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Abigail Grotke
Silver Spring, MD
email: missabigail at missabigail dot com
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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 ‘housework’

Washing the Dishes

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

the large, greasy utensilsThis week’s selection is from a high school home economics book, but I don’t think I had to wait that long to learn how to do this fairly common childhood chore. My mom had me scraping and scrubbing dishes at a much younger age! For those of you still a bit clueless about this particular household task, here are some tips from How You Plan and Prepare Meals. It was written by experts Byrta Carson and MaRue Carson Ramee.

1962: Washing the Dishes

Preparing to Wash Dishes

Scrape and rinse the dishes that are especially soiled. Soak in cold water dishes that contained cereal, egg, or flour mixtures. Soak in hot water greasy dishes and those that were used for sugar mixtures.

If the pans or skillets are badly burned, fill them with water. Add a little baking soda, and boil them until clean.

Stack the dishes by putting similar things together. Place the glasses next to the sink since they should be washed first. Place the silverware next and then the china. Pots, pans, and other utensils should be last. Smaller and least-soiled cooking utensils should be placed so that they will be washed before the large, greasy utensils.

Washing the Dishes

1. Fill the sink or the dishpan half full with hot soapy water. The amount of soap or detergent that you should use depends upon the hardness of the water.

2. Put only a few dishes into the sink or the dishpan at one time.

3. Hold each dish in your left hand and the sponge or the dishcloth in your right hand as you wash dishes.

4. Rinse the dishes with plenty of very hot water. Glasses, cups, jars, and bottles should be rinsed inside and out. Plates, saucers, and so on, should be rinsed on both sides.

5. Place the dishes in the dish drainer at an angle at which they will drain best. For example, turn glasses and cups upside down after they have been scalded. Stand plates, saucers, and so on, at almost a right angle.

6. Dry the dishes with a clean dish towel, and put them in their proper places.

7. Hang up the dish towel neatly when you finish drying the dishes.

8. Pour the dishwater through a sink strainer unless you have a garbage disposal. Otherwise you may clog the sink.

9. Use soapy water to clean the sink, rubbing it hard. If the sink is especially dirty, use soda or a fine scouring powder. Use a bleach to remove stains.

10. Clean the table and the cabinet tops thoroughly, giving special attention to the edge of the table. Any food left on the table or in cracks is apt to attract insects.

Source: Carson, Byrta, and MaRue Carson Ramee. How You Plan and Prepare Meals. St. Louis, Mo.: Webster Division, McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1962.
~ pp. 402-403 ~

Laundry, at Home

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

hot enough to splutterI’m a bit obsessed with cleaning lately, can you tell? It might have something to do with the recent installation of a sump pump in my basement apartment. Let’s just say that jackhammers create quite a bit of dust, hence my interest in this subject. Elizabeth Craig offers this bit of advice in her 1000 Household Hints. I don’t know about you, but I am quite pleased that times have changed, at least when it comes to laundry.

1947: Laundry, at Home.

To soak. ~ Soak cotton and linen articles in lukewarm soapy water, or in cold water with borax ~ 2 tablespoons to the gallon. Soak handkerchiefs separately. Do not soak coloured or woollen articles.

To wash. ~ Wring out the clothes from the soaking water. Wash with plenty of hot soapy water made with shredded washing soap, soap flakes or jelly. Use two lots if necessary. Rub dirty clothes gently on a wash board with your hand or a nail brush. Do not rub silks, rayons, and woollens. Use only mild soap for them, and do not put them in very hot water.

To rinse. ~ Soften hard rinsing water with borax. Repeat warm rinses till the water is clear, and add a little glue to the last water for white cottons and linens.

To dry. ~ Dry out of doors when possible, but do not put silks and woollens in the sun or too near the fire. Hang white cottons and linens in the sun to bleach. Dry coloured articles in the shade, inside out.

