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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!

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Posts Tagged ‘1920s’

1928: Installing a Shower-Bath

Monday, December 19th, 2011

We’re in the midst of planning a bathroom renovation, and although the driving force behind it is to replace the tub with a deep one that I can actually bathe in, I was amused to find this advice about “Installing a Shower-Bath.” It appears in The House-Owner’s Book, written by Allen L. Churchill and Leonard Wickenden in 1928 (the decade our house was born). The book is mostly for those constructing their own new houses, and is beyond my expertise, but I did also enjoy the chapter on “Special Appliances” where they describe, among other things, an “Iceless Ice-box”; an in-house system to burn your own garbage to then fuel the house; and a central vacuum cleaning system which will “be as common, in a few years, as central heat.” Sounds an awful lot like my mom and stepdad’s whole house vacuum that was installed when they built their house a few years ago, still a pretty rare item in today’s homes.

But I digress ~ back to the bathroom!

"If no house is complete without a bathroom, no bathroom is complete without a shower-bath. It is no so long ago that the man who proclaimed that he preferred a shower- to a tub-bath was considered a freak or a poser. But those days are past. It is now recognized that a shower-bath is not only more invigorating,~ it is more cleansing. Fresh water constantly pours upon the body, washing away all impurities, and producing a sensation of cleanliness and well-being which the tub-bath can never give. . . .

The ordinary head-shower is sometimes unpopular with the women of the household because, with it, there is difficulty in avoiding wetting the hair. The type of shower which sprays water onto the body in a semi-horizontal manner usually finds more favor with them. It is claimed that with this type of shower, no curtain is needed because the water strikes the body at such an angle that it runs directly downward into the bath. This may be true if the user is of a placid disposition and takes his shower-bath in a calm and dignified manner. With most men, however, the sensation of water raining onto their bodies causes them to inflate their chests, and fling their limbs about generally. In any case, a shower-bath loses a good deal of its fun if one has to bear constantly in mind the need of avoiding violent activity, so that the curtain will usually be found well worth the slight extra cost."

Personal Hygiene for Young Women and Men (1920s)

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

For my day job, I work at the Library of Congress helping archive the Internet, and I don’t often get to see the physical stuff in our collections. So when a colleague tipped me off to some amazing films from the 1920s that had apparently been in our nitrate vault and scored by another colleague, I was really excited! These predecessors to the health and hygiene films of the 1950s are fantastic. I posted these over on Facebook but they deserve a more permanent blog post, so here you are:

First up is one for the men:

 

And even better, one for the young ladies:

 

Enjoy!

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 PAPER WEDDING

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!

 

Retaining the Sweetness of Love (1923)

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Here wraps up the tale of Richard and Sallie (featured recently in how to win a woman, from Elinor Glyn’s The Philosophy of Love. Glyn summarizes how this couple should work to keep their love going:

~~

To keep love it requires the united effort of Richard and Sallie! It cannot be a one-sided affair!

To put the matter concisely:

(1) Love is caused by some attracting vibrations emanating from the two participants which draw each to each.

(2) Thus love depends, not upon the will of the individual, but upon what attracting power is in the other person.

(3) Thus obviously it lies with each to cultivate and continue to project the emanation if either desire to retain the love emotion of the other.

(4) When these points are clearly understood, intelligence can suggest the most suitable methods to use to accomplish the desired end, namely, the retaining of the power to draw love mutually.

So, as in everything we do in life, is it not well to use some intelligence and though over the great matters of Love?

For cynics may say what they please ~ Love is the supreme and only perfect happiness on earth. Everything else is second best ~ often a very good second, but nowhere near the real thing.

So why, when love is bound to come to us all sooner or later, not try to retain its sweetness?

~~

How to Win a Woman, part II (1923)

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Recently, I featured some advice from the lovely and talented Elinor Glyn on how to win a woman. Excerpted from her 1923 book The Philosophy of Love, Glyn tells the story of Richard, who is trying to woo his love, Sallie. We left off wondering if any of Glyn’s tips might have paid off for our dear sweet Richard. Let’s read on and see…

~~

He has met Sallie several times, but seems not to have been able to make much advance. He has been just ordinary and has talked of the everlasting old things that he has talked to every girl about since he first went to school. Now the next time they meet he must turn the conversation on to personal things and get her to tell him her likes and her tastes; he must make her talk about herself (not a very difficult matter with most women!), and he must plainly show his interest. He must let her feel her maneuvering to be alone with her and desires her company. And the more he lets her see that his character is strong, the more he will attract her.

