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 ‘boys’

Who Do Men Turn To?

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

the questions which bubbleQ Dear Miss Abigail:

Why do all of your questions seem to be directed at the female perspective? Who do men who need answers turn to?


A Dear Charles:

Yes, it does seem to be true that the majority of my questions are geared toward females. But many of the dating and love problems do cross gender lines.

Even so, it sometimes feels like I’m neglecting young men, so in recent years I’ve tried to beef up my collection of books for boys. Located so far: What a Young Boy Ought to Know, What Every Young Man Should Know and the ever popular Attaining Manhood. For parents of boys: Understanding Your Son’s Adolescence, So You Want to Raise a Boy? Even health and even beauty are covered, with such books as The Boys Book of Physical Fitness, and Looking Good: A Guide for Men. There are a few others scattered throughout the collection, but you get the point with this quick list.

The following introduction, which was written by Wilbert C. Davison for Frank Howard Robinson’s For Boys Only, sums up this pressing need for advice for our young men. You certainly can count on me to try harder from now on.

1952: For Boys Only: Introduction

The most difficult period of a boy’s life is that between elementary school and high school. While in elementary school he is told what to do and why; and by the time he becomes a high school senior he usually knows what he wants to do and why. But in that interval of adolescence during early high school while he is becoming an adult, he is bewildered not only by the physical changes he is undergoing but by the emotional behavior caused by these physical changes.

Dr. Richardson’s book supplies in a most interesting way the information he wants and needs. After a boy has read this book he knows why he does the things which often lead to trouble, why he tries to outdrive other motorists, why he imitates the love life of other men, and why he must attempt to convince himself and others that he is bigger, smarter and more courageous than he really knows himself to be.

Dr. Richardson doesn’t preach; but he answers the questions which bubble through every boy’s mind at this period, questions on sex and other problems which he often hesitates to ask, for usually there is no one to whom he can unburden himself without embarrassment and from whom he can obtain straight facts.

This book will fill an urgent need for the adolescent youth. But it will be of inestimable help as well to family doctors and pediatricians. For these men are becoming increasingly conscious that advice to youngsters of this group is not only necessary but also will go far toward reducing the behavior problems which are so frequent in this generation.

Source: Richardson, Frank Howard. For Boys Only: The Doctor Discuss the Mysteries of Manhood. New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1952 (reprinted 1970).
~ pp. ix – x ~

How Boys Try to Prove Their Masculinity

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

look at me and my manlinessHere is another fine excerpt from A Girl’s Guide to Dating and Going Steady by Dr. Tom McGinnis. And not a moment too soon ~ it sure has unearthed a lot of mysteries for me. Those poor boys, always struggling to attain manliness! I feel for them, really I do.

1968: How Boys Try to Prove Their Masculinity

Boys reveal their ideas of manliness in their dealings with girls. In recognizing this, you will understand at once why they do many things girls rarely do. For instance, girls, who have no need to prove themselves in this way, rarely try to drive cars as fast as they will go. They do not have to risk their lives just because of a dare, and usually do not enjoy playing sports which give a great sense of strength and power. Watch teenage boys at the beach, showing their muscles and diving madly into the water. They are saying, ‘Look at me and my manliness.’

To many boys, the proof of masculinity consists in being able to win a girl. In caveman days, men showed their colors by capturing women and dragging them off. In our civilized times, boys try to do much the same by verbal prowess. The boy who can get a girl to fall for his line is often considered a hero. Some boys consider it manly to engage in heavy necking, petting, or even intercourse, not necessarily because they enjoy these things or care about the girl, but because they consider it one way of proving their masculinity to themselves. And that is often why they boast about their accomplishments later to other boys. (It also is why some men who are unsure of their own manhood cannot settle down to love one woman. Instead, they flit from one to the other, trying to prove their masculinity to themselves by getting women to succumb to them.)

