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 ‘1900s’

Anniversaries, Gifts, and Anniversary Weddings

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Today marks the occasion of my one-year wedding anniversary (time really flies when you are having fun!). While perusing my books on the subject, I was reminded of the usual custom of marking the occasion with a celebration or gifts made from certain types of materials.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that these appear to have changed over the years, depending on the etiquette expert you are referring to and the time period of the book. I always assumed they were etiquette 101 and had always been the same. Not so!

My more modern copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette (16th edition, 1997), has a very long list of anniversaries 1-20, then in five-year increments until year 60, then 70 and 75 are recognized. Here are the first ten years from her list:

1: Paper or Plastics
2: Calico or Cotton
3: Leather or simulated leather
4: Silk or synthetic material
5: Wood
6: Iron
7: Copper or wool
8: Electrical appliances
9: Pottery
10: Tin or aluminum

I dug deep into the etiquette archives to try to determine when this tradition started. Based on an informal study that consisted of me grabbing the oldest etiquette book I could find on the shelf behind me, I found mention of them in the 1877 book Decorum, by J. A. Ruth. I was surprised to find them called “Anniversary Weddings”:

"Celebrating Anniversary Weddings is a very pleasant custom which is coming gradually into general favor. Special anniversaries are designated by special names, indicating the presents suitable on each occasion.


The first anniversary is called the paper wedding. The invitations to this wedding should be issued on a gray paper, representing thin cardboard. Presents from the guests are appropriate, but not by any means obligatory. These presents, if given, should be only of articles made of paper. Thus, boxes of note-paper and envelopes, books, sheets of music, engravings and delicate knickknacks of papier mache are all appropriate for this occasion."

The author has less anniversaries described but is consistent with Emily Post’s list: he jumps to the Wooden Wedding, which he says to celebrate on the fifth year. Tin is for the 10th, crystal for 15th, china for the 20th, silver for 25th, gold for 50th, diamonds for 75th.

In Correct Social Usage, an etiquette book published in 1903, a suggestion is made to recognize anniversaries much later, though the concept remains the same and the earlier years are described for the benefit of those who want to celebrate sooner:

"Wedding anniversaries are not generally observed until the twenty-fifth year ~ “the silver wedding.” There are people, however, who find pleasure in presenting their married friends with appropriate remembrances on some, if not all, of the established anniversaries. Such remembrances must be gifts made of material which corresponds with the same of the anniversary. These occasions have been designated in this way: first year, paper; fifth year, wooden; tenth year, tin; twelfth year, leather; fifteenth year, crystal; twentieth year, china; twenty-fifth year, silver; thirtieth year, ivory; fortieth year, woolen; forty-fifth year, silk; fiftieth year, golden; seventy-fifth year, diamond."

It looks to me like tin and wood have been fighting it out for 5th place for awhile. Hallie Erminie Rives’ The Complete Book of Etiquette, with Social Forms for All Ages and Occasions (1926) has this slightly different list (with less years represented):

"Wedding anniversaries… hold a unique place in the life of a married couple. About the earlier ones there is an air of informality and fun that cannot but infect every guest. As the pair grows older, the celebrations become decidedly important events, and the “golden wedding” carries with it a sense of climax and fruition which makes its day a sacred one indeed.

Symbols of the conventional anniversaries are as follows:

First year: Paper
Second year: Cotton
Third year: Leather
Fourth year: Wood
Fifth year: Tin
Fifteenth year: Crystal
Twentieth year: China
Twenty-fifth year: Silver
Thirtieth year: Pearl
Fortieth year: Ruby
Fiftieth year: Gold
Seventy-fifth year: Diamond

The comedy possibilities of informal entertainments given on the first and second anniversaries are realized to the full by those who gather to congratulate a happy young couple. Nor do the bride and bridegroom ~ who, after the first anniversary may count themselves graduated from the newly married status ~ fail to take advantage of the amusing opportunities for table and house decorations."

The author then goes on to describe some of the party antics that could occur, including this crazy idea, for the paper anniversary: “Both hostess and women guests sometimes where entire costumes of crêpe paper.” Or, at the Leather Wedding anniversary: “as far as decorations and costumes go, is apt to be a thing of shifts and straits.” I can’t wait til that third year!


Hallowe’en Suggestions

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Hi kids! It’s Halloween time again (or Hallowe’en, if you celebrated this back in 1905). I consulted with Mrs. Herbert B. Linscott’s Bright Ideas for Entertaining to find some fun party tips for you this year. First, some decorating ideas:


Have mirrors everywhere: big mirrors, medium-sized mirrors, and little, wee mirrors, all reflecting and multiplying countless candles that burn in candlesticks of every description (most novel are those made from long-necked gourds and tiny squashes).

