.

1890: A Bath-Room

Not an essential room, as a bath may be taken anywhere, but a convenient one. It need not be larger than six by eight feet square. Any one can make a bath-tub. Make a strong box of one and a half inch plank, about four feet long, two feet wide and two feet deep, and get a tinsmith to line it with zinc or galvanized iron. Make a hole at one end and put in a spout to extend outside of the house, to carry away the waste water. The bath-room may be warmed by having the pipe from the kitchen stove or a stove in some adjoining room pass through a drum in the bathroom A small sheet iron stove which will get hot quickly will perhaps be more satisfactory.

Source: “An Old Practitioner.” The Mother’s Guide and Daughter’s Friend. Indianapolis, Ind.: Normal Publishing House, 1890.
~ pp. 460-61 ~

Housewives 101

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

the very centre of her beingQ Dear Miss Abigail:

Why did they have housewives in the olden days?


A Dear Mime:

I’ve often wondered the very same thing. Here’s a bit of guilt ~ oops, I mean advice ~ that should give you some insight into those wacky olden days. Richard A. Wells wrote it in 1891 for his book titled Manners Culture and Dress of the Best American Society.

1891: Avoid All Causes for Complaint

Never let your husband have cause to complain that you are more agreeable abroad than at home; nor permit him to see in you an object of admiration as respects your dress and manners, when in company, while you are negligent of both in the domestic circle. Many an unhappy marriage has been occasioned by neglect in these particulars. Nothing can be more senseless than the conduct of a young woman, who seeks to be admired in general society for her politeness and engaging manners, or skill in music, when, at the same time, she makes no effort to render her home attractive; and yet that home whether a palace or a cottage, is the very centre of her being ~ the nucleus around which her affections should resolve, and beyond which she has comparatively small concern.

Source: Wells, Richard A. Manners, Culture and Dress of the Best American Society. Springfield, Mass.: King, Richardson & Co., 1891.
~ p. 529 ~

Miss Abigail’s (timeless) Holiday Gift Ideas, Vol. VI

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Happy Holidays, everybody! Welcome to the sixth edition of Miss Abigail’s Gift Ideas. Having trouble finding that perfect present? Never fear, I’m here to help with your last minute shopping. There’s something here for the whole family! Now onto the presentation:

What mother doesn’t love a new vacuum? I’m sure the local department store is having a sale on this exciting new model. Run out and grab one today. (1965)

mom's vacuum

Little Johnny needs a new mallet so he can learn how to properly fix his bike. Make sure you get him the only the finest, and be sure to teach him how to use it safely. (1914)

Daddy always loves gadgets for the outdoors. How about these ideas for when he takes a turn at cooking? That adjustable grill doesn’t look too hard to assemble ~ I’m sure you can build it by Christmas. (1939)

Perhaps you can convince grandpa to assemble this exciting swing for little sister in the basement or attic. Won’t she be delighted! I know I would be. (1896)

Uh oh, you forget to get your baby sister Adelaide something! You better get shopping ~ and fast! I don’t think she’ll care what it is. (1937)

Miss Abigail’s (timeless) Holiday Gift Ideas, Vol. I

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Something a little different for the holidays ~ with the help of my books, I’ve come up with some fabulous gift ideas for the whole family. I don’t want you all to panic in these last hours of perfect-present hunting.

You’ll notice that the pictures are from the books (a variety of decades are represented here) but of course the captions are my own brilliant creation. Begin the tour with a quick click on the header below. Enjoy!

This lovely hat would be a welcome gift for mothers everywhere.

hat for mummy

If father is tired of carrying the family around, you might consider chipping in for a new car, a motorcycle, or perhaps a simple go cart ~ anything to ease his back pain.

put me down please

Any son who aspires to be like the talented Pat Boone would just love a musical instrument.

Pat serenades the ladies

If sis has bought into this recent “long pants” craze, she probably could use some new undies.

Forget Beanie Babies! Kids of all ages will love these alternative collectibles.

yum yum gimmee some

Here’s another idea for the young ones ~ boots!
With a little imagination, children can enjoy hours of fun.

ooooh! boots!

And lastly, a gift that can be enjoyed by all ~ the bed hammock.

this looks fun
Hat Source: Various. Every Woman’s Encyclopedia. London, England: n.p., ca. 1912.
~ p. 5261 ~
Man Carrying Child Source: Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed: Health Hints for the Home. New York: Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, 1898.
~ p. 23 ~
Guitar Source: Boone, Pat. ‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty: Pat talks to Teenagers. Engelwood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1958.
~ p. 104 ~
Underwear Source: Tolman, Ruth. Charm and Poise for Getting Ahead. Bronx, NY: Milady Publishing Corporation, 1969.
~ p. 148 ~
Vegetable Doll Source: Matthews, Mary Lockwood. Elementary Home Economics. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company,1925.
~ p. 209 ~
Boots Source: Jefferis, Prof. B. G. The Household Guide, or Domestic Cyclopedia. Atlanta, Ga.: J. L. Nichols & Co., 1902.
~ p. 394 ~

Bed Hammock Source: Jefferis, Prof. B. G. The Household Guide, or Domestic Cyclopedia. Atlanta, Ga.: J. L. Nichols & Co., 1902.
~ p. 203 ~