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 ‘1930s’

Apparently I’ve Been Channeling My Grandmother All These Years

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Building Healthy Sex Knowledge, 1937A few months ago, my mother uncovered a college paper that my Grandmother Bailey (her mother) had written when she was at Oberlin College. She saw that the topic was right up my alley, so sent it along to me.

The paper is titled “Building Healthy Sex Knowledge” and was written for a child development course (and is marked up by the professor) by Virginia Moore Patterson 75 years ago ~ on December 15, 1937. I recently scanned the whole thing in and posted it over on Flickr.

Virginia Moore Patterson Bailey

Virginia married Allen Bailey in the summer of 1938, and they went on to have three girls (my mother is the eldest). Here’s a picture of Grandmother Bailey, in a photo dated July 1941, after they’d been married a few years. By the way, Virginia was also the one who enrolled me in charm school when I was in junior high.

Imagine my excitement to read this paper! And to see that my grandmother had cited many books that are in my own collection! They include Growing Up (I’ve got the 1945 edition), Sex Life of Youth (I’ve got the 1948 10th printing), and New Patterns in Sex Teaching (1934).

She starts out the paper by writing “One of my ‘when I grow up’ resolves has been to see that my children where not, like myself, left to their own devices to find out facts about human reproduction, or left to fantastic imaginings as substitutes for knowledge.” Hmm… Maybe my mom and my aunts can let us know how things turned out with that in the comments.

I chuckled at some of the markup, such as on page 10, where next to the text “Here there is a particularly fine presentation on the problems of necking and petting,” the professor writes “be specific here.”  She does go on to mention the “seven tests on page 66 through 72” of The Sex Life of Youth. Though I have a later edition, I excitedly turned to my copy of the book to see if those seven tests would appear, and lo and behold, they were there! I was able to read the seven tests that my grandmother had read and cited 75 years before. I won’t reproduce the full details here, but the topics were:

1) Sensual or Spiritual? How far is the petting a matter of sheer sensual gratification, without any particular respect for the person concerned, and how far is it a natural expression of an understanding which has grown up in the realm of the spirit, and which has become something rarely beautiful and respected?

2) After-Taste? What sort of a taste is left in the mind as one looks back upon the experience?

3) Mutual? Is the relationship honestly shared by both?

4) Habit-Forming? Is the petting so light or temporary that is could hardly result in the fixing of a habit, or is it intense and prolonged and oft-repeated?

5) Further Effects? Is the petting likely to lead to a loss of rational controls and to an indulgence in sex intercourse which one or both will later regret?

6) Socially Acceptable? What is the social status of the person who pets, or who refuses to pet?

7) Exclude Other Activities? What other type of enjoyment is petting preventing?

Sex Life of Youth - cover
The seven tests end with a section titled “Thoughtful Decision.” Here’s an excerpt: “Upon the answers to some such questions as these will depend the judgment in each individual case… Probably some experience with petting will lead any young person to realize the difference between physical stimulation and real love, and will thus help to avoid the difficulties which arose in some cases in which two young people, mistaking infatuation for love, become engaged as a result of a petting party.” Oh my, my grandmother was reading about petting parties possibly at the same time she was dating (and most likely engaged) to my grandfather! Scandalous!

It is refreshing to see how frank her writing is, for a woman of her age and in that era. And so very fun to learn a bit more about Virginia and her college days, and to know that she might have gotten a kick out of this Miss Abigail thing (which came about long after she died).

Thanks to mom for finding this and passing it along! And to Grandmother Bailey for writing it so many years ago.

Prostration by Heat (1931)

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog as of late. I’ve been posting over on Facebook and Twitter (the lazy blogger’s way of staying connected). The big news since I last updated here is that the Off-Broadway show that was loosely based on my book, has closed as of the end of June. It had a good long run! And the show is still playing in the Czech Republic, so that’s pretty cool. It’s also available for others to buy up the subsidiary rights.

The other news has been the crazy weather in the D.C. area this week. Between the derecho and power and cable and internet and phone outages and extreme hot temps, I think we’ve had about enough excitement. We didn’t quite hit the goal of the all-time-record of 106° yesterday here in the D.C. area, but that’s okay by me.

Besides napping yesterday and keeping cool, I spent some indoor time adding to my LibraryThing catalog. I have a backlog of books to include (at least a few hundred more), plus recent editions, like a huge tome called Domestic Medical Practice: A Household Advisor in the Treatment of Diseases, Arranged for Family Use that I got an an estate sale for $1 (score!). This book has 1463 pages of text, fabulous images, and certificates of membership in the “Domestic Medical Society” (I suppose that after you’ve read the book, you are worthy).

