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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!


Posts Tagged ‘1940s’

Making Conversation

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

why not just relax?Q Dear Miss Abigail:

I’ve noticed lately that I have a problem talking about things when I get introduced. I never know the proper response, and end up saying something dumb that doesn’t make any sense. Could you give me some advice on making conversation?


A Dear Michelle:

You are not alone, my dear. Personally, I have an awful times with names. Sometimes I don’t even try to remember them ~ it’s no use! And I know someone who pretends to sneeze in the event of a lull in the conversation, and countless friends who prefer to stay huddled in the corner at a rockin’ party rather than mingle with strangers.

Never fear, Vera Bloom (aka “the Entertaining Lady”) has a bit of advice for us all.

1949: Conversation

When you stop to think of it, the really great talkers and great wits have been so rare that, in nearly three centuries of conversation both here and in England, there are few we remember besides Dr. Johnson, Sidney Smith, Oscar Wilde, Whistler, Oliver Herford, Shaw, Alexander Woollcott, and Dorothy Parker. Why not just relax, and console ourselves with the though that wit is a very dangerous possession after all, especially for a woman. For in either talk or letters, wit and tact rarely go together, and the woman who lets her tongue rule her heart can hardly be surprised when she makes enemies right and left. No one likes to be a target ~ except for Cupid’s darts! So be gay and entertaining if you can; be witty if you must.

Of course there are as many kinds of conversation as there are kinds of people and kinds of situations they find themselves in. All of us grope for things to talk about in casual contacts ~ it’s only with tried and true friends, or in the friendly relaxation of good shop talk, that people can really lose themselves in their enthusiasms.

But in any situation simplicity, being yourself, and really hearing the person you’re talking to, instead of wasting your energy worrying about what impression you’re making, will do more toward making you a good conversationalist than all the high-pressure charm hints that have ever been given.

The good conversationalist is always a constructive listener. She is altruistic enough to be willing and able to make the other person feel more important than herself, which means that she is willing and able to fish around among a stranger’s or an acquaintance’s interests until she gets an enthusiastic nibble on her conversational bait.

Source: Bloom, Vera. The Entertaining Lady: An Informal Guide to Good Living. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1949.
~ pp. 192-93 ~

Hints To Those Who Would Have Fun with Magic

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

work up some interesting patterWow! The Fun Encyclopedia certainly does cover it all: “Fun with Icebreakers,” “Fun with Mental Games,” “Fun Outdoors,” “Fun with Music,” and “Fun with Puppets,” just to name a few. There is so much fun here that I didn’t know where to begin, but then I stumbled across the introduction to the chapter titled “Fun with Magic,” written by E. L. Crump. But beware ~ it was written in 1940, so you might want to do a little research on the addresses before mailing in your subscription checks for those magazines.

1940: Hints To Those Who Would Have Fun with Magic

The secret of success in magic is, of course, keeping the spectators from knowing how the trick is done. In order to do this the performer must practice each trick thoroughly many times before a mirror in order to perfect his technique. He must also learn how to evade the questions of his friends as to how the tricks are done. For just as soon as he tells one friend the news will spread until everyone knows the secret of the trick and immediately it will cease to be fun for the crowd. Several rules might be set down for the magician to follow strictly:

(1) Practice before a mirror each trick until it becomes natural and easy.

(2) Never repeat a trick.

(3) Never tell the audience what you intend to do.

(4) Never tell how you did a trick.

(5) Practice misdirection with your eyes. Your eyes should always look where you want the audience to look regardless of what your hands are doing.

(6) When something goes wrong, laugh and turn it into a joke, and the audience will laugh with you instead of at you.

(7) Work up some interesting patter to go with your tricks as it not only helps in the misdirection but adds to the interest of the effect.

If you wish to keep up with current magic it would be well to subscribe to some of the magic magazines of note. Four of the best are as follows:

Genii, 705 South Hudson, Pasadena California.
The Sphinx, Sphinx Publishing Corporation, 130 West 42nd Street, New York.
The Tops, Abbott’s Magic Novelty Company, Colon, Michigan.
The Dragon, Vernon, East Lux, Mount Morris, Illinois.

