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 ‘1910s’

Personality: How to Exert It (1915)

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

“Personality is defined as the qualities or characteristics, personal traits or attributes peculiar to some individual. Specifically, it is that quality which sustains poise through self-control in the face of propitious or unpropitious circumstances,” asserts the preface of H. Laurent’s Personality: How to Build It, which I picked up in Austin last weekend. Do you need to go look up propitious? It’s okay, take your time. I don’t think that word’s been used much lately, except maybe in the National Spelling Bee.

This chapter, titled “Personality: How to Exert It” seemed to be a good one to excerpt for the blog. I found the part on “learn to judge everything for yourself” fitting, given the recent hullabaloo over a certain trial in Florida and some jurors, who were no doubt trying to just do the job they were asked to do, despite the media frenzy.

"In everything, even in the smallest things, get the habit of acting for yourself, without following either the example or the advice you have received. Change them according to your own judgment. Make a style of your own. Do not imitate. It is by imitating that everything original is oneself.

No one in the world is exactly like another. The Creator fashioned us all after a different model. It is ourselves who, by some deplorable turn of our character, have made ourselves all about the same. Follow the laws of nature. Live your own life.

The first thing to avoid is that chronic and contagious folly, fashion, which changes our habits, our thoughts, our body and our life. Accept it only in reasonable form, follow it from a distance and under the least enslaving form.

Conserve your innate originality. Don’t be dragged into tastes which are not your own. Defend yourself against any characteristic of others. Learn to judge everything for yourself without being the perfect repeater of the judgments of others.

It is better to be paradoxical than void of all personality. For there is alway time afterward to correct one’s judgment according to the truth or justice. It gives the mind a chance to work independently, without any help from the brains of others.

Accustom yourself as soon as possible to analytical study. Carefully cultivate your intellect, make things clear to yourself, appraise at its own value what you know well and compare your analyses, your judgments with those already made. Learn to like the unexpected, the new, avoid routine. Be bold, go on ahead. Personality and originality avoid everything that is commonplace.

Practice patience also, kindness to others and will-power. Having developed personality, remember that it should be asserted, and that this exercise is the most difficult part of your task. It depends solely on yourself. Little by little acquire the necessary forces to affirm it."

How to Cure Chapped Lips (1916)

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Wondering how to cure chapped lips?

Instructions from a 1916 book by Professor T. W. Shannon:


Take 2 ounces of white wax, I ounce of spermaceti, 4 ounces of oil of almonds, 2 ounces of honey, 1/4 of an ounce of essence of bergamot, or any other scent. Melt the wax and spermaceti; then add the honey, and melt all together, and when hot add the almond oil by degrees, stirring until cold.

2. Take oil of almonds 3 ounces; spermaceti, 1/2 ounce; virgin rice, 1/2 ounce. Melt these together over a slow fire, mixing with them a little powder of alkane root to color it. Keep stirring till cold, and then add a few drops of the oil of rhodium.

3. Take oil of almonds, spermaceti, white wax and white sugar candy, equal parts.

These form a good, white lip salve.


Instructions from Miss Abigail, 2011:


1. Head on over to your local drugstore, down the toothpaste isle, and purchase lip balm.

2. Even easier: click here, pick one, place order. Wait until delivered.

These provide good, white (possible other colors) lip salves.



How to Tell Disposition and Character by the Nose

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

The Grotke Nose

I’m digging around my books looking for things to feature in a holiday gift ideas post, but came across this and thought you might enjoy. It’s from Professor Jefferis’ and J.L. Nichols’ Search Lights on Health: Light on Dark Corners, which was published in 1911. This book is packed with information about sex, purity, love, courtship, marriage, families, diseases and other health related topics. It’s all here, including a whole section on “How to Read Character,” with the first part focusing on the nose…


1. Large Noses. ~ Bonaparte chose large-nosed men for his generals, and the opinion prevails that large noses indicate long heads and strong minds. Not that great noses cause great minds, but that the motive or powerful temperament cause both.

2. Flat Noses. ~ Flat noses indicate flatness of mind and character, by indicating a poor, low organic structure.

3. Broad Noses. ~ Broad noses indicate large passageways to the lungs, and this, large lungs and vital organs, and this, great strength of constitution, and hearty animal passions along with selfishness; for broad noses, broad shoulders, broad heads, and large animal organs go together. But when the nose is narrow at the base, the nostrils are small, because the lungs are small and need but small avenues for air; and this indicates a predisposition to consumptive complaints, along with an inactive brain and nervous system, and a passionate fondness for literary pursuits.

