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 ‘1970s’

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.



“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…

Sears Discovery Charm School Book Teaser: Ideal Body of the 70s

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Ideal Body of the 70sTo whet my reader’s continued appetite for excerpts from my copy of the Sears Discover Charm School book, I’ve scanned in this “fun with graphic design” page from the notebook’s section on Fashion. You’ll have to wait a bit for more from this section; I’ve been so busy and am I’m headed out of the country in a few hours on a work trip. I desperately wanted to give you something in the meantime though. I hope you enjoy!


Sears Discovery Charm School: Exercise

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Peggy Flemming

Per Lynette’s suggestion, Part II of my series on excerpts from the Sears Discover Charm School book (ca. 1972 version) will focus on exercise. This chapter features none other than Olympic skater Peggy Flemming!

Peggy, take it away:


A smooth flowing body. A tingle. A good feeling all over. A scrumptious look. A healthy body. There’s an endless list of good things that happen to you through exercise. It should be enough to make everyone head for the nearest pair of sneakers each morning. But it isn’t. A lot of people still manage to avoid exercise. Mostly because they’re not quite sure about what they should do. And they never get to the point where exercising becomes a regular part of their day. That’s where they get stuck. Here’s how to switch things around  and get unstuck. Here’s how you get going.

The first thing to do is to set aside a certain time of the day…every day…for exercise. Be a wildcat about staying with it. You might find the morning a good time because it can become part of your getting-up routine like brushing your teeth, showering and putting yourself together.

There are many different ways to exercise. Walking, bike riding, swimming, things like that are all good. And very important. But there are other exercises that are equally important. Exercises designed to zero in on certain parts of the body. These are the streamliners. They not only work for a firmer and more supple you, they also give you the kind of physical awareness that shows through when you stand or walk or move.

If you’re planning a career in modeling or fashion or as a performer, these are particularly important for you since your physical appearance is so much a part of your work.

You might recognize some of these streamliners as looking like the exercises done in a ballet class. And you’d be right. I’ve put them into this program because I feel that ballet is probably one of the best ways to reach the hard-to-get-to muscles. The ones that don’t ordinarily get worked on in other kinds of exercise. They make for that smooth and firm look and help you move easily and naturally. That’s what we’re after. All of this will take time and effort. But it’s worth it. Don’t be a softie because of excuses. Stay with it. You might find it hard in the beginning but when you start to see and feel results, it might even get to be fun.


The following images are some, though not all, of the suggested exercises. I particularly like the bosom and hip and buttocks exercises. Now that looks like some fun!

Warm up, head and neck, shoulders

This “Chart your own course” page is partially filled in by the book’s original owner. She didn’t follow through, it appears, so we’ll never know what her finish measurements were. But you know what that means, less for you to white out and and fill in your own numbers!

Next up in the series: Voice and Speech.

Sears Discovery Charm School: Introduction to the 1972 edition

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Many moons ago, I published a query from a visitor to the site about the Sears Discovery Charm school. Little did I know, that this would be one of my most popular posts on the site! Seems that many of you charming, lovely, Googlers out there have fond memories of the course (which ran from 1963 to sometime in the 1980s, all over the country). I never attended myself, but did partake (courtesy of my Grandmother Bailey) in a charm school on summer in junior high. I am still traumatized by the experience, as is evidenced in the hundreds of beauty and charm books sitting behind me as I write this post. But I digress…

One commenter posted this history, which she obtained from the Sears Archives:

(1963) The success of a charm school for girls 9 to 19 years of age
started in the El Monte, CA. store and has spread to 16 stores in the
Los Angeles Retail Group.

(1965) Since August of 1965, thousands of young girls, mostly in their
teens, have been trooping into Sears stores signing up for 10-session
courses in Sears new charm school. Elizabeth Reed was the coordinator.

(1966) Sears School for Young Charmers had courses in 250 Sears retail
stores across the nation and an estimate of 100,000 graduates.

Many of you still have the three-ring binder in your possession, others are crushed that your parents threw it away and are desperate for a copy. After that post went up, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the 1972 edition of the binder, D.C. version. The instructor was Mrs. Sherl Conaughton, whose resume included “Registered Nurse, Philadelphia, Pa.; Stewardess, American Airlines; and Model (New York, Florida and California),” among other things. She had 9 years total teaching experience at various modeling and beauty schools.

The binder was found by local director/producer Jeff Krulik in the apartment of a deceased neighbor (he suspects the neighbor’s daughter took the class). In 2009, Jeff tracked me down and handed it over to the Miss Abigail archives for safekeeping. I’ve been meaning to share more of this with you all for ages, but it’s been hard to know where to start! It’s quite a thick binder.

