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 ‘home’

1928: Installing a Shower-Bath

Monday, December 19th, 2011

We’re in the midst of planning a bathroom renovation, and although the driving force behind it is to replace the tub with a deep one that I can actually bathe in, I was amused to find this advice about “Installing a Shower-Bath.” It appears in The House-Owner’s Book, written by Allen L. Churchill and Leonard Wickenden in 1928 (the decade our house was born). The book is mostly for those constructing their own new houses, and is beyond my expertise, but I did also enjoy the chapter on “Special Appliances” where they describe, among other things, an “Iceless Ice-box”; an in-house system to burn your own garbage to then fuel the house; and a central vacuum cleaning system which will “be as common, in a few years, as central heat.” Sounds an awful lot like my mom and stepdad’s whole house vacuum that was installed when they built their house a few years ago, still a pretty rare item in today’s homes.

But I digress ~ back to the bathroom!

"If no house is complete without a bathroom, no bathroom is complete without a shower-bath. It is no so long ago that the man who proclaimed that he preferred a shower- to a tub-bath was considered a freak or a poser. But those days are past. It is now recognized that a shower-bath is not only more invigorating,~ it is more cleansing. Fresh water constantly pours upon the body, washing away all impurities, and producing a sensation of cleanliness and well-being which the tub-bath can never give. . . .

The ordinary head-shower is sometimes unpopular with the women of the household because, with it, there is difficulty in avoiding wetting the hair. The type of shower which sprays water onto the body in a semi-horizontal manner usually finds more favor with them. It is claimed that with this type of shower, no curtain is needed because the water strikes the body at such an angle that it runs directly downward into the bath. This may be true if the user is of a placid disposition and takes his shower-bath in a calm and dignified manner. With most men, however, the sensation of water raining onto their bodies causes them to inflate their chests, and fling their limbs about generally. In any case, a shower-bath loses a good deal of its fun if one has to bear constantly in mind the need of avoiding violent activity, so that the curtain will usually be found well worth the slight extra cost."

Should Guests Remove Their Shoes?

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

sprinkle with powdered boraxQ Dear Miss Abigail:

We recently moved into a new home that we built. We have beautiful carpet that cost a lot, and I worry constantly that it will get dirty. I want all guests to remove their shoes. Most of my family won’t abide by this, and my husband says its not right to ask them to, that it’s just carpet. We are having Christmas at our home this year and I am very worried. Stupid, huh? Some agree with me, but most people say it’s rude for me to invite people in then expect to do this, that it’s makes them uncomfortable. Dear Abby says that if you invite guests, you invite their shoes. Please help. I’m too obsessed with this. I think that my inlaws refuse just to spite me because it worries me so. Thanks.


A Dear Missy:

I’m afraid I’ll have to side with your husband, Dear Abby, and all those who feel uncomfortable by your request. It is awfully strange to appear shoeless in someone else’s home. Perhaps if everyone had perfect, new socks and toenail fungus was not an issue, things would be different.

But Missy, there is hope. Have you forgotten that as long as people have been tracking in mud and spilling cocktails, homeowners have been practicing the fine art of stain removal? Here are some tips from America’s Housekeeping Book, which was compiled by the New York Herald Tribune Home Institute in 1941. Good luck, relax, enjoy your carpet and your company!

1941: Common Stains on Rugs and Carpets

Removing spots and stains from rugs is complicated by the fact that a pad cannot be used underneath to absorb the soil loosened by the reagent. However, clean white blotting paper can be applied to the surface after using the reagent, to blot up excess moisture and soil.

Old stains or stains made by fruits, medicine, dyes, etc., must be given professional treatment.

When soap and water are used for spot removal, be careful not to get the rug too wet. Be sure to rinse thoroughly, and to brush the pile erect while it is damp.

Type of Stain Treatment for Removal
Animal Stains Treat Immediately. Sponge with salt solution (1/4 cup salt to 1 pint water), then sponge with ammonia solution (1 part ammonia to 20 parts water). Specific cleansers for animal stains are available.
Blood Blot up as much as possible with clean blotting paper or absorbent cloth, being careful not to spread stain. Sponge with a cloth dampened with cold water. Brush pile erect while still damp.
Candle Wax Scrape off as much as possible with a spatula or dull knife. Sponge with carbon tetrachloride.
Candy Sponge with clear warm water.
Chewing Gum Rub with piece of ice until gum gathers in a ball. Sponge any remaining traces with carbon tetrachloride.
Chocolate Scrape off excess with spatula or dull knife. Sprinkle with powdered borax, moisten with cold water. Remove with damp cloth. Brush up borax when dry.
Cocktails Sponge at once with cloth wrung out of mild soapsuds. Rinse with cloth wrung out of clear water. Brush pile erect while damp. Fruit juice cocktail stains are difficult to remove and may require professional treatment.
Coffee and Tea ~ Clear Sponge with cloth wrung out of mild soapsuds. Rinse with cloth wrung out of clear water.
Coffee and Tea ~ With cream Sponge with carbon tetrachloride.
Grease and Oil Sponge with carbon tetrachloride. If color remains the spot will require professional treatment.
Ink Blot up as much as possible with clean blotting paper or absorbent cloth, being careful not to spread the stain. Sponge with lukewarm water. Sponging with milk is effective for some kinds of ink, but the milk must be removed by sponging with carbon tetrachloride. Stubborn ink stains require professional treatment.
Milk See Grease.
Mud Allow to dry thoroughly, then brush out.
Paint If fresh, sponge with turpentine. Old or stubborn paint stains require professional treatment.
Salad Dressing See Grease.