Boys may have a greater need to feel masculine during their teen years than at any other time of life. As they approach adulthood, they may have many secret fears about their ability to live up to the picture of manhood in their own minds. Boys often doubt whether they will have the necessary sexual powers to do what is expected of men. Some may doubt that they are handsome or smart enough to appeal to girls. Some who are shorter or slighter than the average may doubt their ability to stand up for their rights. Such doubts, of course, contribute to a boy’s insecurity about himself and may make him supersensitive to criticism. A self-accepting boy might laugh off criticisms of his manhood, because he feels within himself that they are not deserved, but such criticisms will cut deeply into a boy who has uncertainties of his own. I vividly remember a short, thin boy with glasses who fought like a tiger when a bigger boy called him a sissy. The short boy took a beating, but he won his classmates’ respect for his courage, which was what he wanted in the first place. He had to prove to himself, and to everyone else, that the charge was untrue.

Let me sum up how most boys want girls to react to them: They want girls to think that they are attractive, smart and, above all, masculine. They want to be considered strong enough physically, as well as mentally, to protect a girl from danger. They want to be regarded as confident and decisive. And, as I said earlier, they want to be thought of as having those qualities ~ whatever they may be ~ which they themselves accept as masculine.

Source: McGinnis, Tom. A Girl’s Guide to Dating and Going Steady. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1968.
~ pp. 53-55 ~

Boys, in 500 Words or Less

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

rough and readyQ Dear Miss Abigail:

What is the best way or sentence to sum up boys between the ages of thirteen and fifteen?


A Dear Meg:

Golly gee whiz, Miss Meg. You’re assignment is hard! I couldn’t find just one sentence to answer your question, so I’m going to ramble on a bit. Here is more than you ever wanted to know about teen boys, from authors Frances Bruce Strain, Harold Shyrock, Frank Howard Richardson, and Ellen Peck. Do I get an A?

1946: The Art of Conversation

Boys say, ‘Girl’s can’t talk about anything but their hair and clothes,’ or they say, ‘They gossip about other girls and other fellows. It makes you uncomfortable.’ If you listen to the talk of girls on the street or bus or in a tearoom you are inclined to agree with the boys.

Boys talk about athletics, school affairs, their jobs outside of school, about their hobbies, their clubs, camp, today’s news, politics, movies, television, radio programs ~ everything. The detail a boy’s mind can carry is amazing. He is ready at the drop of a hat to talk on a hundred topics. The other day I chanced to inquire of a fifteen-year-old high-schooler about a certain radio program. he knew not only the programs, but the hours, the networks, the artists and even the daily theme or motive of every program in the week!

Source: Strain, Frances Bruce. Teen Days: A Book for Boys and Girls. New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1946.
~ pp. 153-54 ~

1951: Secrets About Boys

A teen-age boy is masculine in his attitude and somewhat rough and ready in his relations to the outside world.

Source: Shryock, Harold. On Becoming a Woman. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1951.
~ p. 27 ~

1961: What About Petting?

‘Lots of the boys who try to make you pet don’t really want you to at all. They do it because they think it makes them look like real he-men. They are what I like to call “sheep in wolves” clothing.’

Source: “Janie” in Richardson, Frank Howard. For Young Adults Only: The Doctor Discusses Your Personal Problems. Atlanta, Ga.: Tupper and Love, 1961.
~ p. 57 ~

1969: What the Teen-Age Boy Is Like

Actually, a handy definition of a teen-age boy, as far as you’re concerned, is a guy who yearns after sharp girls and wants like crazy to avoid losers. Reason? Insecurity. A sharp girl ~ a real winner ~ is going to make him feel more secure and sharp himself. (‘If she likes me, I must really be somebody,’ he’s thinking.) And a loser is going to make him feel more insecure than ever. (‘If that’s all I can get, I must be nowhere,’ is the flip side of the coin.)

How does a guy decide who’s sharp and who’s a loser? Every girl, all by herself, tells him. Generally, without saying a word.

Source: Peck, Ellen. How to Get a Teen-Age Boy and What To Do With Him When You Get Him. New York: Bernard Geis Associates, 1969.
~ p. 57 ~

Understanding Boys

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

what makes a boy tickBoys, boys, boys. It sure is hard to understand them. I was therefore pleased to find this bit of information in one of my latest purchases: A Girl’s Guide to Dating and Going Steady by Dr. Tom McGinnis.

You may want to also read a selection from a few pages later titled “How Boys Try to Prove Their Masculinity.” I just know you must be on the edge of your seat.

