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!

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Posts Tagged ‘1950s’

What’s Your Charm Rating? (1955)

Monday, April 9th, 2012

So here’s how things go around here somedays. Yesterday I thought about doing an Easter post, and then got distracted by the lovely D.C. weather and went to the National Arboretum with some friends instead. Then I meant to do the post last night, but ended up watching the toe-tapping movie Easter Parade on TV instead.

By the time I got around to doing this post this evening, Easter was way over and the game I was going to share with you, which involved tying strings to the ends of lilies and winding the strings around the house, with each guest following the path to find a candy Easter egg or little holiday trinkets (remember the “cobweb string game“? Like that!), seemed old news and a bit dull.

So I turned around in my office chair, plucked Figure Correction and Beauty for You, by Virginia Fallon, off my shelf, and found this instead! Much more fun! I hope you enjoy. Next time I’ll quote from the following chapter, which is about “Spring Cleaning” yourself. Fits well given my recent bathroom renovation to include a deep tub.

"How can charm be measured? It is an indefinable something, and allure, difficult to capture artificially. If you try to force yourself into some pattern, you are in danger of becoming stilted and affected.

Many a girl has fallen into this trap. Aping the manners of some favourite film star, putting on a phoney accent, either American or British, trying to assume a suave sophistication, she grates on the nerves, becoming as awkward and tiring as a sore thumb.

For charm, above everything, must be natural. It must flow from an inner sincerity. There are a million imitation film stars ~ the advertisements of the cosmetic manufacturers seem to cater specially for them ~ but there is only one YOU.

YOU are different from anyone else in the world, from anyone who has ever lived, and from anyone yet to come. Reduce the body and mind to a parcel of chemicals and perhaps there isn’t much difference between people, but somehow in the way those chemicals have been mingled and built up, a new inimitable something has been created.

Give your individuality full play. Make the most of that difference. Concentrate on being YOURSELF.

A recent survey of over 1,000,000 American women conducted by the research department of a well-known University listed the following factors of feminine charm. Points are scored out of one hundred. Check your score against it and see how you rate.

Figure… 15 points
Personality… 12 points
Voice… 12 points
Posture… 10 points
Health…10 points
Skin… 8 points
Eyes… 8 points
Hair… 7 points
Teeth… 6 points
Intelligence… 6 points
Hands… 4 points
Dress… 2 points

I must confess that there are several surprises among the ratings. Intelligence is put extremely low, but I suppose it only goes to prove that University Dons, like other men, prefer a woman to have a good figure, with beauty of face and complexion rather than a bluestocking outlook.

Dress does not appear as high in the list as many people might imagine, but it is true that a woman can be charming and attractive without wearing Paris creations, whereas many women in the latest Dior gowns are far from attractive.

Important to notice is the high placing of that magic quality ‘personality’ and also that voice, posture and health come well up in the list. Why not check your rating against the charm list, and then go about improving your weak points till you score 100 per cent."

Now, Miss Abigail must confess that she was a bit confused about how to go about rating oneself. If I have a figure and skin, does that count for something? Or do my eyes and teeth have to be most excellent (by what standards, do tell?) to give me all the points I need? If you figure it out, let me know your score!

Deciding on a Color Scheme (1956)

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

We’re about to embark on a bathroom renovation on Monday, so we’ve (well, let me clarify  ~  I’ve  ~  the hubby is tolerating all of this with good nature) have been obsessing about large tubs and tiles and fixtures for quite some time.

I should be cleaning out the old bathroom right now, but instead decided to dig through the books to see if there was any advice that could help me as they start to tear up our bathroom. Didn’t immediately find anything on dealing with the chaos of construction, but I did enjoy this about selecting paint colors from a great book I received from my family at Christmas. The book is called The Complete Book of Absolutely Perfect Housekeeping: An Uproarious Guide for Disorganized Housewives (with Neat Solutions to Sloppy Problems), published in 1956 by Elinor Goulding Smith. Since our house is already filled with a crazy color scheme (selected mostly by yours truly), I really enjoyed the following:

"The very first thing [when decorating your home] is to decide on your color scheme. Now is the time to fling off the yolk of convention, and let yourself go. There is no color scheme that isn’t right if you like it. It would be too bad to finish the whole job and then find that it was really very ordinary, so don’t be afraid to take chances. What you want is something different. something that will make your friends talk. Try doing a room in black and purple, with perhaps puce accent just for laughs. Then invite your friends in for an evening of Russian roulette.

