Who is Miss Abigail?

Abigail Grotke
Silver Spring, MD
email: missabigail at missabigail dot com
twitter: @DearMissAbigail

Find me on…

Get the feed


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 ‘etiquette’

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."

Anniversaries, Gifts, and Anniversary Weddings

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Today marks the occasion of my one-year wedding anniversary (time really flies when you are having fun!). While perusing my books on the subject, I was reminded of the usual custom of marking the occasion with a celebration or gifts made from certain types of materials.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that these appear to have changed over the years, depending on the etiquette expert you are referring to and the time period of the book. I always assumed they were etiquette 101 and had always been the same. Not so!

My more modern copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette (16th edition, 1997), has a very long list of anniversaries 1-20, then in five-year increments until year 60, then 70 and 75 are recognized. Here are the first ten years from her list:

1: Paper or Plastics
2: Calico or Cotton
3: Leather or simulated leather
4: Silk or synthetic material
5: Wood
6: Iron
7: Copper or wool
8: Electrical appliances
9: Pottery
10: Tin or aluminum

I dug deep into the etiquette archives to try to determine when this tradition started. Based on an informal study that consisted of me grabbing the oldest etiquette book I could find on the shelf behind me, I found mention of them in the 1877 book Decorum, by J. A. Ruth. I was surprised to find them called “Anniversary Weddings”:

"Celebrating Anniversary Weddings is a very pleasant custom which is coming gradually into general favor. Special anniversaries are designated by special names, indicating the presents suitable on each occasion.


The first anniversary is called the paper wedding. The invitations to this wedding should be issued on a gray paper, representing thin cardboard. Presents from the guests are appropriate, but not by any means obligatory. These presents, if given, should be only of articles made of paper. Thus, boxes of note-paper and envelopes, books, sheets of music, engravings and delicate knickknacks of papier mache are all appropriate for this occasion."

The author has less anniversaries described but is consistent with Emily Post’s list: he jumps to the Wooden Wedding, which he says to celebrate on the fifth year. Tin is for the 10th, crystal for 15th, china for the 20th, silver for 25th, gold for 50th, diamonds for 75th.

In Correct Social Usage, an etiquette book published in 1903, a suggestion is made to recognize anniversaries much later, though the concept remains the same and the earlier years are described for the benefit of those who want to celebrate sooner:

"Wedding anniversaries are not generally observed until the twenty-fifth year ~ “the silver wedding.” There are people, however, who find pleasure in presenting their married friends with appropriate remembrances on some, if not all, of the established anniversaries. Such remembrances must be gifts made of material which corresponds with the same of the anniversary. These occasions have been designated in this way: first year, paper; fifth year, wooden; tenth year, tin; twelfth year, leather; fifteenth year, crystal; twentieth year, china; twenty-fifth year, silver; thirtieth year, ivory; fortieth year, woolen; forty-fifth year, silk; fiftieth year, golden; seventy-fifth year, diamond."

It looks to me like tin and wood have been fighting it out for 5th place for awhile. Hallie Erminie Rives’ The Complete Book of Etiquette, with Social Forms for All Ages and Occasions (1926) has this slightly different list (with less years represented):

"Wedding anniversaries… hold a unique place in the life of a married couple. About the earlier ones there is an air of informality and fun that cannot but infect every guest. As the pair grows older, the celebrations become decidedly important events, and the “golden wedding” carries with it a sense of climax and fruition which makes its day a sacred one indeed.

Symbols of the conventional anniversaries are as follows:

First year: Paper
Second year: Cotton
Third year: Leather
Fourth year: Wood
Fifth year: Tin
Fifteenth year: Crystal
Twentieth year: China
Twenty-fifth year: Silver
Thirtieth year: Pearl
Fortieth year: Ruby
Fiftieth year: Gold
Seventy-fifth year: Diamond

The comedy possibilities of informal entertainments given on the first and second anniversaries are realized to the full by those who gather to congratulate a happy young couple. Nor do the bride and bridegroom ~ who, after the first anniversary may count themselves graduated from the newly married status ~ fail to take advantage of the amusing opportunities for table and house decorations."

