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 ‘marriage’

Happy Valentines Day!

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends! I thought I’d share with you some recent finds from a shopping trip I took in Austin, Texas, with my budding antique-loving 10 year old niece, Olivia. We had a grand day shopping at Uncommon Objects. She scored a great mechanical pencil and a cute little painted wooden bug, plus we both got some old coke bottle caps and inscribed them with our initials and dates to remember our fun trip by. Talk about love!

Anyway, my big score was four “Your Perfect Wife/Your Perfect Children” cards, from 1935. I have five of the “Your Perfect Husband” cards that I posted on my Facebook page awhile back – sadly I couldn’t immediately find the original images to repost on Flickr (so much for good personal digital preservation practices), and the original cards are somewhere in my messy office. But you might be able to get to them by clicking here.

I hope you enjoy these, I think they are a hoot!
Your Future Wife, Your Future Children

Your Future Wife, Your Future Children

Your Future Wife, Your Future Children

This one is my favorite (seeing as I married a musician):

Your Future Wife, Your Future Children

A Helpmeet (1890)

Monday, August 8th, 2011

“A compendium of valuable information for women” so describes the title page of the 1890 book The Mother’s Guide and Daughter’s Friend. It’s true, this book covers just about anything a woman of the late 1800s might need to know. The anonymous author (who suggests that if you really must find out who [she or he] is, you can contact the publisher) has “read a large number of works each containing something valuable, some containing much that is untrue, others much that has no bearing on the subject…” to cull “a large amount of valuable information.”  Hmm ~ sounds a bit like yours truly! No wonder I like this book so much. The book actually has directions for its use, which I must share with you some other time, as it is quite handy. But in the meantime, since folks always seem to enjoy those quaint looks back at how men and women should act in marriage, here’s something from a section called “A Helpmeet”:

"Woman has a power over man stronger than she may dream if she only knows his peculiarities and adapts her conduct to them. Does your husband love to see things in order, then be careful and keep the house in good shape. Does he love a good dinner, then study your cook book and study his tastes. Does he like to be caressed, do your prettiest in that line. Does he admire beauty in women, then dress neatly and tidily and try to keep clean and in good health, and meet him with a smile. Is he a man of literary tastes, cultivate your literary taste, and be appreciative of his ability. If he loves beautiful things, study house decorations and defer to his tastes….

Most men like to be petted and deferred to. A wife may defer to her husband’s opinion and not lose her own independence nor lower herself in any way. The truly polite person is the one who is a good listener; who treats no one’s opinion lightly. A woman need only to be truly polite to her husband. It is also the husband’s duty to defer to his wife’s opinions. In many cases her opinion is the best. But if she would have her way at times, she must at times give way to her husband. Husband and wife should be mutually polite, mutually deferent, mutually obedient.

Does the man meet with disappointment and failure in business, the wife should not chide him, should not mope and sulk and wonder how they are going to get along now, but meet him with words of encouragement and love.

The happy pair are the man and wife who are constantly deferring to each other, who frequently caress each other, make sacrifices for each other, who are always striving to relieve each other’s burdens. Courtship should not stop with the wedding ceremony. Man and wife should court each other always. This is written especially for the wife to read, and I want to impress upon her the fact that love begets love, politeness begets politeness, and if she does her part the husband will be more likely to do his part, and that much depends upon her own individual effort…."


That’s right, ladies, it’s all up to you. But wait, one more thing:

"Man feels the need of recreation, perhaps, more than women, because his work is severer for the time he is at it. Women have more little breaks upon the monotony of their labor. They can chat a moment over the back fence with a neighbor, take up a book and read for a few minutes while  the kettle boils, take a nap in the afternoon, go out for an hour’s walk, or call upon a friend; but the man toils in his office, or store, or in the field for hours at a stretch, and then, perhaps, must think over his work outside of business hours. If then, he relishes hunting and fishing, has a passion for dogs or horses, or “goes crazy” in the collection of a cabinet of natural history specimens, or something of the kind, you should have charity for his peculiarities, and do not come to the conclusion that he thinks more of such things than he does of you."

Permit of Freedom

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Permit of Freedom

My dear sweet husband made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies today, and it’s the anniversary of the week of our first date (I know, sappy!), so I hereby dedicate this special Lover’s Fun Card to him.

How to Win a Woman, part II (1923)

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Recently, I featured some advice from the lovely and talented Elinor Glyn on how to win a woman. Excerpted from her 1923 book The Philosophy of Love, Glyn tells the story of Richard, who is trying to woo his love, Sallie. We left off wondering if any of Glyn’s tips might have paid off for our dear sweet Richard. Let’s read on and see…


He has met Sallie several times, but seems not to have been able to make much advance. He has been just ordinary and has talked of the everlasting old things that he has talked to every girl about since he first went to school. Now the next time they meet he must turn the conversation on to personal things and get her to tell him her likes and her tastes; he must make her talk about herself (not a very difficult matter with most women!), and he must plainly show his interest. He must let her feel her maneuvering to be alone with her and desires her company. And the more he lets her see that his character is strong, the more he will attract her.