To starch. ~ The heavier and wetter the material, the more starch you need, and if you wring with a wringer you need thicker starch than if you work by hand. Starch articles inside out, using hot starch for white things and cold tinted starch for coloured ones. Use blue to tint blue, cochineal for pink, coffee or tea for brown, and a vegetable dye for green. To mix starch ~ make a smooth paste with starch and cold water, using a wooden spoon, then add boiling water till the starch is clear.

To mangle. ~ Leave clothes till quite dry, then sprinkle them evenly. Fold and roll up, and leave them for an hour before mangling or ironing. Pull garments into shape and put them evenly between the rollers, protecting any buttons.

To iron. ~ The iron should be hot enough to splutter when touched with a wet finger, and you should iron as quickly as possible, continuing till the material is dry. To iron a garment, first go over all parts that hang off the board, then iron the centre. To bring out a pattern or monogram, iron on the wrong side over a thick pad. Have a very hot iron for starched articles and a moderate one for silks and woollens. Press damp knitted goods between Turkish towels.

To air. ~ If you have no heated linen cupboard, hang straight, folded articles on a clothes horse, and garments with sleeves on hangers to air in the sun or near the fire.

Source: Craig, Elizabeth. 1000 Household Hints. London: Collins Clear-Type Press, 1947.
~ pp. 43-44 ~

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 ~

The Vacuum Cleaner

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

discover how easy it isTo think, all my life I’ve been nonchalantly cleaning floors without a second thought about the machine that truly does all the work ~ the one, the only…

1941: The Vacuum Cleaner

A. Use.

1. Adjust the nozzle to rug or floor unless adjustment is automatic. To test for correct adjustment, place the cleaner on the rug with the handle in operating position. Turn on the motor. The rug should be lifted to the nozzle by suction and held there firmly. When an agitator type cleaner is used, the carpet or rug will vibrate if the nozzle is properly adjusted. This vibration can be felt if one’s hand is placed on the carpet just in front of the nozzle.

2. Operate the cleaner slowly in a straight line, lengthwise of the rug. Go over each section at least twice to remove embedded dirt and grit.

3. Keep the cord out of the way, releasing only the length actually required, to avoid tangling with lamp cords, etc., and possible damage to the cleaner cord itself.

4. Familiarize yourself with the attachments and their uses. Once you discover how easy it is to attach them and how many tasks they make easy, there wil be no danger of their becoming a poor investment through lack of use.

B. Care.

1. Pick up pins, hairpins, tacks and any small sharp objects before using the vacuum cleaner. They may cut the belt of a motor-driven brush or agitator cleaner, or they may puncture the dust bag.

2. Empty the dust bag after each use (suction action is lessened by dirt in the bag). Shake the dirt into a deep waste basket lined with a paper bag, to avoid scattering dust. Every three months, turn the dust bag inside out, after emptying it, and brush the inside thoroughly. Never wash the bag because this destroys the dust-proof finish. Certain manufacturers provide disposable paper liners for the dust bag. These are emptied after each use, and disposed of when worn. Five liners constitute a year’s supply. They protect the cloth bag and do away with the necessity for cleaning it.

3. Remove the revolving cylinder and brushes, from a motor-driven brush cleaner once a week. Remove all threads and hairs.

4. Wind the cord loosely to avoid damaging the fine wires inside. Replace worn cords immediately. Turn off the current before pulling out the plug, or contacts may be burned.

5. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for lubrication of motor-driven brush or agitator cleaners. Overlubrication is as harmful to the motor as lack of lubrication.

6. Replace the belt and brush of motor-driven brush or agitator cleaners before they are badly worn.

7. Dust the motor housing and handle after each use.

8. Keep all attachments clean.

Source: New York Herald Tribune Home Institute, compiler. America’s Housekeeping Book. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941.
~ pp.131-32 ~

The Smart and Tidy Maid

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

chest out and stomach inLita Prince and Harriet Bonnet wrote Maidcraft: A Guide for the One-Maid Household for the “mistress” of the house. With sections on housework, table service, the laundry, and care of the children, the authors suggest that “you may want to hand it over to your maid to read ~ either some of it or all of it.” Those lucky, lucky maids.