Across the top and down the sides of each doorway hang festoons of yellow and white corn and turn the husks back to show the firm, glistening kernels. Each window can be garlanded in like manner as well as the tops of mantels and picture frames. Here and there, in the most unexpected corners, can be placed Jack-o’-lanterns, smiling or gnashing their teeth, amid great shocks of corn. The great hall and stairway can be draped with fish-nets through the meshes or which are thrust many ears of corn. A stately Jack must point the guests up the stairs where two other individuals will usher them to the dressing-rooms.


And now, for some games!


In [a] doorway hang a big pear-shaped pumpkin, on whose shining surfaces all the letters of the alphabet have been burned with a hot poker. Keep this rapidly twirling while the guests, in turn, try to stab some letter with long meat-skewers. The  letter that is hit will establish beyond question the initial letter of one’s fate.

Place in a tub of water red, yellow and green apples. Provide each guest with a toy bow and arrow. The young man or maiden who succeeds in firing an arrow into a red apple will be assured of good health; plenty of money is in store for shooting arrows into yellow ones; and good luck is in store for those hitting the green ones.

Blindfold each girl present and, presenting her with a wand, lead her to a table on which have been placed flags of the different men’s colleges. The flag her wand happens to touch will indicate the college of her future husband.


And finally, the author rounds out the party plan with some food suggestions: “Browning nuts, popping corn, roasting apples, and toasting marshmallows will add a great deal of pleasure to the evening.”  Yum!

For more Halloween tips, visit this earlier post.

Happy Halloween!

How to Distinguish Death

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

in case there is great doubtThis week’s selection is from Professor T. W. Shannon’s Nature’s Secrets Revealed: Scientific Knowledge of The Laws of Sex Life and Heredity or, Eugenics. You never know ~ this might come in handy someday.

1916: How to Distinguish Death

As many instances occur of parties being buried alive, they being to all appearances dead, the great importance of knowing how to distinguish real from imaginary death need not be explained. The appearances which mostly accompany death, are an entire stoppage of breathing, of the heart’s action; the eyelids are partly closed, the eyes glassy, and the pupils usually dilated; the jaws are clenched, the fingers partially contracted, and the lips and nostrils more or less covered with frothy mucus, with increasing pallor and coldness of surface, and the muscles soon become rigid and the limbs fixed in their position. But as these same conditions may also exist in certain other cases of suspended animation, great care should be observed, whenever there is the least doubt concerning it, to prevent the unnecessary crowding of the room in which the corpse is, or of parties crowding around the body; nor should the body be allowed to remain lying on the back without the tongue being so secured as to prevent the glottis or orifice of the windpipe being closed by it; nor should the face be closely covered; nor rough usage of any kind be allowed. In case there is great doubt, the body should not be allowed to be inclosed in the coffin, and under no circumstances should burial be allowed until there are unmistakable signs of decomposition.

Source: Shannon, T. W. Nature’s Secrets Revealed: Scientific Knowledge of The Laws of Sex Life and Heredity, or Eugenics. Marietta, Ohio: S. A. Mullikin Co., 1916.
~ pp. 503-504 ~

Building a New Disposition

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

lead pure livesThis one seems appropriate to start out the new year. It’s from Vivilore: The Pathway to Mental and Physical Perfection, which was written in 1904 by Mary Ries Melendy. I wonder if folks one hundred years ago resolved to do this or that around December 31st?

1904: Building a New Disposition

I. Never look on the dark side of anything. If it has no bright side, don’t look at it at all. Look at something else.

II. Never speak or even think ill of another. Don’t “jump at conclusions” by judging unfavorably even if circumstances are suspicious.

III. Never take any desired favor for granted. If you follow this rule you should never need fear being cheated or disappointed.

IV. Try to find something good in every person you meet.

V. Read good books, think good thoughts, lead pure lives, observing the laws of health.

These habits once formed become literal brain-paths along which it grows easier and easier for the thoughts to travel, bringing gladness, health and symmetry to every nerve and tissue. In countless cases such results have been achieved.

Source: Melendy, Dr. Mary Ries. Vivilore: The Pathway to Mental and Physical Perfection. Chicago: W. R. Vansant, 1904.
~ p. 83 ~

Advice to Cooks

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

a good cook wastes nothingThis past weekend I found the perfect birthday gift for my dear friend Sarah. The Thermo-Spoon, in its original package and still containing the illustrated recipe book, looked as if it had never been used in the thirty-some-odd years since it was marketed. I don’t know why ~ according to the instructions, as you stir your pot of soup or pudding the handy thermometer on the tip kicks into action. What a tool! Every home should have one.