The new year has inspired me, however. I hereby resolve to bring you more Sears Charm School. I’ll start with the very first page. It gives you an idea of what the program is all about.


There’s no one in this world exactly like you. That’s terrific. Because it gives you a particular advantage over everyone else. You’re unique. But it also raises some very important questions. How do you combine the way you look, the way you move, the way you speak, the way you feel so it all comes together and reflects your own personality?

These are some of the questions we’ll be asking, and hopefully be answering during the next few weeks you’ll be spending with us at Sears.

In creating this program, we’ve called upon some top professional people who’ve made it in their own specialized fields. They’ll tell you what you really want to know about things like make-up, skin care, modeling, exercise, fashion, just to name a few. So you’ll be getting the straightest and best possible information to help you toward your own individual personality and your own natural look.

Just what is that natural look we hear so much about? It’s a combination of things that work together to reflect the best possible you. Things you’re comfortable with. Arriving at that kind of look is a matter of learning techniques. Experimenting to find out what works best for you. And then putting it all together. It takes an honest approach and a lot of hard work. But it’s worth it. It pays off.

While you’re finding out about all these things, we’ll also be helping you put together some new ideas about your future. Perhaps you’re thinking about becoming a model. Or maybe you’d like to explore one of the many other interesting careers in fashion. No matter what, we’ll fill you in on what’s involved in the way of preparation, what it takes to get there, and what the life is like when you’ve arrived.

A lot of people talk about doing their own thing. That’s okay, but too often, all that means is just copying someone else’s life style. To really do your own thing, you have to find out what “your thing” is. And that’s what we hope to help you with during the time you’ll be spending with us here at Sears.

We’re glad you’re with us and that we’ll be working together in the discovery of the perfectly natural you.


Help me choose what we should learn about next! Here are our options:

  • Exercise
  • Diet
  • Voice/Speech
  • Modeling
  • Skin Care/Grooming
  • Make-up
  • Fashion
  • Manners

There’s also a special bonus pamphlet that was tucked into my binder: Sears’ “Selecting Teen Fashions” (1971) that might be of interest.

Until Next Time,

Most Fondly,

Your Instructor,

&c., &c.

Miss Abigail

Miss Abigail’s (Timeless) Holiday Gift Ideas 2010

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Dear Readers: Today I resurrect my every-so-often holiday gift ideas post and bring to you some book titles that might tickle the fancy of people on your lists. If you aren’t done shopping yet, and need some help, perhaps these will do!

First up, we have a gift for the woman in your life. Although I thought this book might tell the “woman who hates to clean” that she should just hire a housekeeper and call it a day, it does assume that the wife, no matter how much she hates it, will be the one cleaning. Drat. Still, it offers “hundreds of ways to take the drudgery out of cleaning.” That’s sure to be appreciated by women and men (who are hopefully chipping in) alike.

Good Housekeeping's Miracle Cleaning Book (1955)

Next up, a gift for sis. Is she wanting to be on America’s Next Top Model, but doesn’t quite have the looks for it yet? She’s love this book, which was penned by Princess Luciana Pignatelli. The flap copy gives a hint to what are the secrets of a beautiful woman: “self-discipline, private bedrooms, work, cosmetic surgery, facial exercises, rest, repose, having late babies, the right kinds of husbands and loves, yoga, isometrics, and walking.” Your sister might also benefit from those sunglasses. Ooh, baby!

The Beautiful People's Beauty Book, by Princess Luciana Pignatelli (1970)

Speaking of isometrics, this next book would be perfect for anyone on your list. I mean, who wouldn’t love exercise that requires no movement at all?

Vic Obeck's How to Exercise Without Moving A Muscle (1964)

Dad might really enjoy this “Greeting Card Book,” which can be sent directly via the mail.  You could even send it anonymously so he has no idea that you doubt his handyman skills!

The Unhandy Handyman's Book (1966)

Young, frantic parents in your life might really appreciate this helpful guide from the Department of Defense. Who wouldn’t have a better grasp on how to raise preschoolers?

Department of Defense, Caring for Preschoolers (1982)

Here’s another for just about anyone on your list, from the business executive to those starting out in life  ~ this book has 871 pages full of etiquette and more, more, more. I was going to list all of the topics but I figured it was easier to just share the title page (click on it to see a larger size).

The cover of The National Encyclopedia of Business and Social Forms... (1881)

Title page of the National Encyclopedia...