1937: The Smart and Tidy Maid

A maid who is careless of her grooming around the house may often be made to realize how untidy she looks by a word or even a look from the mistress.

Here is a list of pointers that should be brought to the attention of any maid, if she is to look smart and tidy on all occasions:

1. She should bathe frequently ~ once a day, if possible. This will not only make her look fresher, but will be beneficial to her health.
2. It’s a good idea for her to use a deodorant, too, for in working anyone is likely to perspire.
3. She should not use perfume during working hours, for perfume and dust do not make a pleasing combination.
4. She should keep her teeth in good condition and use a mouth wash often.
5. She should not chew gum, especially when there are guests.
6. She should not smoke cigarettes around the house, even if she is permitted to smoke in her own room. Naturally she should smoke her own, not her employer’s cigarettes.
7. She should take care of her hands by using a hand lotion often. This is particularly important if she has her hands in water a great deal, for chapped, ugly hands do not look well when she is serving.
8. She should keep her nails immaculately clean and use a cuticle oil to keep her nails from becoming brittle and broken off.
9. She should not use bright-colored nail polish, at least during working hours.
10. She should wash and brush her hair often and keep it neatly dressed. It is advisable for her to wear a cap when cooking or dusting so as to keep odors and dust out of her hair, but certainly she should tie her hair back with a ribbon when she is cooking to keep any stray hairs out of her food.
11. She should stand up straight with her head up, chest out and stomach in. Not only will she look infinitely better, but she will feel more fit. Slouching will only tire her out.
12. She should wear good but comfortable shoes and, if she is on her feet much, she should have arch supports in her shoes. Run-down heels will throw her off balance and tire her out besides making her appear badly dressed. If white shoes are clean, they look best with white or light-colored uniforms, but they should never be worn with dark dresses. No maid should ever be permitted to shuffle around the house in bedroom slippers.
13. Rumpled, messy clothes, and stockings with runs in them or with seams zigzagging up the back of the leg look quite as bad around the house as they do on the street.
14. She may use some make-up, but she should remember that too much is worse than none at all.
15. Jewelry, especially jangling bracelets and earrings, should never be worn during working hours.

Source: Price, Lita and Harriet Bonnet. Maidcraft: A Guide for the One-Maid Household. Indianapolis, Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1937.
~ pp. 25-27 ~

Distressed About Disorganization

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

sweet and clean and healthfulQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I am completely disorganized and need help bad. Can you help? My house is a mess!!!!!


A Dear Disorganized:

I too am a bit disorganized and sometimes it gets the best of me. It doesn’t help to discover that in the olden days, houses must not have had clutter. I can’t seem to find many references to dealing with the overwhelming stuff that inhabits our modern-day lives. Clutter was found in the basements of many homes, however, so we’ll head downstairs to look for some tips from Mildred Maddocks Bentley about dealing with everything but the tool room. Seems like a fair comparison.

1924: Cellar Care and Cleanliness

According to the primer of housework, the modern self-respecting cellar calls for a casual weekly attention, to be sure, but it is the semi-annual cleaning after all that keeps it sweet and clean and healthful.

The weekly care calls only for a general tidying. Dispose of newspapers and magazines that may have accumulated. I have two capacious baskets. Both newspapers and magazines are placed flat in their respective baskets when they are no longer required above stairs. No second handling is required when they are taken away to their final destination of hospital, Salvation Army headquarters, or junk man.

Dispose promptly of broken articles consigned to the cellar because they are out of sight. Reclaim them at once if there is a possibility of repair. But chop up or burn up ruthlessly if there is no hope of rescue. Most cellars are untidy rather than unclean and solely because the cellar is used, as the attic, for broken or discarded furnishings. . . .