Unfortunately it did not work when we tried it out at her party, but it got me thinking about cooking. So here’s a few tips from the Household Guide for all you kitchen-gadget-loving people like me.

1902: Advice to Cooks

Importance of Cooking. No matter how large the establishment, no person holds a more important part than the cook, for with her rests not only the comfort, but the health of those she serves, and we would warn all cooks not to make light of their responsibilities, but to study diligently the tastes and wishes of all those for whom they have to prepare food.

Cleanliness. A dirty kitchen is a disgrace, both to mistress and maid, and cleanliness is a most essential ingredient in the art of cooking. It takes no longer to have a clean and orderly kitchen than an untidy and dirty one, for the time that is spent in keeping it in good order is saved when cooking operations are going on and everything is clean and it its place.

Dress. When at your work, dress suitably; wear short, plain clothes, well-fitting boots, and large aprons with bibs, of which every cook and kitchen maid should have a good supply, and you will be comfortable as you never can be with long dresses, small aprons, and slipshod shoes, the latter being most trying in a warm kitchen.

Kitchen Supplies. Do not let your stock of pepper, salt, spices, seasonings, etc., dwindle so low that there is danger, in the midst of preparing dinner, that you find yourself minus some very important ingredient, thereby causing much confusion and annoyance.

~ ~ ~

Golden Rules for the Kitchen.

Without cleanliness and punctuality good cooking is impossible.
Leave nothing dirty; clean and clear as you go.
A time for everything and everything in time.
A good cook wastes nothing.
An hour lost in the morning has to be run after all day.
Haste without hurry saves worry, fuss and flurry.
Stew boiled is stew spoiled.
Strong fire for roasting.
Clear fire for broiling.
Wash vegetable in three waters.
Boil fish quickly, meat slowly.

Source: Jefferis, Prof. B. G. The Household Guide, or Domestic Cyclopedia. Atlanta, Ga.: J. L. Nichols & Co., 1902.
~ pp. 403-04 ~


Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Sweet home! Beautiful home! Glorious home!I’m back from my “oh-my-gawd-I’ve-actually-been-to-ten-states-in-two-weeks” summer trip. Don’t ask. While gone, I thought fondly of friends, loved ones, and my sweet pup, and couldn’t wait to be back in my own apartment. Here’s an excerpt on the joys of home, from The Household Guide, or Domestic Cyclopedia, written by Professor B. G. Jefferis and J. L. Nichols. While their description gets a bit wild at the end, it seemed appropriate.

1902: Home

Home! What a Hallowed Name. ~ How full of enchantment and how dear to the heart! Home is the magic circle within which the weary spirit finds refuge; it is the sacred asylum to which the care-worn heart retreats to find rest from the toils and inquietudes of life.

What is Home? ~ Ask the lone wanderer as he plods his tedious way, bent with the weight of age, and white with the frost of years, ask him, what is home? He will tell you, ‘it is a green spot in memory; an oasis in the desert; a center about which the fondest recollections of his grief-oppressed heart cling with all the tenacity of youth’s first love. It was once a glorious, a happy reality, but now it rests only as an image of the mind.’

Peace at Home. ~ Peace at home, that is the boon. ‘He is the happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.’ Home should be made so truly home that the weary tempted heart could turn toward it anywhere on the dusty highway of life and receive light and strength; should be the sacred refuge of our lives, whether rich or poor. The ties that bind the wealthy and the proud to home may be forged on earth, but those which link the poor man to his humble hearth are of true metal and bear the stamp of heaven.

Home. ~ Let thrones rot and empires wither. Home! Let the world die in earthquake struggles, and be buried amid procession of planets and dirge of spheres. Home! Let everlasting ages roll in irresistible sweep. Home! No sorrow, no crying, no tears, no death; but home! Sweet home! Beautiful home! Glorious home! Everlasting home! Home with each other! Home with angels! Home with God! Home, home!

Source: Jefferis, Prof. B. G. The Household Guide, or Domestic Cyclopedia. Atlanta, Ga.: J. L. Nichols & Co., 1902.
~ pp. 22-24 ~

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

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Trying to figure out what to get that hard-to-shop-for relative? Welcome to the fourth annual collection of gift ideas. This year, more than ever, many are seeking comfort in books, but you’re probably stumped about what your family might like to read. Miss Abigail, nonfiction book wiz, is here to help.

The advertisements following were found in the back of some of my old books.