Remember that color, and color alone, will give your home its individual character, and an exciting choice of colors that suit your own personality can give your living room an air of distinguished sophistication and good taste that will endure even after it’s all dingy and shabby again, which will be soon. Very soon. Probably, with a little extra effort on the part of stray children, cats and other extraneous matter that drift into your home, day after tomorrow.

If you follow accurately the following few simple rules, you should have really striking results. So pay close attention, follow the easy steps, and go ahead with confidence:

I. Choose your favorite color and then immediately eliminate that as a possibility. If you go spreading your favorite color all over your walls, you’re going to get awfully sick of it. Choose one you’re not really crazy about, and you’ll find you’re far less likely to tire of it. This is your basic color.

II. Now, for the proper accent, choose carefully a color that is much darker or much lighter than the first, and of a different hue and intensity. Should it happen, by some horrid mischance, that at any time you select Cream, Oatmeal, or Tan, discard them immediately as possibilities. The reason for this is extremely technical, and without professional training you probably wouldn’t understand the reason which is that I can’t stand the sight of them.

III. For the next two colors, to be used in small areas for that exhilarating touch of spice, you can safely let yourself go, even to the wildest flights of lime, avocado, or persimmon. Watermelon and raspberry are nice, too, if in season and thoroughly ripe.

This is now your personal color scheme selected by you, to suit your personality. Only you will have this highly individual color combination, chosen to enhance your complexion, hair-coloring, and your favorite nail polish."

Tips from the S. S. United States Passenger List Booklet (1956)

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

My mom and stepdad are avid cruisers in their retirement years. As I type they are sailing the (reportedly rough) high seas along the coast of Australia, headed soon to New Zealand.  So it was exciting for me to find a booklet in a local antiques shop from a cruise on the S.S. United States (“the world’s fastest and most modern liner”) from New York to Havre, Southampton, and Bremerhaven. The ship departed January 11, 1956. You can read more details about this ship on this preservation site. How neat that it is still around!

Along with the location of various rooms on each deck, and “how to know the ship’s officers by their sleeve stripes”, this booklet contains a list of first class passengers. It looks like the Kiefer sisters and their parents were onboard, as were the Macklin family, and some Negropontes. Mr. Borris Yane traveled alone. I wonder if he met up with Miss Emmaline Leconbla, who also appears solo? Perhaps they shared a dance. No Grotkes onboard this ship, alas.

I’ve never cruised so not sure how much of this is “quaint and curious” vs. “still happens on cruises today”, but I found a few parts of the information book interesting.

There was a beauty parlor on ship, where you could get:

Hair trimming $2
Hair cut $2.50
Hair set $2
Facial $3 up
Manicure $1.50
Shampoo $1.50
Permanent Wave $15 up
Tinting and Dying $7.50
Eyebrow Arching $1.25

Also available: Electric Baths and Massage, where you could request an assortment of massages, rubs (alcohol, oil or salt, anyone?), sun treatment, a “cabinet bath” and something called “Shower – Scotch Douche” (I’ll pass, thank you very much).

There were kennels aboard for the pups on ship. And they were air conditioned! With a trained Kennel Attendant. Luxurious!

  • A long list of safety instructions included:
  • Please do not run on the ship, and walk carefully when the deck is wet. Do not wear high heels, nor shoes with leather heels when playing deck games.
  • Do not move about in darkened rooms; make use of the lighting facilities.
  • Do not stroll about the ship unnecessarily. Remain seated in furniture which is secured.
  • Brace yourself when sitting in a straight-backed chair.
  • If your chair should move in the Dining Room while at meals, hold on to the table – do not attempt to save table utensils or equipment.