In most cellars, there is a tool room sacred to the masculine members of the family. I would leave this untidy.

Source: Bentley, Mildred Maddocks. Good Housekeeping’s Book on the Business of Housekeeping. New York: Good Housekeeping, 1924.
~ pp. 41, 44 ~

He’s a Bust With Dust!

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

carriers of disease or infectionQ Dear Miss Abigail:

How do you train your husband to help around the house? I’ve asked him, pleaded with him, threatened him, but he still can’t “see” the mess around him and will not take the initiative to clean it up.

We both work out of the home with competitive salaries, and I feel that I shouldn’t bear the whole burden of housekeeping.

I need your help.


A Dear Katie:

Unfortunately, I had absolutely no luck finding some old advice that even comes close to hinting that husbands do housework. So let’s take a moment and reflect upon the past, and rejoice in our modern times. In this day and age, we all know that husbands have absolutely no excuse for not helping around the house. Right? RIGHT.

Perhaps this description of dust will scare your husband into picking up a broom. It’s from A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed, published by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in 1898. MetLife has a history of distributing health literature to its policyholders, and this little book was their earliest.

1898: Dust

Dust is one of the greatest causes of impurity of the air in houses. It consists of a great variety of substances, such as soot, wool, cotton, straw, sand, starch, debris from the skin, and other refuse, in a state of minute pulverization. It also contains living germs of one sort or another, according to situation. These may be perfectly harmless, or be the carriers of disease or infection. They are known by various names: perhaps bacteria is the most inclusive. There are several varieties of them known each to carry a specific disease ~ the bacteria of typhoid, of erysipelas, of consumption, leprosy, malaria, and others. They are easily destroyed by heat and certain chemicals (germicides), but their seeds (spores) are not so easily got rid of, and possess great vitality. Frost will not kill them, hence the necessity of procuring ice for household use from an unpolluted source.

From the nature and origin of dust it is plainly seen that it may be productive of a low state of the general health, particularly in over-crowded dirty houses. It, however, cannot practically be got rid of, but a great deal may be done to lessen the nuisance by having the floors painted, by the avoidance of close-fitting carpets, heavy curtains and other upholstery, and the substitution of rugs or mats, which may be easily shaken out of doors at frequent intervals, and light muslin curtains easily washed. The coverings of the wall should be smooth, and of a material which admits of being cleaned with a damp cloth ~ varnished paper, for example. Wall paper of a green color often contains arsenic, which finds its way in some shape into the air, and sometimes produces distressing and even dangerous symptoms.

When without objection on the score of material, it is a good plan to remove dust from furniture walls and floors with a damp broom or cloth.

Source: Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed: Health Hints for the Home. New York: Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, 1898.
~ pp. 65-66 ~

First Aid to Orderliness

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

as he cuts he dropsI’ve been making a big mess this week hand-making invitations to my sister’s upcoming baby shower. It’s been quite the project, and the remaining clippings of paper and ribbon are still covering my coffee table. (I don’t know why I don’t just buy invitations!)

Perhaps these tips, from Mother’s Own Book, will help me keep a little bit of my house in order. The Forfeit Box could come in handy for the dog toys. I also like the “tie on his toys” tip, though I don’t know how it could help me exactly. I’ll make sure to pass these on to my sister and her husband so she can keep a handle on their little one’s “projects.”

1928: First Aid to Orderliness

My problem of keeping the children’s toys picked up, especially in the living-room, has been solved by establishing a Forfeit Box. At the end of the day I gather all the playthings which have been forgotten, such as paper dolls, pencils, beads, balls, hockey sticks, and so forth, and put them in the Forfeit Box until the owner can redeem them. This may be done by performing some task, errand or job which helps Mother or Dad. ~ Mrs. D. W. G., Mass.

