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 ‘mothers’

Shopping for Books the Old Fashioned Way

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

“Sixth Thousand Now Ready!” “An Important Book for the Family and School!” “An Attractive and Useful Gift” read the ad, found in the back of the 1894 printing of The Physician’s Wife, which I recently I picked up in Baltimore. How could I not be intrigued? Ads often appear in the back of some of my older books, a great place for publishers to have advertised new titles. Unfortunately I couldn’t send away for a copy using the instructions in the ad (“price, post-paid: $1.00 net”) – although it appears the company is still in business. The interwebs became my friend, however, as I turned to AbeBooks to hunt down a copy of the 1891 The Daughter: Her Health, Education, and Wedlock. Lucky for me a seller had it for a reasonable price, and a few days later, a copy was in my collection!

The DaughterI’ve only just begun to read it, but already found some  gems like this, about a mother’s duty to inform her daughter of sexual matters:


To preserve the charm of true modesty and innocence, it is safer for the girl that she be instructed concerning the requirements of personal purity, rather than be allowed to grope amid chance experiences and to run the risks of unfriendly influences. Experience is the only teacher for all, but in many things the lessons may be taken at second hand, and the wise do well to profit by the experiences of others. Although it may be a difficult duty to perform, no careful mother will neglect to properly instruct her daughter in matters relating to the sexual nature. Thoughts upon this subject cannot be avoided, but will arise as mind and body develop, and they should be wisely and intelligently directed in confidential talks skillfully planned and discreetly managed by the mother.

Sexual matters are not motives and aims in life, but they imperiously mingle with and influence all motives and aims. They are inseparable from existence, and though important must be made subordinate, and though irrepressible must be held in subjection. To ignore them is as fatal to happiness and success in life as to allow them to be the objects of chief pursuit. To underrate their influence is a great mistake; it must be justly appreciated in order to maintain an effective control by the stronger forces of the intellect and the will. Let it be remembered how large a portion of human misery results from the disorderly animal passion. Much of this should be withheld from the knowledge of the young, but enough for their own safety may be pointed out by the mother, and be accompanied by such admonitions as seem suitable in each individual case. That the duty is a delicate one is surrounded by difficulties affords no reason for its avoidance, but rather calls for redoubled tact and a superior skill, which will not fail of their aim when instigated by the loving instinct of a true mother’s heart.


Flipping to the back of The Daughter, I of course notice a few more ads. I wonder if I can find Hartvig Nissen’s ABC of the Swedish System of Educational Gymnastics? or John V. Shoemaker’s  Heredity, Health, and Personal Beauty? Or Plain Talk on Avoided Subjects, by Henry N. Guernsey?



All I Want for Xmas? Stop Nagging Me, Mother!

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

it is not easy for parentsQ Dear Miss Abigail:

My parents are coming to visit soon. Problem is, they drive me batty with their subtle nagging and criticism of how I run my house. I don’t know if I can survive Christmas. Why don’t they let me grow up?

Weary Daughter

A Dear Weary:

You would think that the joy of the holidays would stifle criticism, but in fact it seems to bring out the worst in everyone. Never fear, you are not alone. A message to your parents (and parents everywhere): give a very special gift to your adult child this year – a break! This one brought to you by W. Clark Ellzey (I found it in his How to Keep Romance In Your Marriage from 1954).

1954: Parents

All of us who have parents or who are parents should realize that parenthood is a function which should have an end. If the purpose of parenthood has not been completed it cannot end. . . . It is not easy for parents to stop being parents. They have been doing it for a long time by the time their child reaches adulthood, and it is difficult to bring parenthood to an end. Habits of thinking and feeling are well established and may have to be broken, or may be too strong to break. They should have been modified constantly throughout the years of childhood and youth of their children. Even that is not possible without some struggle and pain.

Source: Ellzey, W. Clark. How to Keep Romance in Your Marriage. New York: Association Press, 1954.
~ p. 65 ~

Family Feuding

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

saucy words cost too muchQ Dear Miss Abigail:

My mother and I disagree about a lot of things, especially the way I dress. I am perfectly neat, and I feel like I choose things that suit me and my personality. Still, she feels like picking a fight with me about every little thing. How can I tell her that I want to dress for myself, and not for her, without offending her?


A Dear Miriam:

Whatever you do, don’t be saucy! Author Mabel Hale, in her 1922 book titled Beautiful Girlhood,warns young ladies to be careful in how they speak to their parents. Read this little excerpt carefully and think deeply about how your actions would seem in your family’s eyes ~ does your plea for individuality make you appear less beautiful to your mother? Perhaps not, but in any case, Hale sure has some strong thoughts on the subject.

1922: Sauciness

No girl can afford to be impudent or saucy. One who is such sets a poor estimate upon herself. When a girl is saucy she shows a lack of respect for her elders and superiors, and also a lack of respect for her own good name. Instead of sauciness sounding smart and making a girl appear clever and independent, it shows her to be rude and egotistical. There is nothing lovely nor desirable about it, and if indulged in to any extent it will spoil any girl.

Sauciness is more hateful because it begins at home. Where the girl should be her best she is her worst, for she is always more ugly to her own loved ones more than to any one else. She makes home miserable so far as her influence goes. Mother and Father may endeavor to be kind and just, but at the least reproof or counsel the mouth of the girl sends out a stinging retort that hurts cruelly. Saucy words cost too much in heartache and tears. They are not found in beautiful girlhood; for where the habit of sauciness is found the beauty of girlhood is spoiled. Words can be like swords, cutting deep, not into the flesh but into the tender heart. The time will come, my young friend, when you will gaze upon the still form of one you loved, you will regret the tears and sighs the harsh words you have spoken. Do not lay up for yourself sorrow for that time.

Source: Hale, Mabel. Beautiful Girlhood. Anderson, Ill.: [Gospel Trumpet Co.?], 1922.
~ pp. 52-53 ~

The Value of a Child

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

a little human blossom

Happy birthday, baby Perez, happy birthday, baby Perez, happy birthday dear baby Perez… ok, you can come out now. Get it? Birth day? C’mon. We’re ready for you.

I’m about to become an aunt, and I’m pretty darn excited, can you tell? I hope I’m up to the task. Even if I’m not, I know this kid’s gonna have fabulous parents. This one goes out to Jen and Tony, hereafter known as mom and dad.

1904: The Value of a Child

Is there any computing it? Can even mother-love set an estimate upon it? A soul straight from God, clothed in a physical form that reflects the mother’s own life and thought, and looks up at her with eyes often the counterpart of those which smiled into hers during that golden period, life’s honeymoon, which was after all but a foretaste of the heaven now here. A life with infinite possibilities; a little human blossom to be cared for, guided, lovingly trained into more and more of the divine likeness as the years go by. What a blessed privilege! Till now, hers has been the pleasure of preparation; now it is realization.

Each new-born child is a gift not only to parents, but to society, the nation and the world. Its right education is therefore all-important. This education having been begun before birth, need now only be continued; and Nature’s laws, in all their harmony and beauty, should be applied to this sacred task.

Source: Melendy, Dr. Mary Ries. Vivilore: The Pathway to Mental and Physical Perfection. Chicago: W. R. Vansant, 1904.
~ p. 80 ~

[Note: This was published originally back in 2001, when I was about to become an aunt for the first time! An update: Olivia finally arrived, as did Iris and Trey in subsequent years, and I’m doing just fine as Aunt Abbie, if I do say so myself.]