The author then goes on to describe some of the party antics that could occur, including this crazy idea, for the paper anniversary: “Both hostess and women guests sometimes where entire costumes of crêpe paper.” Or, at the Leather Wedding anniversary: “as far as decorations and costumes go, is apt to be a thing of shifts and straits.” I can’t wait til that third year!


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…)

The Best Travelers

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

prepared for social emergenciesColorado here we come! My friends and I are hopping on a jet plane this weekend to enjoy the splendor that is Southwestern Colorado. And now that I’ve read the following from The Seventeen Book of Etiquette and Entertaining, written by Seventeen’s editor-in-chief Enid Haupt, I’m confident that we’ll be the best of the best.

1963: The Best Travelers

The best travelers are:

~ open minded ~ they love new places, new friends, new experiences

~ self-reliant ~ they know at least roughly how to get where they are going; they cope tearlessly with little travel tragedies, such as late arrivals and misplaced luggage

~ organized ~ they can always find their tickets; they look neat, and so do their suitcases

~ considerate ~ they are quiet; they don’t spread their belongings about on train seats which aren’t theirs; they don’t leave a trail of litter behind them

~ comfortably dressed ~ in wrinkle-resisting, easy-fitting clothes, in colors and patterns that don’t show smudges readily. They have a sweater handy for extra warmth, a raincoat that doubles as a topcoat. They wear shoes intended to be walked in.

~ pleasing to the eye ~ on buses, planes and trains, they dress tastefully, conservatively. Girls forego shorts or slacks in favor of a skirt; they choose an easy, wrinkle-resistant skirt when a long ride on a plane or sit-up train is in prospect. Young travelers of both sexes are prepared for social emergencies: a boy has a tie, a girl has some form of head covering ~ a scarf, net bonnet, packable hat ~ for quick compliance with the custom of a restaurant, a concert, a church, an unexpected party.

Source: Haupt, Enid H. The Seventeen Book of Etiquette & Entertaining. New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1963.
~ p. 102 ~

When You Are A Week-end Guest

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

do not take sides or give adviceAs we creep toward the holiday season, it is wise to think about how to act when we are guests in the homes of our friends and relatives. These tips are also handy for visiting those “special” boys and girls in our lives.

1963: When You Are A Week-end Guest

Only when the boy lives out of town do you ever consider spending the night or weekend at his home. Again never do you accept the invitation unless it comes by way of the boy’s mother or guardian and is relayed to your mother or guardian. An invitation to the boy to spend the weekend at your home calls for the same procedure ~ your mother or guardian phones or writes his mother or guardian.

Arrive at the Expected Time. If you are to be unavoidably delayed, advise your hostess.

The Gift. It is not a must. If you really want to arrive with a remembrance or to send one after your return home, it need not be expensive.

Participate in What Has Been Planned. You may not like baseball, but you go to the game because you are “game” for anything planned unless it be something that you know your parents would forbid, or is not in keeping with your own moral code.

Entertain Yourself. Never do we sit with a bored expression as if we were waiting for something to happen. Read, watch TV; in brief, occupy yourself. But do not become so engrossed in what you are doing as to suggest that you would not like to be disturbed.

Be Helpful. Keep your room in order, make your own bed, respect the furnishings of the home and offer to help with household chores. If there should be any differences (“lively discussions”) among members of the family, do not take sides or give advice.

Departure. We leave on the day we originally planned. We should tell our hostess this date upon our arrival. This gracious hostess will usually suggest that we extend our stay as the day approaches for us to leave, but the equally gracious guest will not accept the invitation unless, because of a special event planned, there is great insistence.

Thank You Note. The “thank you” note is written no later than forty-eight hours after we have returned home. 