1968: Understanding Boys

Probably the most important thing you will learn about boys is this simple fact: they are boys. This statement is not as ridiculous as it may sound. Just as you have been trained since birth to think and act as a girl ~ you have been given dolls to play with and pretty dresses to wear, and have been told to behave like a young lady and not to be a ‘tomboy’ ~ so too boys have been trained to act as boys from their earliest days. The fact that even as infants they are given blue things to wear instead of pink ones shows that different ways of acting are expected of them.

From the time he is old enough to understand, a boy is taught to ‘behave like a man.’ If he is hurt, he is told not to cry, for that is what girls do. If he wants to play with dolls, they may be taken away from him and he is given building blocks or toy trains instead. If he wants to play games with girls instead of playing baseball or football with other boys, he is sneered at and called a sissy. He is praised for being strong, for enduring pain without whimpering, for being brave. If challenged, he is told to ‘fight for his rights.’ He is taught to assert himself and not give in to others easily lest he be thought a pushover. He is discouraged from showing ‘soft’ emotions like tenderness, lest he be ridiculed by his friends.

To be considered a man is worth more to a boy than almost anything else. He will confess to many weaknesses. He may admit that he does not do well in school, is not good at basketball, and cannot hit a straight nail with a hammer. He will admit to almost any shortcomings ~ but if he wants to maintain his self-respect, he will not confess to a ‘lack of manliness.’ And this desire to be thought manly persists throughout life. Even in their deepest sorrow, many men consider it soft and womanly to weep or to confess any lack of emotional control. . . .

If you want to understand boys, then, you first must understand that their own sense of self-survival will not allow them to tolerate any suggestions that they lack manliness.

The best way to know what makes a boy tick is to find out what his idea of manhood is. This is easier said than done. Like you, a boy has been influenced not only by his parents, but also by other members of his family, his social environment, his religion, and many other factors which have helped him form a picture in his mind of what being a man consists of.

Source: McGinnis, Tom. A Girl’s Guide to Dating and Going Steady. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1968.
~ pp. 50-51 ~

What Do Those Boys Talk About?

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

it sure does buck me upThe premise in For Boys Only is that Dr. Frank Howard Richardson has been tasked with explaining “what happens to you, now that you are changing from a boy to a man. It explains how and why girls and women are different from boys and men. It helps you to understand why it is that you feel and act the way you do, sometimes. It makes it easier for you to get along with girls, and other fellows, and Dad.”

I stumbled across it when looking for the answer to another question, and just had to share it with you. Sit back, relax, and enjoy this little conversation, which just happens to take place on a boat.

1952: What Do Those Boys Talk About?

“Do you know, Doc, that’s exactly what was eating on me the other night, when I was out with those older guys and got myself into the spot I was so tense about when I came to your office. I didn’t really want to have anything to do with that skirt. As a matter of fact, she was actually sort of disgusting to me. But I didn’t want the others to think there was anything wrong with me, or that I was ‘queer,’ or that I couldn’t rate with the rest of them.

“So I just went ahead and acted like a fool. And all I got out of what I see now was just a fool stunt was several days of sure-enough mental hell, before you told me I hadn’t caught any disease but was just imagining things. A dollar will get you five that I won’t be that sort of a come-on again,” and Bill slid back down on the bottom of the boat with a sigh of relief at the mere recollection of his escape from his little private Hades.

“I hate ‘dating,'” volunteered Jack, hesitantly. “But it sure does buck me up, to have the other fellows hear girls I’ve been around with say I’ve got a cute line, or that I’m not peasant for a tot my size. It really builds me,” and Jack, who had been listening in silence up until now, stuck out his chin with a pleased expression of self-satisfaction at what he considered his “sharp” vocabulary, then added:

“But I sure straighten up and die when a deep-pocket wipes me just because he has a big car.”

“Deflate, hub cap. Stop acting so sophisticated, and talk plain American,” and Harry shoved the subdued Jack over on the thwart with his elbow, then remarked thoughtfully: “I wonder if you can’t help me with something else that’s bothering me ~ ”

“Maybe, so, Harry. But first, Jack, get for’ard and cut up some of that bait; and break out the fishing tackle, will you Bill? And for Pete’s sake, Harry, give me a crack at that wheel! I brought you loafers along to act as a crew, not for a lot of passengers to keep me from having a little bit of fun myself with my own ship. Get going, sailor,” and the doctor pushed Harry to one side, took over the wheel, and gave her the gun.