Source: New York Herald Tribune Home Institute, compiler. America’s Housekeeping Book. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941.
~ pp. 182-83 ~

Cooking Frozen Vegetables

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

add water and cookI have a dirty little secret ~ I love instant mashed potatoes and frozen peas. I never imagined I would need such detailed instructions for cooking them, however. These important tips are from a home economics book called How You Plan and Prepare Meals, written by Byrta Carson and MaRue Carson Ramee. Read carefully, then go whip up a tasty meal for your family! They won’t be sorry.

1962: Cooking Frozen Vegetables

All frozen vegetables, except corn on the cob, should be cooked without being thawed. The best method of cooking a frozen vegetable is stated on the package. Use only the amount that will be served at one meal, and keep the rest in the freezer. Cook frozen vegetables in the same way as fresh vegetables with the following exceptions.

1. Use a pan that is large enough for the vegetable to lie flat.

2. Use slightly less boiling water than for fresh vegetables because defrosting supplies some water.

3. Break the vegetable with a fork when it starts to defrost so that all parts will be cooked evenly.

4. If the vegetable has been defrosted, less cooking time is required.

Preparing Canned Vegetables. Because canned vegetables have already been cooked, they only need to be heated and seasoned. Drain the liquid from the can into a saucepan, and boil it rapidly to reduce the amount. Then add the vegetable, and cook 3 or 4 minutes. Some of the vitamin value of vegetables is lost in canning, but there is little loss of minerals. To retain vitamins and flavor, do not open canned vegetables until you are ready to use them.

Preparing Dehydrated Vegetables. To prepare dehydrated vegetables, add water and cook according to the directions on the package.

Dehydrated vegetables are fresh vegetables that have been cleaned, trimmed, and cut into pieces. The water is removed from the vegetables before they are packaged. There is no waste in dehydrated vegetables, and most of them are inexpensive and easy to use.

Source: Carson, Byrta, and MaRue Carson Ramee. How You Plan and Prepare Meals. St. Louis, Mo.:
Webster Division, McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1962.
~ pp. 189-90 ~

What Should I Cook Him?

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

ego, libido, and feedoQ Dear Miss Abigail:

Any tips on what to cook a guy for a romantic meal? I am thinking of his birthday. Thank you!


A Dear Katie:

I do believe I’ve located some fabulous advice for you in Robert Loeb’s She Cooks to Conquer. It should help you plan your dinner. I’m sorry I have no room to include the complete recipes, which are actually illustrated (see “The Man Who Stayed for Breakfast” for an example), but I think the menu ideas will be enough to set you on the right path.

Oh, and you’re welcome.

1952: The Man Who Came for Dinner

Classical Circe, when ensnaring Odysseus and his crew, had to employ her magic wand upon occasion, and could not merely depend on her vintages and victuals for complete enchantment. The reason for this was that, like pilots who formerly had to fly without benefit of electronic devises and radar, Circe too had to cook by the seat of her panties.

But you Circes today, with the aid of the latest scientific findings, will not have to cook on a hit-or-run basis. By putting to use the results of surveys and information gleaned by psychologists in their minute studies of the male (and with special thanks and all due apologies to Doctor W. H. Sheldon), I am about to furnish you with a fool-proof guide. This will make as certain as possible that the luring dishes you serve your Odysseus will be the exact food of his choice. For, by grading him for type, you will approximate the yearnings of his own particular ‘feedo.’

It has been found that the male animal comes in thress basic sizes and varieties, each bearing a very complicated name that actually is easy to explain: the somatotonic, the viscerotonic, and the cerebrotonic!!!

Each of these varieties will be both illustrated and decribed briefly. All you will have to do is to determine into which category your own Odysseus belongs and then serve him a menu recommended for his type. Thus, in one fell ‘soup,’ you will have combined the magic of psychoscience with the enchantment of twentieth-century culinary savoir faire. What manner of male exists who will be able to resist such witchery?