It is not of the slightest consequence how masterful a man shows himself to be, if at the same time he is a passionate lover ~ the woman in the case will always adore him. It is coldness and casualness which disillusionise, and, as I said in another chapter, above all, mulish wordlessness!

~~

Glyn goes on to give some examples of ways to show that a man loves a woman, depending on the type of girl she is and what she might respond to. It’s quite long so I will cut to the chase and get back to how Richard and Sallie are doing, in particular:

~~

When he is quite sure that she loves him, and when the psychological moment has arrived that he asks her to marry him, he must see that his caresses are tender as well as passionate, for exquisite caresses are the strongest of love awakeners. The touch of a hand in passing is enough to make a delicious thrill! It starts the working of the magnet, and that is why continuous flirtations are so stupid.

Lovers always like to be close together. And if touching grows to mean nothing to them, then they may know very well that the intoxication is over, and at best a friendship is between them. Love always manifest itself in the desire to touch the Beloved One.

When Richard marries Sallie he can almost certainly keep her in love with him if he desires to do so. He has only to remain a masterful and fond lover to accomplish this miracle, and not subside into the usual stodgy, complacent husband, absorbed in business and too tired when he comes home to be agreeable!

~~

In my next post, I’ll share some parting thoughts from Glyn on how Richard and Sallie (and all of you out there) might keep that love going.

How to Win a Woman, part 1 (1923)

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

This weekend prior to Valentine’s day, I return to Elinor Glyn’s The Philosophy of Love, which is a wonderful little book from 1923. In this excerpt, from a chapter titled “The Man’s Side,” the author provides advice to the fictional Richard, about the object of his love, Sallie:

~~

A young man should be very sure that it is the special woman who is drawing him strongly, and that he is not just imagining that she is his heart’s desire because he himself is experiencing the desire to love. Do make your own examination of your emotions, Richard, when you first fall in love with some girl ~ that is, first experience that drawing sensation which makes you desire to be near her, and causes your heart to beat, and gives you a sense of exaltation. Do ask yourself if she is appealing to your mind or your soul ~ whether you feel degraded or uplifted in spirit after you have spent some time with her. Because if it is only the physical she is appealing to, you have not much chance of future happiness with her ~ and you had better crush the feeling before it has gone too far and landed you in a morass….

Men are absolutely idiotic about women once they fall in love. They cannot see their faults; they appear to have no intuition which warns them they are being deceived; they are bamboozled and led by affectations which would not for an instant impose upon women! But because men’s senses are delighted, their reason sleeps, and they court their own unhappiness.

So do try to remain awake, Richard, and strip off the glamour from your emotion for Sallie, and see if there is “anything to it.” We will suppose you do this, and find she is quite a nice girl really, regardless of her attractions; then go ahead!

Show her that you like her, and think of little things to please her ~ she will be greatly touched if you do. Make her feel that you respect as well as love her, but that you do not intend to stand any nonsense, and the first time that she is capricious and unreasonable let her see that you resent it and will not be made a fool of.

If she is fond of you she will not want to lose you, and if she is not, you had better retire in any case ~ the abject lover is such a pitiful creature! But to make her love you in the beginning, when she seems to be indifferent, you must use intelligence.

Nothing pleases a woman so much as a quiet self-confidence in a man and his showing that he is taking trouble about her. If he asks her out to dinner, that he has arranged everything for her comfort; if he is to meet her anywhere, that he is not casual about it.

Any action which suggests to the woman that the man has used thought about her is delightful to her self-love.

Audacity, when it does not develop into impertinence, is also a great charm!

~~

Curious to see how things turn out for Richard and Sallie? Tune in to my next installment

Thanksgiving Parties

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

I spend every other Thanksgiving with family on Sanibel Island in Florida. It’s always a bit odd to eat turkey and mashed potatoes at picnic tables alongside the beach, but we make it work. We have our own games and traditions, including an ornament decorating contest using natural items from the beaches (I am SO winning this year! Take that, Johns Family!). Last time we did a tag-team sort of race (which I lost for our team, quite miserably).