Source: Culkin, Anne. Charm for Young Women. New York: Deus Books, 1963.
~ p. 104, 132-33 ~

Good Manners on the Road

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

are you blind?As a reminder to everybody on the road today, here’s a few tips about driving with manners (something a number of people have forgotten about). Please read the following, from a book by William A. Evans titled Everyday Safety. After you’ve done so, please, please be careful and try not to ram into my car. And I promise to be a courteous driver. Thank you.

1952: Good Manners on the Road

In our social and business relations we are taught to be polite, respectful, and courteous. No salesman can be successful by making his customers angry. No boy or girl can be popular if he or she is rude, overbearing, or discourteous. A young man who is wellbred will stand aside for a lady or another gentlemen to enter a doorway ahead of him. We would not think of stepping in front of another person on the sidewalk if there were any danger of bumping into that person. When we do have a collision, on foot, we apologize; we do not say, ‘What’s your name and address? Are you insured? Couldn’t you see me coming? Why didn’t you signal? Are you blind? Don’t you know how to walk?

Isn’t it possible for us to be just as courteous when we are driving as when we are walking? If you think not, what is the reason for your belief? Can’t we hesitate, or slow down, or even stop our cars, if necessary, in order to let another car pass safely? Can’t we stop or reduce our speed in order to give a pedestrian a chance to get out of the way without jumping for his life? Certainly we can do all of these things and more if we are able to control our cars and if we wishto control them. The modern motorcar is very responsive to the driver. With ‘finger tip steering,’ strong, quict-acting brakes, and easy-to-shift transmission gears, there is only one reason why a driver might be discourteous ~ his own carelessness and indifference to the rights and welfare of others. This fault each one of us must be careful to avoid.

Source: Evans, William A. Everyday Safety. Chicago: Lyons and Carnahan, 1952.
~ pp. 241-42 ~

City Driving Manners

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Cissy Chatter ~ Penny PrattleIn these crazy days of road rage and cellular phones, I thought it might be nice to bring you some advice from the esteemed Emily Post, all the way from 1945. I guess it is comforting to know that some things never change.

1945: City Driving Manners

When driving in the city, remember that discourtesy to pedestrians can turn out to be manslaughter. Don’t rush traffic lights. A gentlemen will no more “cheat the lights” than cheat at cards. Don’t fail, at a crossing where the lights have turned against you, to stop far enough back to be sure that you are not blocking the proper path of pedestrians crossing the street. Don’t, if you possibly can help it, run through puddles and splash pedestrians or other cars. Don’t almost run over someone who is trying to signal a bus or a trolley car when a little consideration requires only a few seconds. . . .

We are all made nervous by the driver who keeps looking out all the time, expatiating on the view and paying no attention to what is happening on the road. Or the one who turns around to talk to those on the back seat (who can’t hear what he says because they are so busy praying that the car will stay on the road). Or the one who carelessly lets go of the wheel while he lights a cigarette or screws the windshield up or down, meanwhile letting his car meander toward the ditch or else cut over toward the wrong side of the road.

Another bad-mannered driver is the one in a hurry. Among the thousands of motor accidents listed on the police blotters, at least half are said to be made by people who have not learned to discipline themselves to be on time. The driver, suddenly becoming conscious that he should have left home earlier, flings his good driving manners to the wind, starts weaving in and out of lines, clipping red lights, pushing his way, and taking chances which he would never take if he were not in a hurry!

Certain Bad Manners of Women Drivers

There are, of course, thousands of women drivers who are on every count first-class, but there are certain others who deserve all the criticism that can be given them. Among the worst of these should be put the window-shopper ~ she who crawls along a crowded thoroughfare with her gaze fastened upon the store windows. In a taxi, the other day, an army pilot followed close behind one of these for about twenty blocks. His taxi driver pointed her out. Said he, “Those window-shoppers are the worst we come up against! Why they don’t get killed is God’s mercy; they could never be saved merely by man. When I look ahead and see a woman driving her car with her head turned profile, I give her the widest berth I can.”