Certificate of Membership

The following section, titled “Prostration by Heat,” seemed particularly fitting to share today:

"This may results not only from direct exposure to the sun’s rays, but it is liable to occur under any circumstances where a person is overheated, and is more frequent in a moist atmosphere than in a dry….

The attack may come on quite suddenly, or it may be preceded by quite severe pain in the head, great sense of heat, and thirst. It is said, there is often frequent desire to make water. The patient may fall suddenly, or may gradually succumb, after having suffered a time from headache, heat, and a great sense of fatigue. The symptoms vary. Commonly, however, the pulse is frequent, though weak, in which it differs from the pulse of apoplexy, where the pulse is slow and strong. The circumstances under which a person becomes unconscious must serve to a certain extent as a guide to the unprofessional observer as to its cause, and should a person becomes unconscious when in the hot sun, or while exerting himself violently in a very highly heated atmosphere, and at the same time the skin be found very hot indeed, it would be proper to act upon the supposition the the person was suffering from sunstroke, as it is called. The danger arises from the great elevate of temperature….

hot stuff

The patient may be laid on the ground or floor, or anywhere else, and all clothing removed from the neck and chest. Ice may be applied to the head, or water may be poured over the head and neck, and even the chest. Should medical aid be within easy reach, these measures will suffice until its arrival….

It should be remembered that sunstroke is a grave accident, and its treatment should not be trusted to domestic remedies, since it is impossible to so describe its symptoms or treatment, as to safely guide an unskilled person in caring for a difficult case….

A person who has a slight attack of sunstroke as manifested by headache, dizziness, and great heat, should under no circumstances, after having been relieved by cold water and rest, return at once to work, since he is liable to suffer again, even more severely than at first."

The above image, while it was in this book, didn’t technically go with this section, but I thought it was amusing!



1930: How to Be a Successful [November] Hostess

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

In honor of Thanksgiving week, and since many of you are probably entertaining friends or relatives in the coming days, I thought I’d bring you a bit of advice from a book I picked up while on summer vacation: How to be a Successful Hostess. Published in 1930 and written by Charlotte Clarke and Thelma B. Clarke, the book is subtitled “What every woman should know about entertaining and etiquette.” Still confused about what the the purpose of this book is? Never fear, it opens with a section titled just that (“The Purpose of This Book”):

"To be known as a brilliant entertainer is the sincere wish of each hostess. Beyond measure she covets the high opinion of her friends regarding her ability to carry on social activities in a competent and winning manner.

Always, everywhere, does she want to do the correct thing and say the correct word. She knows that there is a code of etiquette which must be followed; she knows, too, that she must be charming in personality, possess the ability to be pleasing and bright in conversation, and be so well informed as to how to provide entertainment for her guests that they will leave her home wishing the visit had not come to a close and gladly accepting her invitation to “come again.” She fully realizes the embarrassment and the loss of social prestige and standing which follow any incompetency on her part.

The art of entertaining successfully may be cultivated. The object of this volume is to aid the hostess in her endeavor to acquire this art. We have tried, in a clear and understandable way, to present the subjects contained herein so that they will be a source of reference that is at all times helpful and valuable to the woman who takes pride in being a successful hostess and entertainer. "

Chapters include “The Art of Conversation,” “Unexpected Callers,” and “Entertaining the Week-End Guest,” among others. A good chunk of the book (about 90 pages) is devoted to games you can play at your parties. Anyone for a rousing game of “Seeing Snakes” or “Twisted Names,” “Balancing Candy,” “Spearing for Peanuts,” or “Banana Diet”?

But I digress. This is Thanksgiving, after all, so what I meant to share with you are some hints about November parties, from a chapter titled “Menus for Special Occasions.”

"Many hostesses give a Thanksgiving Day Party in honor of those members of the family who have returned home for the holiday.

Mr. Turkey himself, the fellow who has been fed all summer so you might enjoy your Thanksgiving Day mean, is universally accepted as the best centerpiece for the table. If, however, the turkey is already carved, the hostess might substitute an attractive basket of fruit and candies, or flowers would be pleasing an affective.

Any number of favors are obtainable for the Thanksgiving Day meal and the hostess will have little trouble on this score. The place cards may be in the shape of a turkey or pumpkin.


