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!

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Posts Tagged ‘letters’

The Write Stuff

Monday, August 30th, 2010

give thoughtful considerationQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I have a girlfriend who lives in another country, but she hasn’t written me like she said she would. What should I do?

Signed,
John

A Dear John:

Uh, oh. Her actions do not appear to be a good sign, according to the following advice from Warren D. Bowman’s Home Builders of Tomorrow. Although this section appears to be written for girls, I think it could come in handy for just about everyone, particularly in this age of hurried email messages. If only your girlfriend would listen to our dear friend Mr. Bowman!

1938: Courtesy in Correspondence

There is also a type of courtesy that should be manifested in correspondence. A young lady became disgusted during her correpondence with a young man. She said that he never gave any consideration to her letter when replying and ignored ideas she had expressed and questions she had asked. This young man had never learned the courtesy of correspondence, which demands a mutual exchange of ideas and full consideration of any point mentioned by the other in the last letter. Correspondence can be used as a means of testing the courtesy, thinking, modes of expression, sportsmanship, and often the philosophy of life of the other. Can he write an interesting letter? Does he express his ideas in a pleasing manner? The kind of letter a person writes may serve somewhat as a test of his intelligence and resourcefulness. It is wise to refrain from writing letters that are too sentimental, as they may embarrass one later in life. Young people could well afford to give thoughtful consideration to their correspondence when part of their courtship is carried on this way.

Source: Bowman, Warren D. Home Builders of Tomorrow. Elgin, Ill.: The Elgin Press, 1938.
~ pp. 60-61 ~

How Did We Ever Get Along Without Cellophane Tape?

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

it will hold firmlyI was all set to do a meaningful commentary on taxes and budgeting, given the upcoming deadline that all of my American readers know only too well. But since I’d do anything to avoid that topic, I picked this excerpt to share with you instead. It’s from Good Housekeeping’s The Better Way: A Unique, Money-Saving Handbook for Homemakers. Perhaps it can still be useful ~ I think tax forms count as “top priority letters.”

1959: How Did We Ever Get Along Without Cellophane Tape?

How, indeed? With it, did you know that you can:

STOP CRACKED PLASTER. Next time you hammer a nail in the plaster to hang a picture, first apply a small cross patch of cellophane tape over the spot to prevent the plaster from cracking.

KEEP DUST FROM PICTURES. Don’t let dust seep into your framed pictures; seal the back of the frame to the mat with a strip of cellophane tape.

PREVENT SCRATCHES. Run a strip of tape on bottom of knickknacks to save furniture from scratches.

THUMBTACKS IN HARD-TO-GET-AT-PLACES. Wrap cellophane tape around your forefinger, sticky side out. Then stick the head of the thumbtack against the tape, and it will hold firmly while you get it into that hard-to-get-at place with just one finger.

SNAG-FREE CURTAIN ROD. One way to get freshly laundered curtains back on the rod without snagging is to run a strip of tape over the end of the rod.

EMERGENCY REPAIRS FOR TORN SHOWER CURTAINS. While you shop for new shower curtains, you can easily mend the torn ones by placing cellophane tape over the tear on the side away from the water.

TOP PRIORITY LETTERS. Double seal important and confidential letters with a strip of cellophane tape.

REINFORCE LOOSE-LEAF PAGES. Run a strip of cellophane tape down the entire length of the paper where the ring holes are punched. Repunch the holes.

OVERLOADED ENVELOPES. To seal an envelope with a heavier enclosure than usual, use cellophane tape.

LABELS. Label drawers, folders, and canned goods by writing on a slip of paper and sealing it down with cellophane tape.

MEND MONEY. Torn checks and currency can be mended with cellophane tape.

TRAIN AND HOLD VINES. Use cellophane tape to hold climbing house plants to an indoor ‘trellis.’

EXTRACT JUICE FROM FRUIT. Any time you want to extract a few drops of orange or lemon juice from the fruit, pierce skin with a sharp knife, squeeze out what you want, wipe skin dry, then seal split with tape.

NEW RECIPE. So you won’t misplace it, fasten the recipe on the inside of your cupboard door with tape and don’t remove it until you’ve tried it out.

Source: Good Housekeeping. The Better Way. New York: Popular Library, 1959.
~ pp. 14-16 ~

So So So So Sorry

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

give it quickly and easilyQ Dear Miss Abigail:

My uncle died last week and I just sent a sympathy card to his daughter. His daughter has two children (age 14 and 16) and I noted in the sympathy card that they were very lucky to have had such a great grandfather. However, I incorrectly called her children Amy and Ashley when it should have been Amy and Wesley. Should I let it go? Call her and apologize? Or should I banish myself? Feeling pretty stupid here. As a sidenote, this woman is throwing me a bridal shower on June 12. So, I know I will see her soon. Thanks in advance.