~ ~ ~

Here is the male SOMATONIC: he’s the muscle man with paleolithic instincts, more likely to flex his biceps than his brain; he’s quick of decision, prone to passion, which he demonstrates in immediate action. He’s probably the club athlete, prefers the locker-room to the salon or boudoir, and his tastes in food run chiefly to red meat.

So here are two menus to choose from, graded for type and taste, when this muscled Odysseus arrives for dinner:

Muscle-Man Menus

No. 1:
Oeufs Riants
Steak Circe
Pommes de Ciel
Asparagus, Sauce Odysseus
Wine to Serve: Red Bordeaux ~ room temp.

No. 2:
Fruit Cup Cyclops
Lamp Chops Ajax
Spuds à la Maison
Peas Penelope
Wine to Serve: Rosé ~ chilled

And here we have the male VISCEROTONIC ~ a man of guts, if we ever saw one. He’s usually more balloon-shaped than streamlined, copiously equipped with avoirdupois and tummy. He’s accoutred with a jovial disposition, his emotional font being chiefly centered about his abdominal region. With a bird in one hand and a bottle in the other, he’s in a Falstaffian kind of heaven. Of the trio, he’s the one most vulnerable to your culinary wiles ~ he’s the gourmand, if not the gourmet.

Man-of Guts Menus

No. 1:
Soup Hades
Veal Vulcan
Pommes Aphrodite
Salad Athena
Wine to Serve: Cabernet Sauvignon, or Cabernet Franc ~ room temp.

No. 2:
Hors d’Oeuvres Hermes
Chicken Scylla
Potatoes Charybdis
Artichokes Artemis
Wine to Serve: Chablis ~ chilled

And here ~ the third of this trio of male ‘tonics’ ~ the CEREBROTONIC no less. Sometimes tall, dark, and handsome ~ or not handsome and not tall (he could be short and blond) ~ or just tall ~ but always lean and thin (you pick him for color and length). He is more apt to be a Casanova than a caveman. His approach is subtle and hidden; his ego, libido, and feedo are swathed in the skin in the sheep but beneath which pulsates the drive and appetites of the wolf. His taste-buds should be subtly titillated, but once aroused are rewarding.

Lean-Man Menus

No. 1:
Zeus Soup
Shrimps Poseiden with rice
Salad Persephone
Wine to Serve: Graves ~ chilled

No. 2:
Clam Juice Calypso
Lamb Laertes
Pommes Polythemus
Salad Telemachus
Wine to Serve: Red Bordeaux ~ room temp.

Source: Loeb, Robert H., Jr. She Cooks to Conquer. New York: Wilfred Funk, Inc., 1952.
~ pp. 29-31, 45, 59 ~

Wall Devices

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

an old-fashioned kitchenI’m bored with collecting old advice books (just kidding!), so have begun stockpiling small, old appliances such as grinders, choppers, can openers, and my favorite ~ ice crushers. I’ve got two crushers so far: a cool red Ice-O-Mat, and a recent find: the Rival Ice-O-Matic, which electronically crushes like there’s no tomorrow. This one is going to be a hit at my next party!

I found this description about the installation of my new favorite toys, from a period when some of these were still actually new ~ 1947. Now if I could just find a circa 1940s kitchen, I’d be soooexcited.

1947: Wall Devices

One of the few advantages of an old-fashioned kitchen is the wall space usually available for modern, convenient wall devices of which there are so many ~ can openers, knife sharpeners, juice extractors, jar and bottle openers, ice crushers, nut crackers, etc. If space permits, a great number of other kitchen tools can be combined with such devices as these and assembled on a gadget board. On a gadget board tools are always in view and right at hand, a big point in favor of this kind of workshop storage.

Source: Kendall, Helen W., ed. The Good Housekeeping Housekeeping Book. New York: Stamford House,1947.
~ p. 80 ~

Refrigeration Electrically

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

to market to marketI discovered the following bit of advice in Buffalo, in Grandma Rose’s kitchen ~ a pamphlet discussing the joys and merits of cooking and storing food electrically. The cover was torn off so I don’t have the exact details of publication, but according to Grandma it came with her newly purchased electric Hotpoint stove sometime in the 1940s.

When I asked her if I could have the booklet, she said, “I don’t know why you would want that! Whatever would you do with it?”

1940s: Refrigeration Electrically

The New Technique in Cookery ~ Refrigeration

1. Arrange food on shelves to allow free circulation of cold air.
2. Remove wrappings. Wipe milk bottles, trim and wash vegetables, wipe solid fruits, pick over berries, but don’t wash.
3. Cover (in containers or with waxed paper) all foods which have no natural covering. Place meat and other highly perishable foods in coldest part of the refrigerator. Cover meat loosely with waxed paper.
4. To reduce operating cost: Open refrigerator door only when necessary. Cool hot foods to room temperature before putting them into the refrigerator.
5. Clean refrigerator once a week and check over contents to make sure that left-overs are not standing too long.
6. Don’t refrigerate bananas, jelly, pickles, ketchup, unopened cans or other foods which do not require chilling.

everything has a right place

Everything that goes into your electric refrigerator has a right place.