It is impossible to cover much of the field of magic in a work of this nature. The reader, if interested, should secure some of the many fine books on magic which are available today. The following are suggested:

200 Tricks You Can Do and 200 More Tricks You Can Do, by Howard Thurman.
How’s Tricks, by Gerald Lynton Kaufman.
Greater Magic, by John Northern Hilliard.
Modern Magic, by Professor Hoffman.
Magicians Tricks, How They Are Done, by Henry Hatton and Adrian Plate.
Houdini’s Magic, by Walter B. Gibson.

Source: Harbin, E. O. The Fun Encyclopedia. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1940.
~ pp. 875-76 ~

Be a Good Worker Bee

Monday, August 30th, 2010

surrounded by cheerful peopleQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I am starting a new job soon. How can I make a good impression during my first few days?


A Dear Jane:

Although the author of the following excerpt suggests that companies often give employees “a break” early on, she stresses the importance of manners and punctuality at all times. This is by Elizabeth Gregg MacGibbon, from her 1941 book titled Fitting Yourself for Business.

1941: Keep the Corners of Your Mouth Up

Remember the old saying, ‘Honey catches more flies than vinegar’? It goes without saying that an agreeable person is more apt to make good than is the grouch, the fuss-budget, or the ‘sourpuss.’ If employers had their way they would always be surrounded by cheerful people. No doubt you have heard of the secretary who in her efficiency fairly scolds her boss as though he were her erring child. Privileged employees, because of long years of service of inestimable value to their employees, may be permitted such idiosyncrasies; but, as a beginner, no such privileges are in store for you. Young people who are not cheerful are too easy to replace.

Source: MacGibbon, Elizabeth Gregg. Fitting Yourself for Business. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1941.
~ p. 263 ~

Laundry, at Home

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

hot enough to splutterI’m a bit obsessed with cleaning lately, can you tell? It might have something to do with the recent installation of a sump pump in my basement apartment. Let’s just say that jackhammers create quite a bit of dust, hence my interest in this subject. Elizabeth Craig offers this bit of advice in her 1000 Household Hints. I don’t know about you, but I am quite pleased that times have changed, at least when it comes to laundry.

1947: Laundry, at Home.

To soak. ~ Soak cotton and linen articles in lukewarm soapy water, or in cold water with borax ~ 2 tablespoons to the gallon. Soak handkerchiefs separately. Do not soak coloured or woollen articles.

To wash. ~ Wring out the clothes from the soaking water. Wash with plenty of hot soapy water made with shredded washing soap, soap flakes or jelly. Use two lots if necessary. Rub dirty clothes gently on a wash board with your hand or a nail brush. Do not rub silks, rayons, and woollens. Use only mild soap for them, and do not put them in very hot water.

To rinse. ~ Soften hard rinsing water with borax. Repeat warm rinses till the water is clear, and add a little glue to the last water for white cottons and linens.

To dry. ~ Dry out of doors when possible, but do not put silks and woollens in the sun or too near the fire. Hang white cottons and linens in the sun to bleach. Dry coloured articles in the shade, inside out.

To starch. ~ The heavier and wetter the material, the more starch you need, and if you wring with a wringer you need thicker starch than if you work by hand. Starch articles inside out, using hot starch for white things and cold tinted starch for coloured ones. Use blue to tint blue, cochineal for pink, coffee or tea for brown, and a vegetable dye for green. To mix starch ~ make a smooth paste with starch and cold water, using a wooden spoon, then add boiling water till the starch is clear.

To mangle. ~ Leave clothes till quite dry, then sprinkle them evenly. Fold and roll up, and leave them for an hour before mangling or ironing. Pull garments into shape and put them evenly between the rollers, protecting any buttons.