Signed,
Loser

A Dear Loser:

I’m sure the last thing your cousin is worried about is your erring ways. However, I do feel it would be appropriate for you to approach her with an apology. First, read the following tips from two etiquette books (the first by Margery Wilson, the second by Amy Vanderbilt). I’m sure they will help you get the courage to call or write; you will feel better, and I am sure your family will, too. And if this advice doesn’t help, please forgive me. I’m so sorry. Really, I am. I mean it.

1940: Apologies

Don’t apologize too abjectly, and don’t drag on with the matter of your fault or embarrassment. When an apology is necessary, give it quickly and easily. Cultivate the habit of saying ‘Sorry,’ in a nice, cool way when you are guilty of small offenses such as jostling someone. ‘I’m so sorry. Do forgive me!’ is enough for even the gravest offense. Apologize more readily than may be your wont, but keep it brief. 

Source: Wilson, Margery. The New Etiquette. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1940.
~ p. 200 ~

1967: Letters of Apology

Occasionally there is need to send a letter of apology. Such letters should really be notes explaining some remissness, such as the sudden canceling of a dinner or failure to keep an appointment, though telephoned or telegraphed word has probaby preceded the letter. Apologies of a more serious sort are difficult and sometimes useless to put in a letter. When some grave misunderstanding has arisen it is better, if possible, to settle it in person, as even the most carefully couched letter may merely add fat to the fire.

A note of apology need not be too definite. If you had sudden guests drop in the evening you had promised to play bridge with friends who were not near neighbors, you would write a note something like this if you had not been able to reach your hostess in person by phone:

Wednesday

Dear Carol,
Hope you received my message in time to get another couple for bridge Tuesday night. We had counted on it but had some guests from out-of-town show up unexpectedly just before dinner. Let’s try again for next week. Will you plan to come here? Please let me know.

Love,
Ruth

Source: Vanderbilt, Amy. New Complete Book of Etiquette: Guide to Gracious Living. Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1967.
~ pp. 427-27 ~

Thank Me Now For This Advice

Monday, August 16th, 2010

somehow the wrapping just slipped offQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I need to send a thank you note for something that was given to me two months ago. How can I do it without seeming too beggy-sorry-sappy?

Signed,
Wizzbo

A Dear Wizzbo:

My advice to you is to get that thank you note sent right away, before it gets really awkward. Here are some tips for writing your letter, courtesy of the very courteous Lillian Eichler in her 1924 New Book of Etiquette. I’m sure you can think of something cordial to say to make up for lost time.

1924: The Letter of Thanks

It would be ridiculous even to attempt to give here the real letter of thanks that you should write. The letters given here are only empty forms, formulæ, for you to use as a foundation upon which you build your own letter. Let your letter be a free, sincere expression of gratitude, cordial and gracious, unhampered by stilted phrases or expressions.

Write your letter of thanks as soon as possible after the gift has been received or the favour has been done. Write with the warmth and kindliness you honestly feel, and make your letter as cordial as you know how. We hope these models will be helpful:

FOR A WEDDING GIFT
Dear Mrs. Howland:
You cannot imagine how delighted I was to receive the wonderful mirror you and Mr. Howland sent us. Bruce and I have decided to hang it in our drawing room, and we do hope you will come soon to see how well it looks.
With many thanks,
Yours cordially,
Rosalie King.

Jessica dear!
How perfectly sweet of you to send me the lovely jade vase! How did you know it was just precisely what I wanted? Bruce thinks it is the most handsome vase he has ever seen.
Remember, you are coming in on Thursday afternoon to see the gifts.
With love,
Rosalie.

FOR GIFT TO A BABY
Dear Mrs. Courtly:
What an adorable little sacque you sent the baby! I wish you could see how cunning he looks in it. Do come soon, won’t you?
Both baby and I want you to know how we appreciate your kindness.
Cordially yours,
Lucy R. Barlow.

FOR A CHRISTMAS GIFT
Dear Robert:
I know I shouldn’t have peeked before Christmas, but somehow the wrapping just slipped off! What lovely book-ends, Robert, and how nicely they suit my desk. I am delighted with them.
Many thanks. Come in soon and see them, won’t you?
Sincerely yours,
Ellen Scott.