And, in case you are wondering (given the recent ship sinking event in Italy), printed in bold, highlighted by a box around the text:  “Passengers should familiarize themselves with the Notice in the Staterooms regarding Emergency Station and Life Boat Number, and also participate in the Fire and Boat Drills.”

 

 

The Most Dire Female Crimes in Looks and Dress (1959)

Monday, September 26th, 2011

One of the books that fell off my shelf during the “The Big Mineral, Virginia, Earthquake of 2011” was a paperback titled McCall’s Guide to Teen-Age Beauty and Glamour, written by Betsy Keiffer. My version is from 1959 and claims to provide “the sure-fire way to become the most charming, poised and popular girl in your set.” Oh boy!

I decided to flip through before reshelving, and stumbled across these fantastic tips for teen girls, from a chapter titled “The Boys in Your Life.” Seems those boys are very particular about what qualities a girl must have to make them like her. I now see what I must have been doing wrong all those years of being single. It was my sloppiness!

"Besides being clannish and conservative, these maddening males are also keen-eyed as hawks. If you don’t believe me, listen to these gripes aired by a group of college freshmen. Asked what they considered the most dire crimes in looks and dress, they unhesitatingly came up with:

  • Make-up so heavy it comes off on a boy’s jacket at a dance.
  • Eye make-up that’s so extreme a girl looks like a Chinese vase instead of a girl!
  • Smeary lipstick. It’s disgusting to see it all over coffee cups and napkins.
  • Fingernails that belong on the bride of Fu Manchu.
  • Dresses that look as though they’d been painted on.
  • Dresses with necklines that end slightly above the waist.
  • Dresses that may be right in style but aren’t becoming.
  • A get-up that would look great at Buckingham Palace ~ when the date’s informal.
  • Not knowing the difference between casual and rumpled (Ouch! That one really hurt.)
  • Charm bracelets that clank so they drown out conversation.
  • Jewelry so blinding a guy needs dark glasses.
  • A raucous voice or sloppy speech.
  • Stance like a football player’s in a huddle.
  • Sloppiness! And this was echoed with such shaming particulars as:
    • Chipped nail polish
    • Underwear straps that show
    • Wrinkled stockings
    • Unshaven legs
    • Grubby handkerchiefs
    • Stains on dresses
    • Unsightly feet

I guess that makes it pretty clear that boys don’t miss a trick when it comes to a girl’s appearance. So never let that look of sleepy indifference lull you into carelessness about the impression you make. Besides making it very clear what boys object to, this awesome list can show you what boys like. Read it again, and a picture of the girl whose appearance they admire should also be clear. She is neat, she is sweet, she is clean, and perhaps most important, she is understated (to borrow that favorite fashion word), not only in her dress but in her make-up, her accessories and her manner. "

In case you are wondering, that “ouch” statement is actually part of the original text.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Frighteningly Illustrated Encyclopedia of Sex (1950/1977)

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Illustrated Encyclopedia of SexI meant to post this earlier this week, but in the D.C. region we’ve been overcome in the last few days by earthquakes and impending hurricanes, so it’s been a bit hectic. As I reported over on my Facebook page, a few stacks of paperbacks fell off the tops of my bookshelves during the earthquake this week, but all in all we fared pretty well and the books stayed on the shelves, and the shelves remained upright. Whew! My parent’s house (near the fault line), also full of books, didn’t have much damage either, luckily. But still, a crazy week!

This was worth the wait, I must tell you. I’ve been wanting to do a post on this book for some time, but for whatever reasons over the years I thought it might be a bit too racy for a general audience. But heck, we’re in 2011, and if you can’t look at a 1950s book with wacko illustrations trying to explain sex, you shouldn’t be on my site.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Sex, written by Dr. A Willy, Dr. L. Vander, and Dr. O Fisher “and other authorities” was first published in England in 1950. Revised editions appeared later, and I’ve actually got a paperback 8th printing from October 1977 (the first printing in the U.S.!) in my collection. The preface of this later edition discusses the “important new discovers in the field of sexology… relating to very recent developments in birth control.”