Continuing with this theme of advice for a holidays, I thought I would find some Thanksgiving party ideas that might help you start your own traditions. Here’s a few from the 1928 edition of How to Entertain at Home. These are sure to be crowd-pleasers!

~~

Rollicking games and stunts that “have a big laugh in them” are indispensable to a party where young people are present. Some good ones are described here.

Sports with doughnuts are highly seasonable at this feast of New England origin. A good one is a race in which players kneel on one knee with hands clasped behind their backs and pursue with the teeth wobbly doughnuts suspended on strings. The player first to devour his cake (without touching it with his hands) wins the race.

“Thanksgiving Dinner” is a nonsense game or stunt which can be enjoyed after the feast on the great day, or after a Thanksgiving supper at the church, if weighing scales are on hand. Each person is asked to step on the scales and “see how heavy a dinner he has eaten.” The mistress of ceremonies singles out some vivacious persons of both sexes, weighing a little lighter or heavier than the usual run. These are pronounced to have eaten too much or too little, according to their appearance and weight, and are sentenced to perform stunts for the amusement of the company.

Very jolly and yet very easy to prepare is a Thanksgiving Contest. Give each player a carrot or turnip (all vegetables to be in the same class, however) and ask him to “carve the turkey.” The entertainer can furnish knives but should anyone have a favorite penknife he is allowed to use it. The idea of the contest is to carve the vegetable provided, into little replicas of the November bird. The turkey can be presented either as living or on the platter. The best sculpture wins the prize.

~~

Make Success Visible

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

saturate your mind with hopeI won’t go into details, but last week my coworkers and I were in need of a little cheering up so I turned to Edith Mae Cummings’ Pots and Pans and Millions: A Study in Woman’s Right to Be in Business; her Proclivities and Capacity for Success (whew!) and found the following. It was published by the National School of Business Science for Women right here in Washington, D.C., and I do believe it has helped pull me out of my slump. If it can work for me, it can work for anyone, as long as you have hope! All righty, then!

1929: Make Success Visible

Many women form the chronic habit of indulging in fits of depressing that we call the ‘blues.’ They allow the ‘blues’ an easy entrance to their minds, in fact are always at home to them and are susceptible to every form of discouragement that comes along. Every little setback, every little difficulty, sends them into the ‘blues’ and they will say ‘what’s the use?’ As a result their work is poor and ineffective, and they do not accomplish the things they desire.

Every time you give way to discouragement, every time you are blue, you are going backward, your destructive thoughts are tearing down what you have been trying to build. One fit of discouragement ~ visualizing failure or poverty ~ will rapidly destroy the result of much triumphant thought building. Your creative forces will harmonize with your thoughts, your emotions and moods; they will create in sympathy with them.

Saturate your mind with hope, the expectation of better things, with the belief that your dreams are coming true. Be convinced that you are going to win out; let your mind rest with success thoughts. Don’t let the enemies of your success and happiness dominate in your mind or they will bring to you the condition they represent.

I know of nothing that gives more satisfaction than the consciousness that we have formed the habit of winning, the habit of victory, the habit of carrying a victorious mental attitude, of walking, acting, talking, looking like a winner. That sort of attitude always keeps the dominant, helpful qualities to the fore ~ always in the ascendancy.

One of the most obstinate of habits in life, and one fatal to efficiency, is the habit of feeling defeated.

Source: Cummings, Edith Mae. Pots and Pans and Millions. Washington, D.C.: National School of Business Science for Women, 1929.
~ pp. 277-78 ~

Things I Must Do To-day

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

reflect universal kindness[Note to Readers: This was obviously written just after 9/11…] No joking around this week, dear friends. As the helicopters pass over my Washington, D.C., home just blocks from the Capitol, I think endlessly of the friends and family and strangers touched by the horrible tragedy that was September 11. I struggled tonight to find an appropriate quote and still don’t know if this is the right one, but it’s a start. This simple selection is from Arthur Gould and E. E. and M. A. Dodson’s book titled How to Obtain Your Desires.

1923: Things I Must Do To-day

I must guard from danger through affection.

I must be strong and energetic.