Shrimp Cocktail
Stuffed Olives | Sweet Gherkins
Roast Vermont Turkey | Cranberry Sauce
Mashed Potato
Asparagus Tips | Buttered Squash
Alligator Pear Salad
Pumpkin Pie
Hot Mince Pie
Fruits | Nuts | Raisins
Cheese | Toasted Crackers


Consommé Vermicelli
Queen Olives | Iced Celery
Roast Vermont Turkey
Cranberry Sauce
Giblet Gravy
Sweet Potato | Baked Potato
Cauliflower | Eggplant
Boston Lettuce, French Dressing
Banana Ice Cream | Tiny Cakes
Fruit | Nuts
Cheese | Crackers


Creamed Turkey on Toast
Green Pepper Sandwiches
Tiny Biscuits | Cheese
Mince Pie | Coffee


Fruit Cup
Chicken Cutlets | Potatoes Saratoga
Tomato Salad
Pumpkin Pie | Nuts
Tea "


The original owner of my book must not have been much of an entertainer herself ~ she was creative in other ways. The back of the book, meant for the jotting down of favorite recipes, is filled with silly nonsensical poetry. Perhaps an output of one of the games in the book? Or a woman who was pretending to jot down recipes so her family would think she cared, but was instead really writing poetry? That story sounds more entertaining to me.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!




When and How to Tell Jokes

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

don't giggle all the way throughThat Estelle Hunter. She sure is a crack-up in her Personality Development, Unit Three: Voice and Expression. I mean, that salesman joke ~ hilarious!

1939: When and How to Tell Jokes

It is not unusual for a group to spend an hour or more in exchanging jokes or stories, but such conversation soon becomes wearisome and ceases to please. Don’t add your story unless it is better than any that have been told and you are sure that too many have not already been related. Remember that any story should be told only if it is interesting, if it is relevant, if it is in good taste, and if it has a good point.

Don’t laugh at your own joke, at least until everyone else has shown that he liked it. Don’t giggle all the way through a story or laugh before you come to the point. Don’t lose the point of the story as did a young woman who said to her brother:

“You’re a salesman so you’ll like this story. A salesman came into his office at night and someone asked him how he felt. He said ‘Pretty independent; I didn’t sell anyone anything today.'””You mean,” replied her brother, “that he said, ‘I didn’t take orders from anyone today.'”

When you have told a story successfully, don’t tempt Fate by telling another immediately. Turn the spotlight of attention on someone else by saying, for example, “John, what was the story about your guide in Italy last year? That was even more amusing than my experience.”

If John doesn’t tell his story exactly as you think he should, don’t correct him or attempt to add details. It is his story. Courtesy demands that you let him tell it as he will.

Source: Hunter, Estelle B. Personality Development, Unit Three: Voice and Expression. Chicago: The Better-Speech Institute of America, 1939.
~ pp. 82-83 ~

Building a Fire

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

collect the woodI admit it. I’m a camping snob. Thanks to trips as a youngster to a favorite spot by a pond near the Finger Lakes in New York State, I prefer real camping: the Grotke family tent, the roaring fire, wading in the creek, peeing against the trees. Alas, many urbanites are a bit fearful of the idea of so much closeness with nature. So while those friends who stay home contemplate what restaurant to visit this weekend, the brave ones among us will forage for wood in order to cook a feast over the campfire. Here are some tips I picked up from Beatrice Pierce’s book The Young Hostess for just such an activity. Pass the s’mores! I’m hungry!

1938: Building a Fire

Cooking out of doors is an art, but everyone enjoys the experience. It is important, of course, to know how to build a fire. There are different methods, but the principles are much the same. The thing to learn first is that you cannot cook over a roaring blaze. You must wait until the fire burns down and you have a nice bed of hot coals. It is best to use stones to confine your fire; and you should select a place that is sheltered from the wind. Preparations for an outdoor meal take a rather long time, so start early. The first job is to collect the wood, unless you have brought it from home. Where wood is scarce, charcoal bought from your grocer is an excellent substitute, clean, compact, and safe. Next, start your water boiling, if you need hot water for anything. A kettle set on a grid is one way. Another, in case you have no grid, is to cut a stick about two feet long, a fairly heavy one with a crotch at one end. Leave about two inches on each fork of the crotch. Sharpen the other end. Push it into the ground. Cut a four- to five-foot green pole; it must be green or it will catch fire. Cut a notch in one end. Rest this pole over the forked stick, the notched end over the fire, the other end resting on the ground. Hang a bucket or kettle on the notch, keep the fire going, and soon your water will be boiling merrily.