It is not of the slightest consequence how masterful a man shows himself to be, if at the same time he is a passionate lover ~ the woman in the case will always adore him. It is coldness and casualness which disillusionise, and, as I said in another chapter, above all, mulish wordlessness!


Glyn goes on to give some examples of ways to show that a man loves a woman, depending on the type of girl she is and what she might respond to. It’s quite long so I will cut to the chase and get back to how Richard and Sallie are doing, in particular:


When he is quite sure that she loves him, and when the psychological moment has arrived that he asks her to marry him, he must see that his caresses are tender as well as passionate, for exquisite caresses are the strongest of love awakeners. The touch of a hand in passing is enough to make a delicious thrill! It starts the working of the magnet, and that is why continuous flirtations are so stupid.

Lovers always like to be close together. And if touching grows to mean nothing to them, then they may know very well that the intoxication is over, and at best a friendship is between them. Love always manifest itself in the desire to touch the Beloved One.

When Richard marries Sallie he can almost certainly keep her in love with him if he desires to do so. He has only to remain a masterful and fond lover to accomplish this miracle, and not subside into the usual stodgy, complacent husband, absorbed in business and too tired when he comes home to be agreeable!


In my next post, I’ll share some parting thoughts from Glyn on how Richard and Sallie (and all of you out there) might keep that love going.

Why Girls Go to College

Monday, August 30th, 2010

pretty as well as stunningJust got back from a jaunt to Southern Ohio to visit some relatives and learn more about our Moore and Patterson ancestors. We visited the old family farms, saw the house where Grandma Bailey was born, and tried to remember who was who on the family tree. Not easy! One favorite ancestor: Mae Patterson, who never married but went to Smith College, was a world traveler and member of the League of Women Voters, among other things. She left behind a scrapbook, filled with unidentified newspaper clippings ca. 1920s. Most are quite charming, describing Mae’s incredible social life, for example:

“Miss Mae Patterson attended a meeting of the D.A.R. at the home of Mrs. Albert Keim at Chillicothe on Wednesday afternoon. Miss Patterson read a very interesting paper on ‘Some Garden Spots of the World.'”

The following is also from her scrapbook. I think we would have gotten along grandly!

1920s: Why Girls Go to College

A census of the college girls in America, undertaken at the instance of a wealthy young student at Smith college in Northampton, Mass., shows that a majority of the girls in attendance at the different institutions throughout the country are the children of parents who are or who have been in one or another of the learned professions.

These girls, it is plain from their answers to the queries submitted, go to college because their mothers or their fathers went to college before them. They were born, so to speak, to go to college, not for any particular reason in many cases, but simply because their families have acquired the college habit.

The statistics prove further that the average girl begins to prepare for college when she is 14 or 15 years old ~ long before she has begun to balance her chances for matrimony against the question of her good looks.

It is interesting to note, as bearing on the matrimonial chances of the average college girl, that the Granddaughters society of Smith college has twenty-two members, although it is only thirty-two years since the first class was graduated. And the early classes were very small, too. Twenty-two daughters of Smith graduates in Smith college today would seem to answer the question as to whether the average college girl is too homely to marry. She certainly is not from these figures.

Though there are many pretty girls at Smith college the college type is ~ “stunning.” The Smith girls pride themselves on being stunning. As a rule, they are well set up, and particularly well dressed. But the ivy day procession at the house dances in the students’ building will convince any doubting ones of the fact that the Smith girl is pretty as well as stunning. The number of engaged girls in college increases each year, and every number of the Monthly, and also the Alumnae Quarterly, contains a list of marriages of graduates.

The ‘running around the table’ of engaged girls is always the best part at class suppers.

Source: Mae Patterson’s Scrapbook, unidentified clipping ca. 1920s.
~ n.p. ~

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 ~

Cooking for Two

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

the sky's the limitI swear that the color in this image is true to the original. Do you think I could adjust that brussel-sprout green? Never.

1965: Cooking for Two

THE HONEYMOON IS OVER; the die is cast. You and you only stand between your husband’s and your own starvation. Either you surrender to the can-opener method of cooking, to allow you more time at the beauty parlor, or you make up your mind to follow a more rewarding path. yum yum rice moldYou decide to learn to cook well, to experiment and master culinary techniques, and to set interesting and nourishing meals on an attractive table.