This final entry is for the car lovers in your family, particularly those with VWs. It’s not an advice book, but I found it on my shelves while poking around and it seemed like the perfect gift for both “Volks folks and Normal People.” Here’s a few to whet your appetite: “There was the Dallas oilman who paid for his new Cadillac with a $10,000 bill and took his change in Volkswagens” HA! Or how about: “Here’s a tip to help you quickly dry your VW after a washing. Pick it up by the windshield wiper and it will shake itself dry.” Hooboy, what a riot! Here’s one more: “Give a man with a big car an inch and he’ll take a mile, but give a VW owner a foot and he’ll park his car.”

The Jokeswagen Book (1966)

Well, that’s it for another year. I hope these ideas help with your last-minute gift shopping, and that you all have a wonderful holiday!

How to Display the Flag

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

unfurl it, then hoist it quicklyI’ve seen American flags hanging from bridges overhanging the highways. I’ve seen them attached to cars and motorcycles, whipping in the wind as the vehicles pass by. I’ve seen paper flags taped to windows and doors. I’ve never seen so many flags. But do we really remember how to treat them correctly? Here are a few flag etiquette tips from Service Etiquette, written by Oretha Swartz. (more…)

Enjoy TV In Your Bedroom

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

slimline TVs are a good choiceAh, 1971. A fine year for decorating the home, from what I can tell by looking at the really brightly colored rooms in a book recently donated to the collection by my mom.

According to a chapter titled “Television: The Right Type and Size for You, and Where to Place It”:

There is little doubt that television has changed our lives in many ways. As a source of information, education, and entertainment it has developed from a scientific and technological curiousity; as a medium of communication its role is now as important in modern life as that of the telephone and the radio.

That said, I think I’ll go snuggle in bed with the remote. Won’t you join me?

1971: Enjoy TV In Your Bedroom

For some people the idea of perfect relaxation is to lie in bed and watch the late, late show on TV. The problem often is how to include television attractively in a bedroom decorating plan. A simple solution is an adjustable tension pole that goes from floor to ceiling and can hold a portable TV set. This device uses a minimum of floor space, and it eliminates the need for a TV stand. Slimline TVs are a good choice for the bedroom; they are light and easy to store.

Another possibility for reclining television viewers is to build the set into the wall. Remove the framed mirror that hangs over the dresser and build a niche for the television set in its place. Then rehang the mirror, attaching it to the wall with hinges at the side so it can swing away from the TV screen like a door. If another location for a built-in television set is more suitable than over the dresser, it is still possible to conceal the screen when it is not in use. A door that matches those in the room makes an excellent cover-up, and so does a painting on hinges.

Wherever you decide to place your built-in television set in the bedroom, you should bear in mind that your line of vision while reclining is not the same as when you are sitting up. The television set should be placed higher than usual for the most comfortable viewing while in bed. For added convenience, plan to operate your bedroom TV with a remove-control device.

Source: The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement: Vol. 16, SIL-TEL. New York: Greystone Press, 1971.
~ pp. 3056-57 ~

Basics of a Beautiful Room

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

the wonderful world of colorCouches. You don’t think too much about them until a really gigantic one shows up on your doorstep. This happened to my friend Deborah recently. A birthday present to herself, the new furniture was overwhelming. I suggested that to fully appreciate it she needed to embrace the couch, become one with the couch ~ or in other words, get a blanket, lie down, and take a long nap.

I hear this helped, but to assist her and others faced with the perils of decorating a room here are some words of wisdom from none other than Barbara Taylor Bradford in Easy Steps to Successful Decorating. Now I wonder if Deborah’s couch will match the fabulous orange and yellow color schemes that appear throughout this book?

1971: Basics of a Beautiful Room

I truly believe that you can turn any room in your home into a beautiful setting for relaxation and enjoyment. All it requires on your part is a real desire to do this, plus a little decorating know-how, which I feel sure this book will give you.

When you look at the room about to be born, consider your aims and what you want the finished result to be. In essence, it should be a welcoming room, where your family and friends feel at their best ~ relaxed, stimulated, comfortable and truly at ease among attractive furnishings. The true measure of your success as a decorator will be apparent when you see your family and friends enjoying the room from every level….

[It is] important to consider some basic elements that contribute toward a beautiful room at all times. In combination, they provide the ultimate finished effect. They are:

1. Space. It is important to utilize this to the fullest. Preplanning will enable you to do this and avoid either an empty or a cluttered look.