4. Sharp Noses. ~ Sharp noses indicate a quick, clear, penetrating, searching, knowing sagacious mind, and also a scold; indicate warmth of love, hate, generosity, moral sentiment ~ indeed, positiveness in everything.

5. Blunt Noses. ~ Blunt noses indicate and accompany obtuse intellects and perceptions, sluggish feelings, and a soulless character.

6. Roman Noses. ~ The Roman Nose indicates a martial spirit, love of debate, resistance, and strong passions, while hallow, pug noses indicate a tame, easy, inert, sly character, and straight, finely-formed Grecian noses harmonious characters. Seek their acquaintance.


The other ways to read character, according to the authors, are by:

  • Stature
  • The Walk
  • Laughing
  • The Mode of Shaking Hands
  • The Mouth and Eyes
  • Color of the Hair
  • a few bonus “secretive dispositions”

I’ll take requests if anyone would like to learn more about any of the above!

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.”

Dressing Appropriately

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010
Geraldine Farrar

Geraldine Farrar, "whose individuality seems always to demand clothes extraordinaire - clothes that express the elegance of the opera"

I thought I’d do a bit more research on what might be appropriate to wear this weekend at the opening of the play inspired by my book, Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, or at any theatrical production, for that matter (as I’m now a season ticket-holder at Arena Stage in D.C.). I consulted with Mary Brooks Picken’s 1918 book titled The Secrets of Distinctive Dress. The author had this to say on dressing appropriately for the theater: “What you should wear to the theater depends largely on the seat you are to occupy. It is perfectly correct to wear the same garments and accessories as are provided for Informal Theater if a theater box is to be occupied; and it is very much better taste to do so if the trip to the theater is not made in a private conveyance.”

Ms. Picken goes on to talk more about formal wear:


Rather than slavishly follow the prevailing mode, you will find that the most beautiful, and decidedly the most practical, evening clothes are those which are designed to suit you, because they can be used for more than one season.

Formal dress should depend on the beauty of fabric and color, rather than on intricate style. Informal evening dress is best when made of inexpensive fabrics, with more regard to design, for such garments are subject to harder usage than the more formal evening gowns, and as they are worn oftener they have shorter life.

If your circumstances are moderate, one evening wrap of conservative design, color, and fabric should serve you at least two years, and for all seasons except summer.

Garments of unlined silk or of knitted or crocheted silk or wool are acceptable for summer.

If you are not accustomed to attending many formal affairs and attend more afternoon than evening functions, you should select an afternoon coat of neutral tone or very dark shade, and a style and fabric equally suitable for afternoon and evening wear.


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. II

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

gift counselorWelcome to the second annual selection of gift ideas from Miss Abigail’s Time Warp Advice.

Burned out on shopping? This year I’m bringing you some ideas for gift certificates. I’m sure your loving family and friends will appreciate them more than a boring old tie or necklace.

The pictures are from my collection of books, but the captions are mine.

Happy Holidays!




I’m quite confident that just about any mother would delight in an afternoon appointment with a masseuse.

backrub for mommy

Adventure vacations are all the rage this year, so I hear. I bet dad would just love a trip to Africa!

adventure trip for dad

Kids have a ball when given the opportunity to dance. How about paying for a few lessons for your favorite teen and his or her date?

dancing for the teens

Hey Grandpa! Those grandkids sure are blowing a lot of money at the mall and on the Internet, aren’t they? It’s up to you to help those kids start saving. Now go out there and buy them some savings bonds. They’ll thank you for it later. I promise.

start saving now

And last but not least ~ if I were you I wouldn’t even consider Pokemon this year. Instead, treat your favorite little boy to a trip to the hair stylist instead. He’ll remember this gift ~ and you ~ forever.

getting a trim

Gift Counsellor Source: Woods, Marjorie Binford and Justine Feely. Off to the Right Start in Choosing Your Household Treasures. Indianapolis, Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1955.
~ p. 12 ~

Massage Source: Reiff, Florence M. Steps in Home Living. Peoria, Ill.: Chas. A. Bennett Co., 1966
~ p. 99 ~

Africa Source: Source: Hopton, Ralph Y. and Anne Balliol. Bed Manners and Better Bed Manners. New York: Arden Book Company, 1934
~ p. 69 ~

Dance Source: McDermott, Irene E. and Florence Nicholas. Living For Young Moderns. Chicago: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1956.
~ p. 373 ~