To iron. ~ The iron should be hot enough to splutter when touched with a wet finger, and you should iron as quickly as possible, continuing till the material is dry. To iron a garment, first go over all parts that hang off the board, then iron the centre. To bring out a pattern or monogram, iron on the wrong side over a thick pad. Have a very hot iron for starched articles and a moderate one for silks and woollens. Press damp knitted goods between Turkish towels.

To air. ~ If you have no heated linen cupboard, hang straight, folded articles on a clothes horse, and garments with sleeves on hangers to air in the sun or near the fire.

Source: Craig, Elizabeth. 1000 Household Hints. London: Collins Clear-Type Press, 1947.
~ pp. 43-44 ~

Should Guests Remove Their Shoes?

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

sprinkle with powdered boraxQ Dear Miss Abigail:

We recently moved into a new home that we built. We have beautiful carpet that cost a lot, and I worry constantly that it will get dirty. I want all guests to remove their shoes. Most of my family won’t abide by this, and my husband says its not right to ask them to, that it’s just carpet. We are having Christmas at our home this year and I am very worried. Stupid, huh? Some agree with me, but most people say it’s rude for me to invite people in then expect to do this, that it’s makes them uncomfortable. Dear Abby says that if you invite guests, you invite their shoes. Please help. I’m too obsessed with this. I think that my inlaws refuse just to spite me because it worries me so. Thanks.


A Dear Missy:

I’m afraid I’ll have to side with your husband, Dear Abby, and all those who feel uncomfortable by your request. It is awfully strange to appear shoeless in someone else’s home. Perhaps if everyone had perfect, new socks and toenail fungus was not an issue, things would be different.

But Missy, there is hope. Have you forgotten that as long as people have been tracking in mud and spilling cocktails, homeowners have been practicing the fine art of stain removal? Here are some tips from America’s Housekeeping Book, which was compiled by the New York Herald Tribune Home Institute in 1941. Good luck, relax, enjoy your carpet and your company!

1941: Common Stains on Rugs and Carpets

Removing spots and stains from rugs is complicated by the fact that a pad cannot be used underneath to absorb the soil loosened by the reagent. However, clean white blotting paper can be applied to the surface after using the reagent, to blot up excess moisture and soil.

Old stains or stains made by fruits, medicine, dyes, etc., must be given professional treatment.

When soap and water are used for spot removal, be careful not to get the rug too wet. Be sure to rinse thoroughly, and to brush the pile erect while it is damp.

Type of Stain Treatment for Removal
Animal Stains Treat Immediately. Sponge with salt solution (1/4 cup salt to 1 pint water), then sponge with ammonia solution (1 part ammonia to 20 parts water). Specific cleansers for animal stains are available.
Blood Blot up as much as possible with clean blotting paper or absorbent cloth, being careful not to spread stain. Sponge with a cloth dampened with cold water. Brush pile erect while still damp.
Candle Wax Scrape off as much as possible with a spatula or dull knife. Sponge with carbon tetrachloride.
Candy Sponge with clear warm water.
Chewing Gum Rub with piece of ice until gum gathers in a ball. Sponge any remaining traces with carbon tetrachloride.
Chocolate Scrape off excess with spatula or dull knife. Sprinkle with powdered borax, moisten with cold water. Remove with damp cloth. Brush up borax when dry.
Cocktails Sponge at once with cloth wrung out of mild soapsuds. Rinse with cloth wrung out of clear water. Brush pile erect while damp. Fruit juice cocktail stains are difficult to remove and may require professional treatment.
Coffee and Tea ~ Clear Sponge with cloth wrung out of mild soapsuds. Rinse with cloth wrung out of clear water.
Coffee and Tea ~ With cream Sponge with carbon tetrachloride.
Grease and Oil Sponge with carbon tetrachloride. If color remains the spot will require professional treatment.
Ink Blot up as much as possible with clean blotting paper or absorbent cloth, being careful not to spread the stain. Sponge with lukewarm water. Sponging with milk is effective for some kinds of ink, but the milk must be removed by sponging with carbon tetrachloride. Stubborn ink stains require professional treatment.
Milk See Grease.
Mud Allow to dry thoroughly, then brush out.
Paint If fresh, sponge with turpentine. Old or stubborn paint stains require professional treatment.
Salad Dressing See Grease.