Source: Richardson, Frank Howard. For Boys Only: The Doctor Discuss the Mysteries of Manhood. New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1952 (reprinted 1970).
~ pp. 74-75 ~

1964: Boys Are Different!

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

A special thank you to Sherri Baer, who just sent me two fabulous little pink books by Ruth Vaughn: It’s Fun to Be a Girl (“in which she tells how ‘sugar and spice and everything nice’ can be made a dream come true,” so says the cover) and the follow-up Dreams Can Come True (“because of her unquestioned faith in this fact, she reminds her readers that it is fun to be a girl”).

This little excerpt, titled “Boys are Different!” is from Dreams Can Come True. I find this fascinating. Who knew that girls and boys could be so different, yet still get along! This explains a lot.

You will just have to admit that it’s true. Their whole thought processes are different. Their whole outlook upon life is different! Their interests, dreams, and ambitions are different.

Girls like security and warmth. Boys are freespirited. Girls want to leave quickly any scene of unhappiness. Boys can implulsively knock another boy across the room. Girls want praise, attention. Boys are happy just to have you in the same room with them while they devote all of their attention elsewhere. (It certainly isn’t much fun for you when Steve comes to see you and spends all evening discussing baseball talk with your father. But Steve is happy just because you are near!)

Girls love poetic, beautiful, dreaming things: orchids, very soft blue satin the color of the morning sky, “Rhapsody in Blue,” soft candleglow, bubble bath. Boys love plain, common, everyday things: baseball, the sports page, digging in the garden, greasy motors, carpenters’ saws. Girls always prefer a date with Steve to congealing at a girls’ party. Boys often prefer to just “be with the boys.”

1969: Types of Boys…The Non-Athlete Celebrity

Sunday, June 25th, 2006

In response to the recent excerpts from Ellen Peck’s How to Get a Teen-Age Boy and What to Do with Him when You Get Him, Jenn asked “Just out of curiosity…how do you get a non-athlete celebrity?”

Ellen describes these as “the editor of the school paper or yearbook, the student council vice-pres, and the Guy Who Organizes the School Assemblies. What about them?”

“As a group, they’re intelligent. And they’ve decided to use their intelligence in some way that will get them recognition. They’ve decided to, then worked at it. . . . [they] have put a lot of work and planning into getting where they are. Why? They need recognition ~ more than most. They want a little power. Power that will make them feel just as big as the football or basketball star. . . .

There are two aspects to the non-athlete-celeb’s activity: (1) need for recognition; (2) generally, a real interest in debate, writing, photography ~ whatever it is he’s doing. But the need for recognition is at least fifty percent of the picture. Appeal to this, rather than the interest area. That is, appreciating his skill in his field is better than jumping into the field yourself. You don’t have to love photography to impress the yearbook photographer. Just say, “Oh, what great pictures! How on earth did you get everybody just right?”

Is it going to matter if you don’t share his interest in what he does at all? Maybe. And maybe not. It depends on whether his interest in the field is strong, or whether he’s chosen it just as an arbitrary avenue to recognition. . . .

Ms. Peck does go on to say that “it won’t hurt you to learn something about whatever Bill does,” because it can help you with future conversations with him. Gee, thanks for that tip!

1969: Types of Boys and How to Get Them: The Comic

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

In a recent post, I brought you an excerpt about a type of boy known as “the egghead,” described by Ellen Peck in her book from 1969 called How to Get a Teen-Age Boy and What to Do with Him when You Get Him. Reader Clare wondered who the audience was for this book (teenage girls from 1969, I presume, and those of us who can relate to ~ or gawk at ~ life as a teenage girl from 1969??).

She also was curious to hear more about another type from the list: “the comic”. Here it is:

Psychologists tell us that the comic types ~ people who always have funny things to say ~ really don’t like themselves very much. They’re afraid, deep down, that people are going to laugh at them. So they meet this fear head-on with humor. They give people something to laugh at, and thus avoid the idea that people laugh at them. People are laughing, instead, at the things they say. There’s a big difference, in the mind of the comic.

