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 ‘entertaining’

1930: How to Be a Successful [November] Hostess

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

In honor of Thanksgiving week, and since many of you are probably entertaining friends or relatives in the coming days, I thought I’d bring you a bit of advice from a book I picked up while on summer vacation: How to be a Successful Hostess. Published in 1930 and written by Charlotte Clarke and Thelma B. Clarke, the book is subtitled “What every woman should know about entertaining and etiquette.” Still confused about what the the purpose of this book is? Never fear, it opens with a section titled just that (“The Purpose of This Book”):

"To be known as a brilliant entertainer is the sincere wish of each hostess. Beyond measure she covets the high opinion of her friends regarding her ability to carry on social activities in a competent and winning manner.

Always, everywhere, does she want to do the correct thing and say the correct word. She knows that there is a code of etiquette which must be followed; she knows, too, that she must be charming in personality, possess the ability to be pleasing and bright in conversation, and be so well informed as to how to provide entertainment for her guests that they will leave her home wishing the visit had not come to a close and gladly accepting her invitation to “come again.” She fully realizes the embarrassment and the loss of social prestige and standing which follow any incompetency on her part.

The art of entertaining successfully may be cultivated. The object of this volume is to aid the hostess in her endeavor to acquire this art. We have tried, in a clear and understandable way, to present the subjects contained herein so that they will be a source of reference that is at all times helpful and valuable to the woman who takes pride in being a successful hostess and entertainer. "

Chapters include “The Art of Conversation,” “Unexpected Callers,” and “Entertaining the Week-End Guest,” among others. A good chunk of the book (about 90 pages) is devoted to games you can play at your parties. Anyone for a rousing game of “Seeing Snakes” or “Twisted Names,” “Balancing Candy,” “Spearing for Peanuts,” or “Banana Diet”?

But I digress. This is Thanksgiving, after all, so what I meant to share with you are some hints about November parties, from a chapter titled “Menus for Special Occasions.”

"Many hostesses give a Thanksgiving Day Party in honor of those members of the family who have returned home for the holiday.

Mr. Turkey himself, the fellow who has been fed all summer so you might enjoy your Thanksgiving Day mean, is universally accepted as the best centerpiece for the table. If, however, the turkey is already carved, the hostess might substitute an attractive basket of fruit and candies, or flowers would be pleasing an affective.

Any number of favors are obtainable for the Thanksgiving Day meal and the hostess will have little trouble on this score. The place cards may be in the shape of a turkey or pumpkin.


Shrimp Cocktail
Stuffed Olives | Sweet Gherkins
Roast Vermont Turkey | Cranberry Sauce
Mashed Potato
Asparagus Tips | Buttered Squash
Alligator Pear Salad
Pumpkin Pie
Hot Mince Pie
Fruits | Nuts | Raisins
Cheese | Toasted Crackers


Consommé Vermicelli
Queen Olives | Iced Celery
Roast Vermont Turkey
Cranberry Sauce
Giblet Gravy
Sweet Potato | Baked Potato
Cauliflower | Eggplant
Boston Lettuce, French Dressing
Banana Ice Cream | Tiny Cakes
Fruit | Nuts
Cheese | Crackers


Creamed Turkey on Toast
Green Pepper Sandwiches
Tiny Biscuits | Cheese
Mince Pie | Coffee


Fruit Cup
Chicken Cutlets | Potatoes Saratoga
Tomato Salad
Pumpkin Pie | Nuts
Tea "


The original owner of my book must not have been much of an entertainer herself ~ she was creative in other ways. The back of the book, meant for the jotting down of favorite recipes, is filled with silly nonsensical poetry. Perhaps an output of one of the games in the book? Or a woman who was pretending to jot down recipes so her family would think she cared, but was instead really writing poetry? That story sounds more entertaining to me.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!




Thanksgiving Parties

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

I spend every other Thanksgiving with family on Sanibel Island in Florida. It’s always a bit odd to eat turkey and mashed potatoes at picnic tables alongside the beach, but we make it work. We have our own games and traditions, including an ornament decorating contest using natural items from the beaches (I am SO winning this year! Take that, Johns Family!). Last time we did a tag-team sort of race (which I lost for our team, quite miserably).

Continuing with this theme of advice for a holidays, I thought I would find some Thanksgiving party ideas that might help you start your own traditions. Here’s a few from the 1928 edition of How to Entertain at Home. These are sure to be crowd-pleasers!