I must admit I’ve never managed to actually read this book. Every time I open it I get so distracted by the images that I can’t help myself. I think the authors would be okay with that, though. The preface explains: “there is one feature of this book of which we are particularly proud ~ the illustrations! One hundred and seventy-six of them, representing every aspect of sex, but particularly the functional aspect, and explaining every process in the male and femail organism so clearly that no one can fail to understand them. We can say, with every confidence, that this long series of illustrations, is unique and unprecedented.” To say the least.

 

Menstruation

“Picture story of woman’s excitation curve. The menstrual cycle of woman for two consecutive months.” I’m certainly glad I didn’t see this when I first got my period! I would have been terrified.

Foods that Improve Sexual Function

I always enjoy learning what foods might improve sexual function. The books have quite a bit of information on this topic, including this one (apologies for the faint scan, it was hard to get).”


Birth Control

This was in the section on birth control, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to learn from this: “A section of the fallopian tube considerably enlarged, showing in three dimensions, the strange interior. How the spermatozoa hasten to meet the ovum which proceeds toward the uterus.”

The Ovary
“Larger than life-size picture of interior of ovary, in woman’s process of impregnation.” What the heck is that in the lower right? I didn’t know I had a flower growing inside of me.

Physical Causes of Sexual Impotence
Apparently this is the “Picture story of normal physical and psychological potency.” I guess this is what happens when boys are making googly eyes at us ladies.

Delaying Sexual Death

“Picture story of man at different ages.” Yeah, that looks about right.

If you want a further glance at (color!) images from another edition, head on over to the fabulous Studies in Crap blog on the LA Weekly site. I found this post while Googling for more information about the book, and decided not to rescan the ones he’d featured but give you some others to look at. EXCEPT for this one, which was clearly updated for my version! I think my ladies at the top is a bit more enticing, don’t you? The ’70s were way more fun, clearly.

Why Man has nocturnal losses of seman

 Note: post edited September 8, 2011 to redo the images. They now point off to Flickr…

Summer Icicles (1955)

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

teen-age glamorWhat else is there do to do on a sweltering summer day but to stay inside and blog about it? Here are some summertime tips from a book called Teen-Age Glamor, written by Adah Broadbent in 1955. These could come in handy on a day like today:

"When the sun is at its zenith, and the days are at their warmest, sunlight fashions and perfect grooming transform you into a summer charmer. This immaculately crisp and cool appearance is worth capturing, so make it yours.

Never, never gasp and sigh about the heat. When the others do ~ and they will ~ you talk about something else. Any yen for arguments is controlled. Why cause your circulation to hurry?

Don’t slump, don’t collapse like a broken accordion in the nearest swing. No one is interested in seeing you go to pieces except Dennis the Menace. Swing, and sip your iced drinks, but there’s sugar in those; the more calories, the more heat your body generates. Icy drinks also interfere with the body’s normal temperature-regulating action. Cold drinks poured incessantly into your stomach are dangerous.

Eat and chatter, but don’t lie around in that swing all day while the others groan, “It’s too hot to lift an eyelash.” Get up and move around and you are cooler.

Summertime fun

Doing things in hot weather make staying dainty a problem. Bathe and shower more often;  a lukewarm shower leaves you cooler than a cold one, which increases the circulation. Pat, don’t rub dry, sprinkle talcum here and there, or spray refreshing cologne over yourself with a lavish hand. These luxuries give that fresh-as-a-daisy feeling which you intend to keep ~ at least for awhile.

Anti-persperants and deodorants are your aids. The liquid kind seems to be the surest safeguard. Make it a habit to use an anti-persperant or deodorant every night, because if it is used in the daytime any moving about may start you perspiring, and the effectiveness is washed away.

Summer clothes are made from many different fabrics, all of them was like a breeze and some need no ironing. The coolest and airiest fabrics are voile, sheer handkerchief linen, breezy batiste, and eyelet cottons; let them be crisp, not clingy.

