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 ‘charm’

Sears Discovery Course: Chapter on Manners (1972)

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

There’s been renewed interest lately from readers of this site in the Sears Discovery Charm School courses that were available in the 1960s and 1970s; I’ve written about this before on the site, which is likely leading searchers to find their way to Miss Abigail.

A fan and attendee of the course recently wrote to say she was a graduate of the Sears Discovery Charm School during the early 70s in Racine, WI:  “I was wondering if you could provide the information from the 3 ring binder regarding manners. I really wish I could locate my binder, but so very appreciative that the information is still available!”

So I dug up my binder (from 1972), and scanned in the chapter for it and sent along. Given the number of emails I get on the topic, I thought others would like to see it to – so here you go! Pop on over to my Flickr account to see the whole chapter, or flip thru the images below. Enjoy!


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!

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


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!

How Do I Shake Hands?

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

be vital, be aliveQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I was wondering what the proper etiquette is when a man comes up to you to shake your hand. Should you offer your hand or should he?

A Shaker and a Mover

A Dear Shaker:

I have a few tidbits for you from Ruth Tolman’s Charm and Poise for Getting Ahead. The first is from a chapter titled “The Art of Graciousness,” while the second appears in the “Social Postures” chapter and explains how exactly to go about shaking hands. I thought you might find that useful.

I don’t know about you, but after reading this I feel empowered to go out there and confidently shake hands with whomever I want, whenever I want. I am poised, hear me roar!

1969: The Handshake

A handshake is an expression of friendliness, it tells the other person that you are really glad to see him. Strive for a happy medium between a vise-like grip and a dead-fish grip. Your handshake is as expressive of your personality as your clothes and your speech.

And, if you are wearing gloves, my lady, would you remove them before shaking hands? No, a woman may shake hands with her glove on. However, because gloves are for street wear, they are removed as soon as you come indoors.

These are occasions when handshaking is necessary:
~~Whenever anyone extends his hand to you. If you are a young woman, you would wait for an older woman to extend her hand to you.
~~When men are introduced to one another. Even in a group a man will shake hands with each man to whom he is introduced unless it is most awkward for him to do so.
~~A woman may shake hands with a woman her own age, with a man to whom she is introduced as she chooses. It is the woman who takes the initiative in handshaking when men and women are introduced.

1. The right hand is brought from the side of the body to the waistline with the inner wrist leading in a semi-circular motion and is placed firmly in the palm of the other person’s hand for one or two visible hand shakes.

2. The left hand may be allowed to remain at the side or may be brought toward the waistline. It also may be necessary to use the left hand to hold one’s purse and gloves while shaking hands.

Please don’t hand someone a “wet dishrag” hand to shake. Be vital, be alive. Let the other person know and feel that you are genuinely glad to make his acquaintance.

Source: Tolman, Ruth. Charm and Poise for Getting Ahead. Bronx, NY: Milady Publishing Corporation, 1969.
~ pp. 234-35 (1st); 99 (2nd) ~

Sweetness and Kindness

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

not the cloying, sticky, kittenish sweetnessHoney sweetie pie! Sweetness! Baby sweetie darling! Here are some words on this lovely subject from volume one of Frances Dare’s Lovely Ladies: The Art of Being a Woman. Hope you enjoy it, sweetheart.

1929: Sweetness and Kindness

Every real woman must be sweet, and she must express her sweetness in kindness.

The real sweetness that is the essence distilled from a lovely soul is not the cloying, sticky, kittenish sweetness that all too inadequately conceals its owner’s claws, but the deep, real loveliness that shines from the depths of the lovely soul, and often produces an effect of actual physical beauty.

True sweetness is ‘as rare as a day in June’ ~ and I mean ‘rare’ in the sense that it was used by the author of this quotation. Rare meaning ‘choice, priceless, and seldom found’ applies to sweetness on all three counts.

A naturally sweet disposition is often an inherited quality or the product of an environment where one is constantly surrounded by others who are so pricelessly blessed. Yet, even though it may be latent, the germ of sweetness abides in each of us.

Sweetness is founded upon many things. Often it is based upon a philosophical outlook which is sometimes called understanding ~ at other times tolerance. For one with a sweet personality may, at times, be rather easily hurt, but realizing and having the intelligence to analyze this hurt, that person never retaliates. And also, upon such a one, the cares and irritations of life seem not to weigh too heavily, despite the fact that usually she is not the type of moron who is always happy because she cannot feel sorrow.

Life being what it is, it appears to me that the sooner one cultivates a philosophical attitude tinct with humor, the sooner will one be equipped to go through it with a minimum of discomfort to one’s self and to others.

Source: Dare, Frances. Lovely Ladies: The Art of Being a Woman, Vol. I. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1929.
~ pp. 30-31 ~

Sears Discovery Charm School – ring any bells?

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

Kelly, a fan of this site, wrote recently with a question about a book from her childhood that she’s been desperately looking for –The Sears Make the Most of You Discovery Book (described a bit but without working links here. It was from a charm school that Sears ran back in the early 1970s; Kelly was a proud graduate. I sent her off to the Sears archivists but they had apparently never heard of the class or the book.

So I ask you – did anyone else out there take this class or remember this book? I’m thinking it was maybe a regional thing, but if Sears published the book… well, who knows. Post a comment if you’ve got any information about this class!

Miss Abigail