Feeding a husband successfully starts with feeding him the things he likes to eat, for a clever bride cooks to please her man. She goes out of her way to keep mealtimes pleasant and comfortable. She knows that experts say “happy mealtimes are as important to health as proper food.” And whether the meal is served informaIly in the kitchen, at the dining table by candlelight, or on trays in the living room with soft background music, the surroundings should be neat, the atmosphere one of relaxation, and there should be some special touch ~ a single flower floating in a glass saucer, a colorful napkin tied in a knot, a pretty china figurine ~ just to remind your husband how lucky he is to have “caught” you.

The menu itself should be thought out in advance to provide essetial nutrients, contrasting colors and textures, and the same element should not be repeated in two or more courses of the same meal. If the meat has a sauce with cream in it, the soup will not contain cream, neither will the dessert. If the soup contains sliced tomatoes, you will not serve broiled tomatoes with the meat or slided tomatoes with salad.

The wise young homemaker will use a touch of color on the serving plate ~ a sprig of parsley or water cress, a dash of paprika, a lemon slice, or a radish rose ~ to make the dish attractive. Varying shades of green add interest to a salad.

Beyond these common-sense rules, the sky’s the limit. . . .

Brussel Sprouts in Cranberry Rice Ring

3 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
5 cups hot cooked rice (1 1/4 cups raw)

1. Cook cranberries with sugar and boiling water in covered saucepan for about 5 minutes, or until cranberries pop.
2. Mix cranberries and rice and pack into a greased 8-inch mold, pressing firmly. Let stand for 5 minutes, then unmold ring onto serving platter.
3. Fill center with Buttered Brussels Sprouts as in photograph.

Buttered Brussel Sprouts

4 packages (10-oz. each) frozen California Brussel sprouts
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook Brussel sprouts according to package directions. Drain, toss lightly with butter and salt and pepper. 

Source: Enright, Evelyn and Ann Seranne. Happy Living! A Guidebook for Brides. Los Angeles: American Bride Publications, 1965.
~ pp. 185, 237, 245 ~

Housewives 101

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

the very centre of her beingQ Dear Miss Abigail:

Why did they have housewives in the olden days?


A Dear Mime:

I’ve often wondered the very same thing. Here’s a bit of guilt ~ oops, I mean advice ~ that should give you some insight into those wacky olden days. Richard A. Wells wrote it in 1891 for his book titled Manners Culture and Dress of the Best American Society.

1891: Avoid All Causes for Complaint

Never let your husband have cause to complain that you are more agreeable abroad than at home; nor permit him to see in you an object of admiration as respects your dress and manners, when in company, while you are negligent of both in the domestic circle. Many an unhappy marriage has been occasioned by neglect in these particulars. Nothing can be more senseless than the conduct of a young woman, who seeks to be admired in general society for her politeness and engaging manners, or skill in music, when, at the same time, she makes no effort to render her home attractive; and yet that home whether a palace or a cottage, is the very centre of her being ~ the nucleus around which her affections should resolve, and beyond which she has comparatively small concern.

Source: Wells, Richard A. Manners, Culture and Dress of the Best American Society. Springfield, Mass.: King, Richardson & Co., 1891.
~ p. 529 ~

She Smells Worse Than Wet Mulch!

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

clear, clean wholesome waterQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I have a co-worker who smells worse than wet mulch. It’s not that she looks dirty, or dresses in dirty clothing or even has a trace of filth on her person. No, it’s just that there seems to be an invisible cloud of BO floating where ever she roams. Before I dropped a bar of Zest her way, I figured it’d be best to consult you.

Breathing Through My Mouth

A Dear Breathing:

I am sorry that I have no real suggestions as to what you could say to this co-worker of yours. But I have compiled some thoughts about cleanliness and body odor; maybe you could print this out and hang it up on your office bulletin board, or somewhere else conspicious? Or perhaps just pose as an Avon lady and deposit free samples of soap in a pretty pink basket near your desk. Maybe she’ll get the hint.

1947: Cleanliness Essential

What are the actual factors which have a good or bad effect upon marriage happiness? There is tidiness, for example. It is doubtful if there is anything more destructive to romance than soiled underwear or body odor. They must be guarded against with the utmost care, and yet one must have a smattering of good judgment too. If the housewife must do her own laundry she may not wish her husband to be overly free with the linen. She may prefer to have him wear his underwear until it is really soiled a bit than to be confronted with a mountain of washing and ironing each week. Possibly her husband would rather have her wear her danties longer than to have her exhausted with the effort to keep herself “as sweet as when she stepped out of her bath two hours ago.” A house, or a wife, or a husband may be so dainty that there is no comfort in living with it, or her, or him. One cannot relax well in a home or with a person who is too nice to get a bit messed up. After all, there is the work of the world to be done, and it is impossible for workers to avoid soil and perspiration entirely.