How to Make Them Pick Up Scraps

Like all children, our boy enjoys working with his scissors, but does not enjoy picking up the scraps and clippings after he has finished. Recently we discovered how much easier it would be to keep things picked up as he worked. Now he places a pasteboard shoe-box nearby, as he cuts he drops all scraps into his waste-paper basket. When through for the day he has no picking up to take the joy out of his life. ~ Mrs. C. B., Wellington, Ohio.

Tie on His Toys

When the baby gets to the high-chair stage, and you get tired of picking up the toys that he throws to the floor, tie a few of his favorite toys to the sides of the chair. When he throws them overboard they are not hard to pick up, and what is more, they keep clean. Different lengths of string on the various toys help to prevent them from tangling. ~ Mrs. B. E. Y., St. Peters, Minn.

Source: Parents’ Publishing Association. Mother’s Own Book. New York: Parents’ Publishing Association,1928.
~ pp. 223, 247, 251 ~

The Husband as Lover

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

keep on wooingThis was originally posted as the wedding of my baby sister approached, with thoughts of love and marriage obviously been on my mind. This excerpt is from the 1940 edition of the ever-informative and open-minded Happiness in Marriage, by none other than the founder of the birth control movement, Margaret Sanger.

1940: The Husband as Lover

Happiness in marriage must be endlessly recaptured and renewed. It cannot be gained once and held forever in the possession of the husband. Therefore to husbands of all ages ~ young, middle-aged and even old ~ these directions are indispensable:

Keep on wooing.

Make the love you have found and which means so much to both of you your religion. For it can be the noblest of religions.

Keep your wife eternally youthful. This may seem an impossible task, but it is not and will more than repay you. Happiness is essential for the health and growth of love. Love must keep on growing. It cannot stand still. It grows or it dies. Love cannot thrive in silence. Therefore assure her, reassure her of your deep and growing affection. Good tidings invigorate the flagging energies of a band of explorers; a deep joy enables men and women to transcend the frailties of human weakness. Disappointment, sorrow, depress and disturb the vital functions. Therefore, husband and wife as well, tell your love at all times to each other.

Some men only do this occasionally, or when desire is at high tide. They make a grave mistake. Acts may express this love more eloquently than words. But do not, on this account, conclude that words are not necessary also. They are. Love needs constant reassurance. Your wife is in all probability not a mind reader. Unless you tell her, break through the reticence and embarrassment of expessing your thoughts, she may never know what you are thinking and feeling.

This is a greater problem among men who are naturally taciturn and silent, among men who are born and brought up in a tradition which encourages a suppression of stirred emotions. But do not make the mistake of supposing that women do not like to be told over and over again of the love she inspires. This is a story women never tire of hearing. This is a thought all husbands should keep constantly in mind. This is the tonic that rejuvenates and keeps both young.

This next section is from later in the book…

In homes where there are no servants, the household duties such as washing and clearing away the dishes are often shared equally, and the slight burdens become an easily and pleasurably accomplished task.

What were formerly considered exclusively feminine duties seem today to be voluntarily taken on by the husband. Surely there is no loss in manliness or dignity in sharing the heavier and more disagreeable household tasks. In my estimation this mutual acceptance of household duties by the husband as well as the wife does more than any other single thing toward the creation of that splendid comradeship and companionship which are the solidest foundations of permanent homes and happy marriages.

The husband who balks at such tasks and looks upon such duties as essentially feminine, who considers himself henpecked when asked to help in them, is indeed a pathetic creature. He is, moreover, exhibiting an ungenerous and thoughtless side of his nature which will be apprehensively watched by his wife. He cannot know the real joys of true companionship in his married life, and he has himself only to blame when his own action brings out similar traits in his wife. This has been the traditional and unfortunate attitude of many foreign born men toward their wives. Women were not made merely to serve the physical and sexual needs of husbands, with no obligation on the part of the latter except to provide a house and to pay the bills. Fortunately for all of us this type of husband is fast becoming a thing of the past.

Source: Sanger, Margaret . Happiness in Marriage. Garden City, New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1940.
~ pp. 221-222, 225-26 ~