Way to meet a comic type? Well, there’s the opening line like, “I just have to tell you that this class would be so boring if it weren’t for you. You know, I was listening to Bill Cosby last night (or watching “Laugh-In,” or whatever the contemporary comedy show is) and compared to you, he’s absolutely nowhere.” . . .

Resist the tendency . . . to play his own game with him. . . . Don’t do it. Don’t compete. When with other people, be an audience. He’s found humor a way to get recognition. Don’t take it away from him by being funny yourself. . . .

But ~ keeping in mind that the humor may be a kind of defense ~ remember that the humor also be a kind of strain. Don’t push for funniness when the two of you are together. Invite him to drop the defense: “I dare you to be un-funny all the way to the bus stop.” (Or the school door, or the library.) See if he accepts the invitation.

You might also plant the idea that you’d like him even if he wasn’t such a cut-up. He says, “I like Marge; she’s so intellectual ~ always talking about Mary Worth.” Try responding, “And I like you because you’re so serious,” and keep your tone of voice soft and natural to take away the irony. The idea that he can be liked for something other than his jokes and stories might give him the confidence to break away from the constant use of them as crutches.

Now wait a second, Ellen, I’m confused. We’re supposed to let them shine as the comics (keeping oh-so-serious ourselves, as not to distract from his limelight), then turn around and suggest he tone it down a little? Sounds just a tad bit manipulative to me!

1969: Types of Boys and How to Get Them: The Egghead

Saturday, June 10th, 2006

A fan of the site recently wrote to request some advice on “scooping” boys. Now, I’m not up to date on my slang terms, but I’m assuming this is the same as a pickup, or a come-on, getting the attention of those young gentlemen. Well, according to one of my favorite books, Ellen Peck’s How to Get a Teen-Age Boy and What to Do with Him when You Get Him (New York: Bernard Geis Associates, 1969), there are 10 types of boys out there that you might want to get (at least in school):

1. The superstar (athlete-celebrity)
2. The non-athlete-celebrity
3. The “social-register” type
4. The social reformer
5. The activities major
6. The egghead
7. The comic
8. The shadow
9. The escapist
10. The creep

Since the writer didn’t specific what type she might be interested in, I’ll pick one that seems a likely candidate for my circle of friends: the egghead. Let’s read what Ms. Peck has to say:

The egghead often doesn’t get along very well with people. He feels safer with books. Books are more trustworthy, calmer, and don’t require knowing what to say . . . which this intellectual type frequently doesn’t; unless it’s to another intellectual, about something in a book.

The key to your approach to the brainy type is not to be demanding. He’s not used to meeting demands from people. Go slow. Don’t ask him to phone you – even for the most logical of reasons. Don’t suggest anything social – even Cokes at the corner. Especially not during the early stages of approach.

The approach? It’s helpful to use one of his areas of superiority in school. Harold’s best subject is math? Once a week for two weeks, ask for help with classwork. If necessary, do some studying ahead of time, so that you can follow his explanation. That’s important!

For one thing, you don’t want to seem like a dummy. For another, his pride couldn’t take it if he failed to explain something he understands perfectly.

The third week (all but the shyest will be unafraid of you by this time) ask for some explanation twice during the week. And now let’s expand the discussion to other matters – current events or personalities in the news. Do a lot of appreciative nodding when he talks about the export balance.

Here are my favorite versions of the appreciative nod:
1. (Pensive) Lean chin on knuckles of right hand; bend torso slightly forward; look pensively at him; nod.
2. (Dreamy) Put forefinger to chin; lean slightly backward; look at him; nod.

Don’t be in any hurry to talk about personal matters. If the relationship is going to get anywhere, eventually you’ve got to talk to him on a personal level, of course. But take it slowly. Don’t ask him questions about himself, his feelings, his family. You can invite him to do this kind of talking by mentioning your personal opinions, your family. He may respond.


If you’re worried this won’t translate to adult boys, think of all those shy guys at work who are buried in their books at lunch. Surely you could ask them for help with a work assignment! Or try applying the appreciative nod in your dealings with others.

If anyone is interested in learning more about any of the other types, send me a comment with your requested type, and I’ll post some more on the topic.