Source: New York Herald Tribune Home Institute, compiler. America’s Housekeeping Book. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941.
~ pp. 182-83 ~

The Vacuum Cleaner

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

discover how easy it isTo think, all my life I’ve been nonchalantly cleaning floors without a second thought about the machine that truly does all the work ~ the one, the only…

1941: The Vacuum Cleaner

A. Use.

1. Adjust the nozzle to rug or floor unless adjustment is automatic. To test for correct adjustment, place the cleaner on the rug with the handle in operating position. Turn on the motor. The rug should be lifted to the nozzle by suction and held there firmly. When an agitator type cleaner is used, the carpet or rug will vibrate if the nozzle is properly adjusted. This vibration can be felt if one’s hand is placed on the carpet just in front of the nozzle.

2. Operate the cleaner slowly in a straight line, lengthwise of the rug. Go over each section at least twice to remove embedded dirt and grit.

3. Keep the cord out of the way, releasing only the length actually required, to avoid tangling with lamp cords, etc., and possible damage to the cleaner cord itself.

4. Familiarize yourself with the attachments and their uses. Once you discover how easy it is to attach them and how many tasks they make easy, there wil be no danger of their becoming a poor investment through lack of use.

B. Care.

1. Pick up pins, hairpins, tacks and any small sharp objects before using the vacuum cleaner. They may cut the belt of a motor-driven brush or agitator cleaner, or they may puncture the dust bag.

2. Empty the dust bag after each use (suction action is lessened by dirt in the bag). Shake the dirt into a deep waste basket lined with a paper bag, to avoid scattering dust. Every three months, turn the dust bag inside out, after emptying it, and brush the inside thoroughly. Never wash the bag because this destroys the dust-proof finish. Certain manufacturers provide disposable paper liners for the dust bag. These are emptied after each use, and disposed of when worn. Five liners constitute a year’s supply. They protect the cloth bag and do away with the necessity for cleaning it.

3. Remove the revolving cylinder and brushes, from a motor-driven brush cleaner once a week. Remove all threads and hairs.

4. Wind the cord loosely to avoid damaging the fine wires inside. Replace worn cords immediately. Turn off the current before pulling out the plug, or contacts may be burned.

5. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for lubrication of motor-driven brush or agitator cleaners. Overlubrication is as harmful to the motor as lack of lubrication.

6. Replace the belt and brush of motor-driven brush or agitator cleaners before they are badly worn.

7. Dust the motor housing and handle after each use.

8. Keep all attachments clean.

Source: New York Herald Tribune Home Institute, compiler. America’s Housekeeping Book. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941.
~ pp.131-32 ~

Wall Devices

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

an old-fashioned kitchenI’m bored with collecting old advice books (just kidding!), so have begun stockpiling small, old appliances such as grinders, choppers, can openers, and my favorite ~ ice crushers. I’ve got two crushers so far: a cool red Ice-O-Mat, and a recent find: the Rival Ice-O-Matic, which electronically crushes like there’s no tomorrow. This one is going to be a hit at my next party!

I found this description about the installation of my new favorite toys, from a period when some of these were still actually new ~ 1947. Now if I could just find a circa 1940s kitchen, I’d be soooexcited.

1947: Wall Devices

One of the few advantages of an old-fashioned kitchen is the wall space usually available for modern, convenient wall devices of which there are so many ~ can openers, knife sharpeners, juice extractors, jar and bottle openers, ice crushers, nut crackers, etc. If space permits, a great number of other kitchen tools can be combined with such devices as these and assembled on a gadget board. On a gadget board tools are always in view and right at hand, a big point in favor of this kind of workshop storage.