FROM EMPLOYEE TO EMPLOYER
My dear Mr. Blank:
It was very kind of you to remember me, and I want to thank you for the generous check that awaited me this morning. Please know that I appreciate your thoughtfulness.
With all good wishes for the coming year,
Gratefully yours,
John R. Brown.

Source: Eichler, Lillian. The New Book of Etiquette. Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Co., 1924.
~ pp. 163-64 ~

Dear Lovey Dovey

Monday, August 16th, 2010

seize a pencil or penQ Dear Miss Abigail:

My boyfriend is going away for a month and I was just wondering if you had any neat things that we could do to keep in touch. Plus, he’s sixteen and I’m thirteen so it’s really hard for me to trust him while he’s down there.

Signed,
Anonymous

A Dear Anonymous:

I think I’ll avoid that trust issue, and instead focus on your quest to keep in touch. I’d like to explain the very ancient art of letter writing (probably before your time). I know, I know, it sounds scary and foreign, but before we had phones and email, people actually wrote letters to one another to share stories and experiences. Read on about this unusual concept in this quote by author Richard A Wells. His book Manners, Culture and Dresswas written in 1891.

1891: Letters and Letter Writing

Delightful is the art of letter-writing and one not hard to be acquired. To write a good letter doubtless requires some experience; to write one which is marked by originality and beauty requires, in some degree, a peculiar talent. But almost any person of ordinary intelligence can learn how to express himself or herself in an acceptable manner upon paper.

Good grammar, correct orthography, precise punctuation, will not make a clever communication, if the life and spirit of the expression are wanting; and life and spirit will make a good impressive epistle, even if the rhetorical and grammatical proprieties are largely wanting. Some of the most charming letters we ever saw or read were from children, who while they tortured grammar, yet reproduced themselves so completely as to make it appear that they really were chattering to us.

It is comparatively easy to compose. The secret of it is hidden in no mystery ~ it is simply toconverse on paper, instead of by word of mouth. To illustrate: if a person is before you, you narrate the incidents of a marriage, or a death, or of any circumstance of interest. It is an easy and an agreeable thing to tell the story. Now, if the person were so deaf as to not be able to hear a word, what would you do? Why, seize a pencil or pen and write out just what you would have told them by words. That very writing would be a delightful letter! It is this naturalness of expression and individuality of a letter which so delights the recipient.

Source: Wells, Richard A. Manners, Culture and Dress of the Best American Society. Springfield, Mass.: King, Richardson & Co., 1891.
~ pp. 169-70 ~

Dear Lovey Dovey

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

seize a pencil or penQ Dear Miss Abigail:

My boyfriend is going away for a month and I was just wondering if you had any neat things that we could do to keep in touch. Plus, he’s sixteen and I’m thirteen so it’s really hard for me to trust him while he’s down there.

Signed,
Anonymous

A Dear Anonymous:

I think I’ll avoid that trust issue, and instead focus on your quest to keep in touch. I’d like to explain the very ancient art of letter writing (probably before your time). I know, I know, it sounds scary and foreign, but before we had phones and email, people actually wrote letters to one another to share stories and experiences. Read on about this unusual concept in this quote by author Richard A Wells. His book Manners, Culture and Dresswas written in 1891.

1891: Letters and Letter Writing

Delightful is the art of letter-writing and one not hard to be acquired. To write a good letter doubtless requires some experience; to write one which is marked by originality and beauty requires, in some degree, a peculiar talent. But almost any person of ordinary intelligence can learn how to express himself or herself in an acceptable manner upon paper.

Good grammar, correct orthography, precise punctuation, will not make a clever communication, if the life and spirit of the expression are wanting; and life and spirit will make a good impressive epistle, even if the rhetorical and grammatical proprieties are largely wanting. Some of the most charming letters we ever saw or read were from children, who while they tortured grammar, yet reproduced themselves so completely as to make it appear that they really were chattering to us.

It is comparatively easy to compose. The secret of it is hidden in no mystery ~ it is simply toconverse on paper, instead of by word of mouth. To illustrate: if a person is before you, you narrate the incidents of a marriage, or a death, or of any circumstance of interest. It is an easy and an agreeable thing to tell the story. Now, if the person were so deaf as to not be able to hear a word, what would you do? Why, seize a pencil or pen and write out just what you would have told them by words. That very writing would be a delightful letter! It is this naturalness of expression and individuality of a letter which so delights the recipient.

Source: Wells, Richard A. Manners, Culture and Dress of the Best American Society. Springfield, Mass.: King, Richardson & Co., 1891.
~ pp. 169-70 ~