2. Scale. Every piece of furniture should be related in size to the others and also compatible with the dimensions of the room. This careful balancing of scale ensures a smooth look in the room.

3. Furniture Arrangements. Each grouping must add to the room’s visual beauty and function perfectly for the occupants.

4. Lighting. All fixtures should be carefully distributed to properly highlight furnishings, provide visual comfort and create a pleasing atmosphere.

5. Color. This must be carefully selected and used correctly to create the mood you desire and integrate all the other elements into a cohesive whole.

6. Harmony. Fabrics, floor coverings, wall covering, woods and all other textures should be selectively chosen both to match and to contrast with one another. Proper keying of these materials produces a harmonious look.

This, then, has been your introduction to decorating. In fact, you might think of it as the beginning of your adventure in the wonderful world of color, design and home furnishing. And decorating a home is an adventure, one to be embarked upon with enthusiasm and love. For after all, you are setting out to create beautiful surroundings for those you love.

Source: Bradford, Barbara Taylor. Easy Steps to Successful Decorating. New York: Simon and Schuster,1971.
~ pp. 216-18 ~

Miss Abigail’s (timeless) Holiday Gift Ideas, Vol. V

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Worried about finding a perfect gift for your hard-to-shop-for relative? Welcome to the fifth annual collection of Miss Abigail’s gift ideas. This year I offer a lovely selection of items that I’m sure those on your list will just adore. Trust me.

Dad sure loves to cook those burgers. How about this handy “portable electric range” to make him forget about the grill? (1970)

What baby doesn’t love a metal tub? You tell me! (1924)

When baking sheetcakes for your elderly relatives or neighbors, be sure to size the pan correctly, or trouble might ensue. (1965)

Sis always feels special in a new set of spectacles. Mom, Dad, why not treat her to a new look?(1952)

Hmm… what does mom want? A new set of dishes? A toaster oven? A vacuum cleaner? No, silly. She wants CASH! (1947)

The Eyelashes Have It

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

what I needed was false eyelashesQ Dear Miss Abigail:

Is there a certain way to look at a guy to make him want you more than any other girl?


A Dear Mary:

I bet you never thought that eyelashes were so important when it came to making googly eyes. But they are, at least according to Eileen Ford, the head of “the world’s most famous model agency.” I found this gem in her book titled A More Beautiful You in 21 Days. Eileen wouldn’t lead us astray, would she?

1972: Eyes Are for More than Looking

In thinking about how alluring women use their eyes to convey a thousand hidden messages, I realized that there’s something very few women know. Professional beauties all over the world use false eyelashes. Eyelashes so cunningly applied that no one knows they are not their very own.

Imagine sitting next to or across from someone ~ sipping your iced tea and looking deep into his eyes, slowly lowering your lashes, then looking back into the very depths of his eyes. Even if he’s been around for twenty or thirty years, it’s not too late to learn to flirt all over again.

When I decided that what I needed was false eyelashes, I decided that strip eyelashes weren’t for me, as I was allergic even to surgical adhesive and they made my eyes red. So I went to Jean Kane of New York’s Eyelash Studio and asked for help. Miss Kane has taught many of our models and applies individual eyelashes to many of the world’s outstanding beauties. She teaches our models as I will teach you now.

You may buy individual lashes or take an inexpensive pair of strip lashes and pull the single lash from the end of the strip with a tweezer. If you are using a strip, trim the lashes first with a single-edge razor blade. Place the lashes on a sheet of white paper. Put a mirror flat on a table so that you will be looking down into it. Pick up each eyelash in turn with tweezer and touch it to eyelash glue so that you have a very small amount of glue on the lash. Attach the lash about halfway back on the underside of one of your own lashes. You can trim the lengths with blunt-end scissors (such as nose-hair trimmers). Do not cut straight across, but cut the lashes at uneven lengths for a feathered look.

I keep my eyelashes on for days it it isn’t windy, washing around them carefully. If a few fall out, I replace them. When the eyelashes finally become stiff and unnatural-looking, I take them off by pressing a hot washcloth to my lashes and gently pulling off the lashes as they come loose.

When you’ve mastered this trick, use those eyes of yours for what they were meant for.

Again you’ll find the mirror a great help. Practice various expressions from innocent to sexy, from sad to gay, and try to use them every time you look at someone. Stare deep into his eyes, smile with your eyes, let your eyes smoulder.

Where did romance go? You’ll find it never left at all.

Source: Ford, Eileen. A More Beautiful You in 21 Days. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.
~ pp. 96-97 ~