Rollicking games and stunts that “have a big laugh in them” are indispensable to a party where young people are present. Some good ones are described here.

Sports with doughnuts are highly seasonable at this feast of New England origin. A good one is a race in which players kneel on one knee with hands clasped behind their backs and pursue with the teeth wobbly doughnuts suspended on strings. The player first to devour his cake (without touching it with his hands) wins the race.

“Thanksgiving Dinner” is a nonsense game or stunt which can be enjoyed after the feast on the great day, or after a Thanksgiving supper at the church, if weighing scales are on hand. Each person is asked to step on the scales and “see how heavy a dinner he has eaten.” The mistress of ceremonies singles out some vivacious persons of both sexes, weighing a little lighter or heavier than the usual run. These are pronounced to have eaten too much or too little, according to their appearance and weight, and are sentenced to perform stunts for the amusement of the company.

Very jolly and yet very easy to prepare is a Thanksgiving Contest. Give each player a carrot or turnip (all vegetables to be in the same class, however) and ask him to “carve the turkey.” The entertainer can furnish knives but should anyone have a favorite penknife he is allowed to use it. The idea of the contest is to carve the vegetable provided, into little replicas of the November bird. The turkey can be presented either as living or on the platter. The best sculpture wins the prize.


1923: Entertainment (part 2)

Sunday, April 9th, 2006

Last time, in preparation for my Miss Abigail book launch party, I brought you some tips for the party hostess. Now, some additional excerpts from Everyday Manners, for the guests:

When you are invited, come at the time set by your host or hostess. If you are asked to come at eight, that is when you are wanted, not at nine…

Take an interested part in the entertainment provided, even though it is not the kind you would have chosen. It is very selfish and rude to withdraw to a corner with one or two others and laugh and talk with them, while you take no part in the games planned. If each one does his best to make the party a success, it will be the best kind of success for all….

Do not grow too noisy. You can have a good time without shrieking. Remember that the neighbors may be forming a poor opinion of your hostess because of the loudness of your mirth.

Do your part in giving the shy guest and the stranger a happy time. Do not imagine that such a guest is entertained by hearing you converse gaily with others on subjects that are unknown to him. You must make him feel that he is one of your number.

If entertained in the evening, do not stay too late. The time when refreshments are served gives an indication of the time your hostess expects you to depart. Usually from three-quarters of an hour to an hour after refreshments are served is an appropriate time to take your leave. When leaving, shake hands with the hostess and tell her how much you have enjoyed the evening…. Be sure to say good night to the parents of your hostess ~ telling them how greatly you have enjoyed the party.

If you are obliged to leave before the others do, it may be well to say good night quietly and slip away without attracting the attention of the other guests. If, however, you are on very friendly terms with them all, it is pleasanter just to pause in the doorway and say, “Good night, everybody.” The main point in making your exit is to impress your appreciation to every one who has had a hand in entertaining you, and at the same time to make your going inconspicuous. Remember, it is not a feauture of the evening’s entertainment.

Hmm… that no shrieking rule really puts a damper on things.

1923: Entertainment (part 1)

Thursday, April 6th, 2006

Since I’m throwing myself a book launch party (see previous post) I thought I’d look up some advice on entertaining a group. The following, geared toward me, the hostess, is from a book authored by the “Faculty of the South Philadelphia High School for Girls” (according to my permission research for the book, no longer in existence). The title is Everyday Manners for Boys and Girls (New York: MacMillan Company, 1923).

If you are entertaining a group of people, be sure that the entertainment is of a kind in which all can take part. Do not have dancing if you know that one or two of your guests do not dance, unless you have provided other entertainment for them, or they themselves insist that they would enjoy watching.

Be equally agreeable to all guests. See that you get an opportunity to be friendly to each one. Look out especially for shy guests, or those who are strangers to most of the people present. Try to make them feel at ease by bringing them into the conversation, explaining to them the things about which you are talking. Give the rest of the group a little information about strangers, so that they can more easily converse with them; for example, “Mary has just come to Philadelphia to live. Tell us about your experience down town this morning, Mary. Did you get lost?” . . .

If a subject of conversation is touched upon which you know may be disagreeable to one of your guests, it is your place to turn the conversation into another channel.

Ah, good to know. I’ll try to remember this next week!

In a few days, I’ll post some tips for partygoers, from the same book.