Whatever I do to-day must be vital.

I must reflect universal kindness.

I must concentrate my energy, and direct it into the right channels.

I must keep my mental windows open to the sky.

I must receive nothing but good from all the world, that I may give back nothing but good to all the world.

Source: Gould, Arthur and E. E. and M. A. Dodson. How to Obtain Your Desires: Positive Thoughts Attract Success. Chicago: Advanced Thought Publishing, 1923.
~ p. 47 ~

Popular Games for Children

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

I've lost my squirrelQ Dear Miss Abigail:

What did children do for fun in the late 1800s and early 1900s? Were there some games that were popular? My daughter’s class is studying the lives of immigrant children in the years 1880 to 1920. I suspect we can’t find much because there isn’t too much on the subject. Life was pretty hard for children then? Any help is appreciated.

Signed,
Cathy

A Dear Cathy:

Coincidentally, I’ve just recently purchased Ethel Acker’s Four Hundred Games for School, Home and Playground. It was published in 1923, which is a bit outside your required dates, but many of the games are based on old ones, so says the preface. The four hundred games cover a variety of styles: counting out and choosing sides, circle games, dramatic games, singing games, mimetic games, tag games, hide and chase games, schoolroom games, special purpose games, bean bag games, ball games, athletic games, quiet games, and forfeits and stunts. I’ve picked just a few amusing ones to whet your appetite.

1923: Four Hundred Games

Have You Seen My Sheep?

The players stand in a single circle. A player in the center goes to a player in the circle and asks, ‘Have you seen my sheep?’ The one questioned asks in reply ‘How is it dressed?’ The center player then describes the clothing of some one in the ring; for example, ‘He wears a blue suit, a dotted tie, and has light hair.’ The one described runs as soon as he recognizes his description. The one questioned chases him, and if he catches the runner before he again reaches his place in the circle, the runner becomes the next questioner. If, however, the runner is safe the chaser becomes the questioner.

I’ve Lost My Squirrel

The children stand in a single circle, playing that they are squirrels. One child is outside looking for his squirrel which he has lost. He walks around, repeating as he goes, ‘I’ve lost my squirrel, I’ve lost my squirrel.’ Then he stops just behind some child and touches him on the shoulder, saying, ‘I’ve found my squirrel.’ At this the two run in opposite directions around the circle. The one who gets back to the open space first is safe. The other one is ‘it’ for the next game.

Pinch-O

The children stand beside each other in one line. They join hands in back. Directly in front and facing them stands the one who is ‘it.’ The line advances while ‘it’ at the same time walks backward. The child at one end of the line calls ‘Pinch!’ and pinches the hand of the child next him. The pinch is passed along the line to the last child who calls ‘O!’ when pinched. As soon as the others hear the ‘O’ they turn and run back to a predetermined goal, and ‘it’ gives chase. Those who are caught by the one who is ‘it’ help to catch the others in the next game, or the first one caught may exchange places with the one who is ‘it.’ The children must be careful not to show by their faces where the ‘pinch’ is. For variation of the game any child may call ‘O!’ when he is pinched.

Snow Man

This game affords an opportunity for legitimate snowball throwing. Any number of children may play. Two goals some distance apart are chosen. The two opposite boundaries of the playground may furnish these goals. One child is chosen to be the snow man. With a good supply of snowballs, he stations himself at a point halfway between the goals. All the other children are stationed at one of the goals. Then the snow man calls out, ‘Who’s afraid of a snow man?’ If the children hesitate at all about running, he calls out again, ‘Oh, you’re afraid of the snow man! You’re afraid!’ At that all must run to the opposite goal and the snow man proceeds to hit as many as he can before they reach goal. Any who are hit must take a place beside the snow man and make balls. Those reaching goal safely without being hit, wait there until again addressed by the snow man; then they run again to the opposite goal, and again the snow man snowballs them. The last child to be hit between goals becomes the snow man for the next game. No one hit on goal is counted out, but no one may stay on goal after the snow man calls the last sentence. As will readily be seen, this game requires a wide as well as a rather long running space.

Source: Acker, Ethel F. 400 Games for School, Home and Playground. Dansville, N.Y.: F. A. Owen Publishing Company, 1923.
~ pp. 24 -26, 100, 118 ~