Source: Kendall, Helen W., ed. The Good Housekeeping Housekeeping Book. New York: Stamford House,1947.
~ p. 80 ~

Refrigeration Electrically

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

to market to marketI discovered the following bit of advice in Buffalo, in Grandma Rose’s kitchen ~ a pamphlet discussing the joys and merits of cooking and storing food electrically. The cover was torn off so I don’t have the exact details of publication, but according to Grandma it came with her newly purchased electric Hotpoint stove sometime in the 1940s.

When I asked her if I could have the booklet, she said, “I don’t know why you would want that! Whatever would you do with it?”

1940s: Refrigeration Electrically

The New Technique in Cookery ~ Refrigeration

1. Arrange food on shelves to allow free circulation of cold air.
2. Remove wrappings. Wipe milk bottles, trim and wash vegetables, wipe solid fruits, pick over berries, but don’t wash.
3. Cover (in containers or with waxed paper) all foods which have no natural covering. Place meat and other highly perishable foods in coldest part of the refrigerator. Cover meat loosely with waxed paper.
4. To reduce operating cost: Open refrigerator door only when necessary. Cool hot foods to room temperature before putting them into the refrigerator.
5. Clean refrigerator once a week and check over contents to make sure that left-overs are not standing too long.
6. Don’t refrigerate bananas, jelly, pickles, ketchup, unopened cans or other foods which do not require chilling.

everything has a right place

Everything that goes into your electric refrigerator has a right place.

It Pays Its Way

You expect ~ and get ~ a lot of special service from your electric refrigerator. It’s always ready to chill fruit and vegetable juices, melon balls and other appetizers ~ really chill them, so they’ll make a bored appetite hopeful for what’s to come. It’s always ready to jell soups and salads and desserts ~ to crisp salad greens ~ to make ice cubes, to tinkle in tall glasses ~ to freeze an astounding variety of ice creams, mousses, sherberts and parfaits.

But your electric refrigerator pays its way in your kitchen by providing a temperature low enough to keep foods safe for many days. It’s this dependable low temperature that enables you to save money by stocking up on bargains ~ to save last minute hurry by preparing foods in advance.

Source: [Hotpoint stove pamphlet, ca. 1940s]
~ pp. 55-57 ~

Cooking Breakfast

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

the water must be boiling madlyIn the preface to 2002 Household Helps, editor Janet D. Myers wished the book would “be called upon many times to shorten the labors of those who are responsible for the welfare of our American families.” Since I’ve mostly been cooking breakfast these days (who needs lunch or dinner, when there are so many sugared cereals to indulge in?), I thought I’d pull out some helpful tips to share. Pouring the milk over the cereal sure is laborious, and my singlular American family deserves only the best!

1942: Cooking Breakfast

CRISPING BACON ~ Try laying your thin slices of bacon in a shallow pan and putting them in the oven. They will be uniformly crist and moderately browned. When you take them out of the oven lay the pieces on oiled paper until you are ready to serve. The fat that has been cooked out can be used in frying hashed brown potatoes or chops.

MILK INSTEAD OF CREAM ~ Two quarts of milk added to one quart of heavy cream makes cream sufficient strength when serving coffee to 100 people.

SODA IN OMELET ~ A half teaspoonful of soda added to a cup of sour milk and used instead of sweet milk in preparing an omelet makes it light and fluffy.

‘NEW’ CEREAL IDEA ~ When tired of breakfast cereals try cooking two or three kinds together. They will give a new flavor to the breakfast.

BETTER COFFEE ~ Many people use too little coffee when they make the drink. Put more of it into the coffee pot and you will have a better beverage.

COOK CEREALS LONGER ~ Breakfast cereals cooked for long periods of time will have a better flavor and be more digestible than those cooked only a short time.