Source: Pierce, Beatrice. The Young Hostess. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1938.
~ pp. 180-81 ~


Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

realizing the lovely bloomsPink geraniums, orange marigolds, sonata mix cosmos, sunscape daisy nasinga white, snow crystals alyssium, brachycomb, a tomato plant, and some herbs. They should be outside enjoying the spring, but tonight they sit in my living room waiting for the season’s last frost to pass us by. I’m certainly an amateur gardener, only filling a few boxes and pots on my brick patio out front, but still, it makes me happy, and that’s what it’s all about, right? I think that Adelaide Laura Van Duzer, one of the authors of home economics textbookEveryday Living for Girls would agree.

1936: Gardening

Pleasure in gardening is age-old and universal. Many find emotional satisfaction in the beauty of growing flowers. Persons who work at high tension find relaxation in digging in the soil, planting, caring for, and realizing the lovely blooms.

Gardening is such a natural, sane outlet for creative self-expression that it is often a means to mental health and contentment. Many a woman in ugly surroundings ~ on a grim, lonely farm or in a smoke-grimed cottage above a steel mill ~ has satisfied her beauty-hungry heart with the rich colors of flowers.

To the beholder, too, flower gardens are a delight. But the grower, the one who creates, gets the most joy from his own and from others’ gardens ~ an enjoyment analogous to that of the musician in his own or another artist’s playing.

Source: Van Duzer, Adelaide Laura, et. al. Everyday Living for Girls. Chicago: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1936.
~ p. 477 ~

Worry-Monger Identifier

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

irritable, fretful, and fussyA little worry is not harmful, as author David Seabury reminds us in the preface to How to Worry Successfully: “It is only when apprehension is ruled by nervous anxiety, and imagination distorted by fear, that worry injures us.” And that’s why I’m worried ~ it sure seems like people are just freaking out these days. Here’s a little reminder to help identify the unhealthy worriers out there.

1936: Worry-Monger Identifier

Never accept advice from one who:

  1. Always sees the gloomy side of things.
  2. Is a gossip, a critic, or a chiseler.
  3. Is timid, dependent, or parasitical.
  4. Is indolent or self-indulgent.
  5. Is arrogant, fanatical, or obstinate.
  6. Is complaining and full of self-pity.
  7. Is one who becomes conveniently sick.
  8. Is reckless or irresponsible.
  9. Is censorious and eager to point out sin in others.
  10. Is irritable, fretful, and fussy.
  11. Is angry, envious, or jealous.
  12. Is hypersensitive and painfully good.
  13. Is always anxious to give his opinions.
  14. Is conventionally platitudinous and sentimental.
  15. Shows any inclination to revenge.

Source: Seabury, David. How to Worry Successfully. New York: Blue Ribbon Books, Inc., 1936.
~ pp. 182-83 ~

The Wise Use of Leisure

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

do the things you enjoyI am heading out on vacation tomorrow ~ taking a roadtrip with my crazy dog Frieda to New England. Since there is much traveling going on during these fine summer months, I decided to find some words on one of my favorite activities ~ leisure. This one is from a home ecomonics textbook entitled Everyday Living for Girls.

1936: The Wise Use of Leisure

What is meant by leisure? Is idleness leisure? Is leisure time for rest? Is leisure recreation? Is it time for mental growth? Is all of your time outside of school hours leisure? Is riding in the street car or walking to and from school part of your leisure? Is all of a business woman’s time, outside of her eight hours at the office, leisure time? Are there some activities which are part of a high school girl’s job or her day’s work, while they would be leisure time activities for a young business girl? . . . Does your mother have leisure time? What is your definition of leisure? . . .

Leisure means your right to choose. Leisure time is generally considered free time, when you do the things you enjoy, when you choose what you want to do. Nobody or no outside force causes you to do or act. It is the time when you are not doing dishes, making beds, doing homework, dressing, or washing out silk stockings. Practicing a musical instrument might or might not be a leisure time activity, according to whether you chose to do it for recreation, or were studying it vocationally. Leisure time might be spent in arranging flowers, or even in getting the living-room ready for a party. When you really enjoy doing something and choose to do it yourself, it is a leisure time activity. Eating may be a leisure time activity when one entertains, is entertained, or eats in an unusual place. “Eating one’s way through” New York, or Paris, or old New Orleans would be a holiday activity.