A not unfamiliar sight, in the smaller towns, are the stop-to-talkers who park by side and hold long conversations while other cars wait or maneuver their way past the blockade as best they can. There is no reason why Cissy Chatter may not talk to Penny Prattle as long as she chooses, but one of them must draw over close to the curb and wait. The other must park her car in a proper place and then come back to the first car and either stand on the sidewalk or get into the car.

Source: Post, Emily. Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company,1945.
~ pp. 584-85 ~

What to Do and What to Say When Paying Visits in Washington

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

mastery of the rank listIf you are anywhere near Washington, D.C. this week, you know that today, April 23, is “NATO day” ~ trillions of dignitaries and their cohorts are wandering my fair city (by limo, of course). We are so pleased to host their visit, particularly since a majority of federal workers, such as myself, were granted a day off due to security and traffic issues.

I thought it fitting to find some advice for our visitors. So, bless you, NATO, and please mind your manners while in town. We wouldn’t want Emily Post to scold you.

1937: What to Do and What to Say When Paying Visits in Washington

Excepting that you may be ~ unless prepared ~ at a loss to know how to address each official and foreigner, and excepting that precedence is a thing that must never be lost sight of, you behave in diplomatic and official circles as you behave in ‘best society’ everywhere. A man calling upon an ambassador or a minister askes the door if ‘His Excellency’ is at home; but a lady going to see his wife asks if ‘Madame Telque’ or ‘Lady Overseas’ or ‘Countess Thatone’ is at home. Upon being told that she is, the visitor lays her cards ~ one of her own and two of her husband’s ~ upon the tray offered her and follows the servant to the drawing-room. Her hostess greets her and indicates where she is to sit. In New York a visitor would merely take any available seat, but in Washington a visitor should not, with others of higher rank present, sit upon the empty chair on the hostess’s right vacated perhaps by a departed ‘Ambassadress’ but find a place less obviously prominent.

For those who are at the very bottom or very near the top, it is comparatively easy to remember the rank of the almost none below or the equally few above, but for the wife of a new official of medium rank the strain upon her memory for faces and names duly classified is a heavy one. In fact, at first this mastery of the rank list seems to nearly everyone impossible. To some it remains impossible and they are social failures. To others, practise soon gains headway and memory gradually becomes perfect.

An invaluable aid if your memory is not especially good is to carry a book with an attached pencil ~ the whole so small that it can be cupped in the palm of your left hand, and whenever an unobserved chance comes, write quickly the names just heard; or later you can perhaps ask someone present what those you could not hear are. It is a good idea to add if possiblesomething to fix each one in memory:
‘Senator Brown, Montana: very tall, thin, gray beard, black eyes.’
‘Madame Jamand: wife of Finnish Minister, small, round, ash blond, pretty dimpled hands.’
‘Mrs. Mumford: wife of Congressman from New York, tall, thin, dark, wears glasses, nice smile.’

Then when you go home, you find where each belongs on the official list. After a little while your mind gets into the habit of classifying names with appearances. After that, if you have a ‘talent for people’ you elaborate your mere ‘identification’ to a ‘personality’ list.
‘Senator Brown: great love of justice. Convince him a thing is right, and he will stand by it through thick and thin.’
‘Madame Jamand: talks amusingly about people. But not too accurate in what she says,’ etc.

This last habit of testing and listing people’s traits of character is of greatest value to anyone in any branch of public life, not merely because you may some day want to convince the Senator, or to know whether what Madame told you is likely to prove true, but because the ability to read people comes only with just such practise. And the ability to remember names and faces and read the latter at the same time is the ability out of which the stepping stones to unlimited diplomatic and political heights are carved.

Source: Post, Emily. Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company,1937.
~ pp. 694-96 ~

In Flight

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

strangers are drawn to each otherA few friends of mine recently boarded a jet plane to Great Britain. While they are away, frolicking around the countryside, I’ve been reading a bit about travel etiquette. Here’s a snippet from a book recently acquired.