All of this is a matter for adjustment.

Source: Fishbein, Morris and Ernest W. Burgess. Successful Marriage. Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday and Company, 1947.
~ pp. 193-94 ~

1960: Beauty in Your Tub

The best things in life are free, and one of the greatest gifts is clear clean wholesome water. We are told that all life started in water, that we came originally from the sea. Each of us, we might say, is a miniature ocean enclosed in skin. Even our skins have their salty water content, within each cell and in the fluid-filled intercellular spaces. Water is essential to the life of every cell. It is essential both inside and outside.

If you have thought of your bath mainly as a Saturday night affair, let me tell you that cleanliness is only the first function of your beauty bath. For by changing the temperature and length of your bath, and by adding mineral salts, oils, unguents or cosmetic vinegar, you can make your bath serve a whole spectrum of relaxing and beautifying experiences.

Source: Hauser, Gayelord. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Invitation to Beauty. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960.
~ pp. 237-38

1970: Body Odor

Body odors become much stronger in adolescence ~ partly as a result of glandular changes and skin changes, partly as the result of axillary (armpit) hair on which perspiration collects and is decomposed by bacterial action. It is essentially that teenagers, in a society like ours which considers body smells offensive, take a careful soap or shower daily and follow with an underarm deodorant.

Source: Spock, Dr. Benjamin. A Teenagers Guide to Life and Love. New York: Simon and Schuster,1970.
~ pp. 161-62 ~

Why Aren’t You Married?

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

i'm frightened mommyQ Dear Miss Abigail:

What are some good responses for a single woman to use when she is constantly hassled about her non-marital status, for example, “You are so young, and beautiful, why aren’t you married?” I have found that my own personal response of “I like my independence, dammit!” has proven inadequate. Please help!

Independent and Proud of It

A Dear Independent:

I’m there with you, baby! It is hard to imagine, in this day and age, that one would have to explain to rude inquisitors why one’s life is the way it is. But sadly, single men and women are frequently forced into such a conversation.

Most of my books only discuss the normal path ~ teens start dating, and that leads to marriage. Easy as pie, right? So I don’t have an easy response for you, sweetie. But maybe these words will help you realize that you are not alone. I find the “marriage is absurd” observation quite charming.

1965: Absurdity

Marriage is a paradox second only to life itself. That at the age of twenty or so, with little knowledge of each other and a dangerous overdose of self-confidence, two human beings should undertake to commit themselves for life ~ and that church and state should receive their vows with a straight face ~ all this is absurd indeed. And it is tolerable only if it is reveled in as such. A pox on all the neat little explanations as to why it is reasonable that two teenagers should be bound to each other until death. It is not reasonable. It happens to be true to life, but it remains absurd. Down with the books that moralize reasonably on the subject of why divorce is wrong. Divorce is not a wrong; it is a metaphysical impossibility. It is an attempt to do something about life rather than with it ~ to work out the square root of –I rather than to use it.

Source: Capon, Robert Farrar. Bed and Board: Plain Talk About Marriage. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965.
~ p.16 ~

1971: Why is it that some women never marry?

The answer isn’t easy. Among the sweetest words any woman ever hears are, “Will you marry me, darling?” Yet there are more than nine million American women, who have never heard these words at all ~ or if they have, weren’t listening. The vast majority of them are healthy, intelligent, attractive human beings who are directing the course of their lives stubbornly against the tide of society. To do something as drastic and as difficult as that, they must have some pretty good reasons.

Our American way of life is designed, like Noah’s Art, for those who march two-by-two. Nearly every form of entertainment from sports cars to king-sized beds is designed for the mutual enjoyment of a man and a woman. At parties, at clubs, at bars, at virtually every pleasurable activity in this land of supreme pleasures, a woman alone feels and is made to feel out of tune with the rest of the world. . . .

What effect does this have on a single woman?

In this country every woman who is not married by the age of twenty-one is treated as if she were suffering from a progressive disease that makes the bubonic plaque seem like a bad cold. Until the age of thirty, the chances of recovery are considered favorable and the victim is allowed to mingle freely with the rest of society. As the years slip by the outlook dims and the period of quarantine begins. Those of her friends who are engaged or going steady, and the natural elite who are already married, slowly withdraw to avoid becoming contaminated.

After the age of thirty she is the topic of hushed conversation. “Did you know that Ellen is thirty-one and doesn’t even have a steady boyfriend?” This is the equivalent of saying, “I just heard from Ellen’s doctor ~ the poor dear has only a few months to live!”

Souce: Reuben, David. Any Woman Can. New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1971.
~ pp. 86-87 ~