Savings Source: Calvert, Maude Richman. First Course in Home Making. Atlanta, Ga.: Turner E. Smith Company,1928.
~ p. 252 ~

Haircut Source: Various. Every Woman’s Encyclopedia. London, England: n.p., ca. 1912.
~ p. 5235 ~

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 ~


Sunday, August 15th, 2010

the phlegmatic man will live longerRoad trip to Buffalo! I am heading out this week to visit dear old dad and sweet Grandma Rose, who turns 88 next month (Happy Birthday!). Her youthfulness got me thinking ~ will I be grow to be that age? Will I have her fabulous health and sense of humor? Is my career affecting my longevity? While searching for the answers, I found this helpful table from Light on Dark Corners.

By the way, this book was published in 1911, the year that Grandma was born. I’m going to have to ask her if she knows what those “Coopers,” “Calico Printers,” and “Operatives” doexactly.

1911: Longevity

The following table exhibits very recent mortality statistics, showing the average duration of life among persons of various classes:

Employment. Years.
Judges…………………. 65
Farmers……………….. 64
Bank Officers…………. 64
Coopers……………….. 58
Public Officers………… 57
Clergymen…………….. 56
Shipwrights……………. 55
Hatters…………………. 54
Lawyers……………….. 54
Rope Makers…………… 54
Blacksmiths……………. 51
Merchants………………. 51
Calico Printers…………. 51
Physicians……………… 51
Butchers……………….. 50
Carpenters……………… 49
Masons………………… 48
Traders…………………. 46
Tailors…………………. 44
Jewelers……………….. 44
Manufacturers…………. 43
Bakers…………………. 43
Painters………………… 43
Shoemakers……………. 43
Mechanics……………… 43
Editors…………………. 40
Musicians……………… 39
Printers………………… 38
Machinists……………… 36
Teachers……………….. 34
Clerks………………….. 34
Operatives……………… 32

It will be easily seen, by these figures, how a quiet or tranquil life affects longevity. The phlegmatic man will live longer, all other things being equal, than the sanguine, nervous individual. Marriage is favorable to longevity, and it has also been ascertained that women live longer than men.

Source: Jefferis, B. G., and J. L. Nichols. Search Lights, or, Light on Dark Corners. Naperville, Ill.: J. L. Nichols & Co., 1911.
~ pp. 367 ~

To Retain Youthful Looks

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

wisdom comes with yearsPlease join me in celebrating my Grandma Rose’s birthday! She’s the most wonderful, joyful Grandma in the whole wide world, and maker of some pretty dang perfect mashed potatoes and the best grilled cheese sandwiches that I’ve ever had. Here’s a tidbit from a book titled How to Secure a Beautiful Complexion and Beautiful Eyes, published in the year of Grandma’s birth. It seems quite fitting, considering that she doesn’t look a day over seventy.

1911: To Retain Youthful Looks

Countless fortunes have been spent in searching for the Fountain of Youth, but never will this fountain be found until the searcher looks within. The secret lies there, open to the gaze of him who knows how to search, but, like all of nature’s secrets, it can not be purchased with money.

Birth is usually regarded as the beginning of life, and death as its end, but this is a mistaken view. The process of life is going on continuously; every second, every minute, every hour of the day we are casting off old material with every exhalation, and drawing in new material with every inhalation; it is a perpetual ‘beginning and ending during the whole of life. Every draught of water swallowed, every particle of food eaten, helps to keep this process of change in constant operation. Our hair, flesh, teeth, bones and every part of our bodies is practically renewed every few months, but so gently and so subtly does this change take place that we never become aware of it.’ . . .

When your birthday comes around do not sign over the fact that you are a year older; think rather with pleasure of all that has been accomplished during the year past and make plans for the year coming.

The thought that your body is a year older than last birthday is not correct; it is rather like a river, the waters of which rush rapidly onward and will never be seen again, yet the river remains, its waters continue to flow; they are constantly new waters, but the river is the same, rushing towards the sea with the same vigor, though centuries pass away.

Nature will attend to the changes with little help on your part, but you are the architect and must furnish the material. Every one can be master of his own body and has it within his power to make whatsoever alterations he desires. Mind does control matter and wisdom comes with years.

Source: Clarke, James J. How to Secure a Beautiful Complexion and Beautiful Eyes. Chicago: Advanced Thought Publishing, 1911.
~ pp. 92-93 ~