Some colors give a feeling of coolness, as an icy blue and a pale green. Poppy and nasturtium colors are flattering to many girls, but when the weather is muggy, as well as hot, use those colors seldom.

Here’s fun to you on hot sunny days!"

 

Stay cool, everyone! I’m headed to the pool to sip cool (but not too cold, drinks) this afternoon. I promise not to complain about the heat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Causes of Divorce (1950)

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

what every woman should know about financeIt turns out that business advice isn’t terrible amusing, at least not enough to share on the blog. On Thursday, Joyce Dewitt, who is now starring in Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage (the play), rang the NASDAQ closing bell. Finances and the stock exchange not being one of my normal interests, I thought I’d look up some advice to mark the occasion. I took a look at such books as Pots, Pans and Millions (“a study of woman’s right to be in business”), and What Every Woman Should Know About Finance, but to be honest, it was all a bit dry. Sorry, stock exchange, I know I should be interested, but, well, I’m just not that in to you. Can we just be friends?

My husband joined me in the office to hunt for some appropriate advice with me. Flipping through Personal Adjustment, Marriage and Family Living, which had a lot of advice for married couples about managing their finances, my husband started laughing. So upon his request (and no worries, we are very happily married), I bring you possibly the best pie chart ever, not for the content obviously (there’s nothing funny about cruelty and neglect!), but the graphics. I do wish drunkenness would have been illustrated. And I’m so glad “not balancing her checkbook” or “having too much clutter” aren’t on the chart.

Securing Divorces

This was on a section titled “Causes of Divorce.” Here’s another informative table from the same section:

rank order of marital grievances

What Dr. Spock Didn’t Tell Us (1958)

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Judas' RecallWith father’s day this weekend, it seems appropriate to share some advice for parents from a publication that came long before the pretty-darned-hilarious Go the F**k to Sleep that has been in the news and floating around Facebook recently. What Dr. Spock Didn’t Tell Us: Or, A Survival Kit for Parents, was written in 1958 by B. M. Atkinson, Jr. and illustrated by Whitney Darrow, Jr. The book is described as “an encyclopedic guide to hitherto uncatalogued afflictions, aberrations, exotic diseases of the American child,”  describing such allusive things as “Butt’s Disease,” “Goat Mouth,” “Serpent’s Tooth,” “McGuffey’s Panic,” and “Vigilante’s Dilemma.” The author learned about such things after his daughter was born. He asked an experienced neighbor (with 5 children) why Dr. Spock hadn’t written about these in his baby book. The neighbor replied “Don’t be silly! If those experts told everything about children, three wouldn’t be any more children, and with out any more children there wouldn’t be any more books about children.” So 15 years and 4 children later, the author put pen to paper to expose the truth. Here’s a sampling:

"PAUPER’S POUT. A recurring swelling and protrusion of the lower lip caused by delusions of extreme poverty in which any child insists that she received less allowance than any other child in town. Considered incurable. Always carried over into marriage.

JUDAS’ RECALL. An excruciating malfunction of the memory in which a four-year-old boy will cut loose with an oath that would do credit to a 104-year-old sailor and then, when taken under attack by his mother, will recall that he learned the word from his father, the father knowing damn well he learned it from the milkman. Occurs usually in the presence of guests, one a church worker.

SPAGHETTI LEG. Phenomenon resulting from attempts to put boots on a child, occurring as the parent orders the child to stiffen leg and push. Though the child ordinarily may have the bone structure of a Percheron and calcium deposits enough in each joint to be worth mining, this command to stiffen the leg causes a dissolving of all bones, joints and major muscles in said leg and reduces it to a state of limpness found only in overcooked spaghetti. A mother attempting to force the leg into a boot once it has achieved this jellied state might be more gainfully employed trying to thread a needle with an oyster.