I’ve got the third printing of Etiquette in Public, published in 1924 and written by one of my favorite etiquette advisors, Lillian Eichler. Lillian’s advice is helpful, but I’m just wondering how those erring passengers managed to throw trash out of the plane in the first place.

1924: In Flight

On most of the large planes, passangers are given glassine envelopes containing cotton and chewing gum. The experienced traveler pads his ears with the cotton and chews the gum to adjust his ears and throat to higher altitude. This is one occasion when chewing gum is not frowned upon as a vulgarity!

While the plane is aloft, passengers may get up and move about ~ if they like ~ but they must not venture into parts of the plane where it is forbidden to go. For example, the pilots’ compartment is strictly tabu to passengers. So also is the mail and express compartment, which, on many planes, is directly behind the passenger cabin. Radio instruments and controls are usually located inside the pilots’ compartment; but sometimes space is given inside the cabin to a special radio room. Passengers must not enter this room nor touch any of the instruments. . . .

Passengers should not drop paper, matches, or anything else out of a plane. Such things should be given to the cabin attendant to dispose of.

The cabin of a plane is so small, the passengers in such close proximity, that any attempt to observe social formalities is quite out of the question. Nobody waits to be introduced ~ everybody talks to everybody else ~ strangers are drawn to each other by the common thrill of flying (it’s still new enough to be thrilling to most of us!).

Occasionally, however, there will be a person of great prominence aboard a passenger plane. Unless that person has requested otherwise, the hostess may make his presence known to the others. In that case it is proper to ask for an introduction; strangers should not address the distinguished one until the hostess has made the necessary introduction.

It is not customary to tip airplane hostesses. However, if a hostess has been especially kind and attentive and the passenger wishes to show his appreciation, he may have a small, impersonal gift such as a box of candy or an interesting new book mailed to her after the trip is over.

Source: Eichler, Lillian. Etiquette in Public. Hoboken, N.J.: R. B. Davis and Company, 1924.
~ p. 28-29 ~

Thoughts for the Overly Sensitive Bride

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

bound up in your own little worldQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I recently got married. One of my bridesmaids did not give me a wedding gift or a wedding card to wish me and my new husband well. I am so hurt by this. Do I confront her?


A Dear Polly:

Was this bridesmaid at your wedding? Did she stand by your side as you and your hubby tied the knot? Did she travel long distances and wear an expensive dress for “your special day”? Of course she did. Do you really need a present or a card to know that she cares?

I consulted with etiquette expert Lillian Eichler by flipping through the pages of her New Book of Etiquette, written in 1941. This was just the thing I was looking for.

1941: If You Are Sensitive

There are certain plants so sensitive that their leaves close the moment they are touched. There are people like these plants who are so highly sensitive that at the least slight, fancied or real, they close up tightly within themselves.

Sensitiveness is a form of pride, and pride offends and irritates people. It is an exaggerated form of self-consciousness. It is the result of too much thinking about self.

If you are sensitive you build a barrier about yourself. People are afraid to talk to you for fear they may hurt your feelings. They must be forever on guard. They do not feel comfortable in your company.

Tear down this barrier! Don’t go about with the injured air of martyr. People may sympathize with you, but they will not welcome you and be glad to see you. If you see two persons talking together, don’t be sure that they are discussing you. They are not. Don’t imagine that you are the center of observation, that people are criticizing you, that every careless remark is meant as a personal affront.

It is selfish, this sensitiveness. It reveals sooner than anything else that you are bound up in your own little world, that you are not interested in things outside of yourself. The way to overcome it is to mingle freely with people and to be as impersonal as you possibly can. Do not brood over simple remarks and magnify them in your mind. Refuse to accept an affront. Force yourself to overlook the trifles that you are inclined to take so seriously.

Source: Eichler, Lillian. The New Book of Etiquette. Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Company,1941.
~ pp. 334-35 ~