It Pays Its Way

You expect ~ and get ~ a lot of special service from your electric refrigerator. It’s always ready to chill fruit and vegetable juices, melon balls and other appetizers ~ really chill them, so they’ll make a bored appetite hopeful for what’s to come. It’s always ready to jell soups and salads and desserts ~ to crisp salad greens ~ to make ice cubes, to tinkle in tall glasses ~ to freeze an astounding variety of ice creams, mousses, sherberts and parfaits.

But your electric refrigerator pays its way in your kitchen by providing a temperature low enough to keep foods safe for many days. It’s this dependable low temperature that enables you to save money by stocking up on bargains ~ to save last minute hurry by preparing foods in advance.

Source: [Hotpoint stove pamphlet, ca. 1940s]
~ pp. 55-57 ~

Advice to Cooks

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

a good cook wastes nothingThis past weekend I found the perfect birthday gift for my dear friend Sarah. The Thermo-Spoon, in its original package and still containing the illustrated recipe book, looked as if it had never been used in the thirty-some-odd years since it was marketed. I don’t know why ~ according to the instructions, as you stir your pot of soup or pudding the handy thermometer on the tip kicks into action. What a tool! Every home should have one.

Unfortunately it did not work when we tried it out at her party, but it got me thinking about cooking. So here’s a few tips from the Household Guide for all you kitchen-gadget-loving people like me.

1902: Advice to Cooks

Importance of Cooking. No matter how large the establishment, no person holds a more important part than the cook, for with her rests not only the comfort, but the health of those she serves, and we would warn all cooks not to make light of their responsibilities, but to study diligently the tastes and wishes of all those for whom they have to prepare food.

Cleanliness. A dirty kitchen is a disgrace, both to mistress and maid, and cleanliness is a most essential ingredient in the art of cooking. It takes no longer to have a clean and orderly kitchen than an untidy and dirty one, for the time that is spent in keeping it in good order is saved when cooking operations are going on and everything is clean and it its place.

Dress. When at your work, dress suitably; wear short, plain clothes, well-fitting boots, and large aprons with bibs, of which every cook and kitchen maid should have a good supply, and you will be comfortable as you never can be with long dresses, small aprons, and slipshod shoes, the latter being most trying in a warm kitchen.

Kitchen Supplies. Do not let your stock of pepper, salt, spices, seasonings, etc., dwindle so low that there is danger, in the midst of preparing dinner, that you find yourself minus some very important ingredient, thereby causing much confusion and annoyance.

~ ~ ~

Golden Rules for the Kitchen.

Without cleanliness and punctuality good cooking is impossible.
Leave nothing dirty; clean and clear as you go.
A time for everything and everything in time.
A good cook wastes nothing.
An hour lost in the morning has to be run after all day.
Haste without hurry saves worry, fuss and flurry.
Stew boiled is stew spoiled.
Strong fire for roasting.
Clear fire for broiling.
Wash vegetable in three waters.
Boil fish quickly, meat slowly.

Source: Jefferis, Prof. B. G. The Household Guide, or Domestic Cyclopedia. Atlanta, Ga.: J. L. Nichols & Co., 1902.
~ pp. 403-04 ~

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 ~

Color and Light

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

an illusion of opennessAs I work to make my house mine by painting every wall possible, I figured it would be only be appropriate to post something related to color and light. You can’t imagine how many hours I’ve spent staring at paint chips wondering how they’d look on my walls. So what do you think of a candy lime and mandarin orange kitchen? Wheeee!!!

1955: Color and Light

Color and light can increase or decrease the size of a room and of the objects in it. They can hold a room together or, seemingly, push it apart. In terms of your home, here is what these optical illusions ~ that is what they really are ~ can do.

Warm colors are said to advance, to come closer to you, than cool colors. They seem to pull the walls of a room together, making it look smaller. They unite furniture groups; separate chairs appear to be larger and closer focusing your attention on them. One warm-colored wall almost immediately attracts your eye, becoming a center of interest. High ceilings may be visually lowered and the narrow walls of long rooms brought into scale when a warm color is applied to them.

Cool, or receding, colors make rooms optically larger by pushing out the walls, and low ceilings are raised. Furniture may look smaller and seem farther away from you. An oversize sofa in a soft green, for instance, will not appear to be as big as it actually is.

Oddly enough, the very light tints of all colors ~ warm or cool ~ and most whites impart an illusion of openness and spaciousness.

Source: Commery, E. W. and C. Eugene Stephenson. How to Decorate and Light Your Home. New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1955.
~ p. 37-38 ~