UNIVAC’S QUIRK. An acute selectivity of the memory in which a child is unable to remember a parental command for five minutes but can remember a parental promise for ten years. The command may be leveled at the child in anything from a low roar to a raging bellow: “Quit jumping on that bed!” Five minutes later all will be forgotten and the boy and the bed will again sound like a kangaroo and a trampoline. The parental promise, however, may be made in anything from an unconscious grunt to an absent-minded grumble: “Yeah, four or five years from now Daddy’ll take you camping.” Four years later ~ to the day ~ the child will show up with a frying pan and a bed roll, usually snarling, “You promised!”

VESUVIAN BLADDER. A spectacular urethral expulsion of bodily liquids, resulting from sudden pressure of the bladder. Occurs exclusively among boy babies, usually from one to six months of age, and most often at bathtime when the child is without clothing and lying flat on his back. The expulsion takes the form of an arching stream and may attain a height of six to eight feet. Such heights, however, are rarely achieved, the stream generally arching only a few feet before striking the hovering parent between the eyes or, should the head be turned, in the ear. A new father, thus anointed for the first time, will usually back over a table or out the nearest window. His amazement, however, immediately gives way to parental pride, and for weeks the father will speak of the boy’s feat in terms usually reserved for men who put satellites in orbit."

Happy Fathers Day, all!

Recent Acquisition: The Answer Book on Naval Social Customs (1956)

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Naval Social Customs Yesterday a package arrived at the door: a book titled The Answer Book on Naval Social Customs, sent by the mother of a friend who wrote a week or so ago asking if I’d like it for the collection. She said: “It is a first edition, Jan 1956, Military Service Publishing Company.  What a kick!  These were the norms in place when I was dating young Naval officers in San Diego in the late 50’s and early 60’s.  I found it in a Dollar a Bag sale at the library in Bandon, OR.” My kind of book! Of course I said I’d take it. This will go quite nicely with What Every Army Wife Should Know.

In case you need any tips for what to do on a naval ship, here are some excerpts from a section titles “Going Aboard Ship”:

"One of the privileges a Navy wife enjoys is that of visiting her husband aboard ship. She should remember that she is a guest and a civilian, that she is a visitor where work and ship’s routine are being carried out, and that she is not at a social club. The ship is home to the officers on board. Therefore she should be careful not to wear out her welcome.

When may you expect to be invited aboard ship?

Usually when your husband has the duty and will have free time to spend with you. This will generally be for the evening meal, followed frequently by attendance at the ship’s movie. You and your husband may be invited aboard other ships by his fellow officers.

What do you wear when going aboard ship?

If you are a dinner guest or go aboard for a visit, wear a simple afternoon dress or suit and gloves. Wear a hat if suitable with your costume. Extremely high heels or wedge shoes are not advisable as they make getting in and out of boats, climbing gangways, and walking on board ship difficult. Take a wrap if you expect to attend the movie. Panties are a must. Skirts should be neither too tight nor too full. Carry a purse with an arm strap or handle so that your hands will be free when you go up and down the ladders. It is not advisable to carry packages as they will interfere with boarding a ship.

Miscellaneous information on conduct aboard a ship.

You should not go aboard a ship without an invitation.

You should not wander about a ship unescorted.

It is against regulations to serve intoxicants aboard ship.

Do not take a camera aboard ship.

Do not take a pet aboard ship.

An officer’s wife or guest should not ask any of the ship’s personnel to perform a service for her. They are on assigned duty and are not there for her convenience. A wife should remember that she is not in the Navy."

CHARM – C = HARM

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

“Fidgeters begin at any early age to drive the people around them crazy,” reads advice from Secrets of Charm, which was written in 1954 by John Robert Powers and Mary Sue Miller. Let’s read on: “As children, they seem to wiggle everything, including their ears. A grown woman usually confines herself to twisting a handkerchief or fussing with hair and clothing. No model of charm she! She’s finished off with a simple equation:

Charm - c = harm

“There is only one way to break to fidget habit: stop it! Whenever you begin to move your hands, ask yourself, ‘Is this gesture necessary?’ Within a week, you will exile useless gesticulation and inane toying with objects.”

I think this proves that my books do contain advice on just about any topic you can think of!