“Westland’s Tocology for Mothers”: “Indispensible to every wife and mother,” reads the ad, and I’d have to agree. What mom wouldn’t love to read about all of this fun stuff? [ca. 1908]

“Daddy Must Leave Tobacco on Shelf”:Dad, please give the gift of your life and health to your children. Order this pamphlet today and stop smoking before your daughter starts speaking like this! [ca. 1920]

“A Book About the Pet Canary” would be fitting for just about any family member. Junior might not be ready for the responsibility of a puppy, but might enjoy raising a bird, or granny may find comfort in the company of a canary while grandad is off playing golf at the country club. [ca. 1908]

“Dr. Foote’s White Lily Sanitary Tampons”: This one isn’t a book, but what teenage girl doesn’t want tampons for Christmas? Makes a perfect stocking stuffer. [ca. 1908]

“Better than Beauty”: OK, that last one wasn’t fair. Here’s a “blessing” that sis will really appreciate. [1933]

“Hair Culture”: Last but not least, dad or grandpa will certainly enjoy this exciting read. The caption for the illustration above reads “You would not think to look at Mr. Macfadden’s luxuriant growth of hair that at one time he was in grave danger of becoming bald.” Is your father in danger? Get this book at once! [1923]

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 ~

Hello? Anyone “At Home”?

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

she is prepared by three o'clockQ Dear Miss Abigail:

What was the meaning of “at home” when visitors presented a calling card? Were some people at home to visitors on designated days?


A Dear Win:

You got it, babe. Here’s a little description of this long-forgotten tradition (hoorah for us). It’s from a book titled Correct Social Usage, which was published in 1907 by the New York Society of Self-Culture. Eighteen people contributed to this volume, including Ella Wheeler Wilcox and Margaret E. Sangster, authors of some of the other books in my collection.

1907: Receiving Calls

Ladies who receive their callers on one afternoon of each week or fortnight, keep what is now commonly known as a ‘Day at Home.’ The hostess should then be prepared to receive the first callers at three o’clock in the afternoon, or after four, or exactly according to the hour specified, if one is specified, on the cards she issues at the beginning of the season. Such cards are described in the chapter on Cards, page 213 [Sorry, Miss Abigail is not including this chapter here. It’s quite long!]. As a rule, the hour is not specified and the hostess may look for her very promptest callers a few moments after three and for her tardiest before half-past five. When a day at home is kept, the hostess usually prepares some light refreshment for her guests. . . .

The lady who keeps a regular day contents herself with the modest tea table beside her chair, and arrayed in a graceful high-necked, long-sleeved and slightly-trained house dress, she is prepared by three o’clock to greet her earliest callers. A hostess rises and steps forward to greet every caller, she offers her hand with cordial words of welcome and sees that the newcomer is comfortably seated near her and offered a cup of tea.

Source: New York Society of Self-Culture (18 authors). Correct Social Usage. New York: New York Society of Self-Culture, 1907.
~ pp. 191-92 ~

Sidewalk Manners

Monday, August 16th, 2010

I think there are two types of people in the world: those who never move to the side to let another walker pass easily, and those polite, considerate, charming, lovely sidewalk shifters who gladly step aside when confronted with someone straight ahead. I’m a shifter, of course ~ always have been, always will.

Who knows what the heck that means, but when I saw this next excerpt, I just had to share. It’s from The Polite Pupil, brought to us by “the Brothers of Mary for the use of Catholic Parochial and High Schools.”

1905: Sidewalk Manners

When walking in company with others, give the middle place to the most distinguished person. If a single companion, give him the right-hand side; however, in case you turn back, do not change your position. On the sidewalk, give the person you wish to honor the inside of the walk. If, on turning a corner, you wish to change your position, be sure to pass behind and not in front of your companion.

When mounting a stairway, a gentleman always precedes a lady; but in descending, the gentleman steps back to let the lady pass down first.

When passing others, always keep to the right; you will thus avoid confusion and possible collisions. Never brush against or elbow people that are passing by. If, by accident, you stumble against others, or inconvenience them in any way, do not fail to apologize.

When walking alone, never turn your head to look behind you, but rather stop and turn about. It is very rude to turn and stare at a person passing by. School-children are often too thoughtless and selfish to give others share of the walk. We often see three or four girls walking along arm in arm, taking up the entire sidewalk, so that others must step off the walk to let them pass. Politeness requires that the younger give the older the greater part of the walk, or all of it, if need be.

Source: Brothers of Mary. The Polite Pupil. Dayton, Ohio: Nazareth, 1905.
~ pp. 79-80 ~