MAKING SAUSAGE ~ In making sausage or other things calling for ground meat, it is desirable to have the seasoning evenly mixed with meat. Cut meat in strips, lengthwise, for grinding. Weigh meat for same. Put layer of meat in pan, sprinkle seasoning over, then another layer of meat and seasoning until all is used. Then feed into grinder. The sausage will be uniform in flavor.

FRYING SAUSAGES ~ When frying pork sausages invert a colander over the frying pan and you will find that you will not be bothered with the grease spattering the stove and yourself.

JELLY OMELET ~ A dab of tart jelly is very good with the breakfast omelet.

FRYING ON OIL STOVE ~ Use an aluminum frying pan for pancakes when frying them over an oil stove.

CHOICE GRAPEFRUIT ~ Grapefruit uniform in size, with smooth thin skin and small pores, are the choice ones.

BEATING EGG WHITES ~ Never beat whites of eggs in an aluminum pan. It will always darken it and make it ugly. Use a china or porcelain bowl.

POACHING EGGS ~ Don’t try to poach an egg by putting it in lukewarm or slightly boiling water. The water must be boiling madly, so that the albumen is cooked at once, otherwise the egg spreads all through the water.

LEFTOVER TOAST ~ Dip leftover toast in egg and milk, and brown in a small amount of fat. This is French toast and may be served for breakfast with powdered sugar or syrup.

KEEPING DOUGHNUTS ~ If doughnuts are put into a covered dish while still warm they will keep fresh for some time.

BETTER TOAST ~ Bread a day old makes better toast than fresh bread.

AVOIDING LUMPY CEREALS ~ If you have trouble with cereals lumping when you are pouring them into the boiling water, stir vigorously with a wire cake spoon.

Source: Myers, Janet D. 2002 Household Helps. Cleveland, Ohio: The World Publishing Company, 1942.
~ pp. 27-45 ~

Eat More Vegetables

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

That is Nature's rule!Q Dear Miss Abigail:

How can I get my my boyfriend to eat vegetables?


A Dear Matthew:

I searched high and low for some good advice to pass along about the value of eating vegetables, and found many standard references in home economics books teaching young women how to plan menus for their families. But I think we all know that vegetables are good for us and that we should eat more of them (didn’t your mom teach you right?).

So I thought a different approach might work better for your sweetie. How about the following from Victor H. Lindlahr’s 1940 book titled You Are What You Eat? Lindlahr was a lecturer on health and nutrition “on radio stations from coast to coast” and president of the National Nutrition Society in his day. He’s quite serious about nutrition, and I think his words will help scare your boyfriend into eating his veggies.

1940: What Foods Can Do For You

Your body is composed of, and lives on, certain basic chemical substances. To be healthy, it must constantly receive new supplies of these. If replacements of these essential materials are not provided, in correct proportions and amounts, by the food you eat, then you are in trouble! Your body tissues cannot behave as they should. The result will be abnormal conditions ~ you call them symptoms of disease. That is Nature’s rule!

Providing the necessary chemical substances for your body, in proper amounts and proportions each day, with foods, means choosing a balanced diet! What is a balanced diet?

On every hand we hear people talking about ‘proper eating’ and ‘balanced diet.’ Your best friend’s little girl did not eat a balanced diet ~ did not get enough fruits and vegetables containing Vitamin A. So, the doctor explains, that is why she was unhealthy, an easy victim of measles, mumps, whooping cough, and frequent colds.

Your mother’s Cousin Joe did not eat a balanced diet ~ he ate too much meat and bread and rich food. And his joints became gnarled and twisted with rheumatism.

That lady down the street, your neighbor explains, did not eat a balanced diet. Her doctor has her on a strict one now, and follow it she must, or have her gall bladder removed. The penalty is severe.

Most health authorities, including scientists, doctors and specialitsts whose articles appear in daily newspapers throughout the country, agree that a balanced diet or dietary changes will help cure a host of the ills to which the human flesh is heir.

Source: Lindlahr, Victor H. You Are What You Eat: How to Win and Keep Health With Diet. New York: National Nutritional Society, 1940.
~ p. 8 ~