Do what you really enjoy. No one should tell another person how to spend his leisure time. Unless you may do what you like to do, it is not real leisure. Certainly, this book will not presume to tell you what to do. Rather, you write this discussion!

Source: Van Duzer, Adelaide Laura, et. al. Everyday Living for Girls. Chicago: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1936.
~ pp. 447-48 ~

The Summer Job Conundrum

Monday, August 30th, 2010

get the pleasure out of a thingQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I have recently been offered a summer job at an amusement park running a ride. I was really psyched to take it, so I could enjoy my summer in the sun. But just today my Dad told me that they are hiring summer help where he works. The problem is that I already agreed to take the ride job, which would be fun and easy and I’d get to spend time with friends. It only pays $5.50, though, and the job where dad works will pay at least double that. I really want to take the fun job, but should I sacrifice a fun summer and take the tough job to really clear a lot of bones, or what? If I take the fun job, how do I tell my dad that I’m not interested in the job he’s offering?


A Dear Andrew:

Ah, the age-old dilemma of taking a boring summer job versus a fun amusement park one. I feel your pain, and wish you luck as you figure out a way to tell your father you won’t be taking his job. How could you? I see no choice, particularly after reading this excerpt from Dorothy Dix’s How to Win and Hold a Husband. I know, I know, based on the book title it doesn’t sound like it would be relevant, but trust me. Enjoy your freedom and happiness now, for you’ve got plenty of time to be miserable in your later years, no doubt while working at a dreary desk job.

Hey, I have an idea ~ perhaps a free season pass to the park would help convince dear old dad that you’ve made the right decision?

1939: Enjoy What You Have Now

Most people miss all pleasure in what they have because their whole attention is focused on wanting something they haven’t got, and so they lose even the happiness they could have. Don’t make this mistake. If you have health exult in it. Realize you have something to give three cheers for every minute of the day. If you have youth rejoice in it. Those who are young really don’t need anything else. They are on their tiptoes already. If you have a wife or a husband whom you love, and if you have little children, be down on your knees thanking heaven for its best gifts.

It is pitiful to see strong young people throwing away the happiness they might just as well have because they are longing for automobiles or fine clothes or freedom from work or something equally silly that has nothing in the world to do with happiness. And it is still more pitiful to see mothers and fathers getting no pleasure out of their children. Worrying because they are tied down at home with babies, or because little Johnny is noisy, or the money has to be spent on having little Mary’s teeth fixed instead of on golf sticks or a new frock.

And lots of foolish people put off being happy to some future time. They are going to be happy when they get rich. They are going to travel when they are old. The husbands and wives are going to enjoy each other after the children are grown up. But you can’t postpone being happy. You’ve got to get the pleasure out of a thing now or never. And so those who have denied themselves every joy for the great splurge they intend to have when they are old find out that they have waited too long. They have lost their capacity for enjoyment.

Source: Dix, Dorothy. How to Win and Hold a Husband. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1939.
~ pp. 254-55 ~

The Write Stuff

Monday, August 30th, 2010

give thoughtful considerationQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I have a girlfriend who lives in another country, but she hasn’t written me like she said she would. What should I do?


A Dear John:

Uh, oh. Her actions do not appear to be a good sign, according to the following advice from Warren D. Bowman’s Home Builders of Tomorrow. Although this section appears to be written for girls, I think it could come in handy for just about everyone, particularly in this age of hurried email messages. If only your girlfriend would listen to our dear friend Mr. Bowman!

1938: Courtesy in Correspondence

There is also a type of courtesy that should be manifested in correspondence. A young lady became disgusted during her correpondence with a young man. She said that he never gave any consideration to her letter when replying and ignored ideas she had expressed and questions she had asked. This young man had never learned the courtesy of correspondence, which demands a mutual exchange of ideas and full consideration of any point mentioned by the other in the last letter. Correspondence can be used as a means of testing the courtesy, thinking, modes of expression, sportsmanship, and often the philosophy of life of the other. Can he write an interesting letter? Does he express his ideas in a pleasing manner? The kind of letter a person writes may serve somewhat as a test of his intelligence and resourcefulness. It is wise to refrain from writing letters that are too sentimental, as they may embarrass one later in life. Young people could well afford to give thoughtful consideration to their correspondence when part of their courtship is carried on this way.

Source: Bowman, Warren D. Home Builders of Tomorrow. Elgin, Ill.: The Elgin Press, 1938.
~ pp. 60-61 ~