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 ‘parenting’

What Dr. Spock Didn’t Tell Us (1958)

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Judas' RecallWith father’s day this weekend, it seems appropriate to share some advice for parents from a publication that came long before the pretty-darned-hilarious Go the F**k to Sleep that has been in the news and floating around Facebook recently. What Dr. Spock Didn’t Tell Us: Or, A Survival Kit for Parents, was written in 1958 by B. M. Atkinson, Jr. and illustrated by Whitney Darrow, Jr. The book is described as “an encyclopedic guide to hitherto uncatalogued afflictions, aberrations, exotic diseases of the American child,”  describing such allusive things as “Butt’s Disease,” “Goat Mouth,” “Serpent’s Tooth,” “McGuffey’s Panic,” and “Vigilante’s Dilemma.” The author learned about such things after his daughter was born. He asked an experienced neighbor (with 5 children) why Dr. Spock hadn’t written about these in his baby book. The neighbor replied “Don’t be silly! If those experts told everything about children, three wouldn’t be any more children, and with out any more children there wouldn’t be any more books about children.” So 15 years and 4 children later, the author put pen to paper to expose the truth. Here’s a sampling:

"PAUPER’S POUT. A recurring swelling and protrusion of the lower lip caused by delusions of extreme poverty in which any child insists that she received less allowance than any other child in town. Considered incurable. Always carried over into marriage.

JUDAS’ RECALL. An excruciating malfunction of the memory in which a four-year-old boy will cut loose with an oath that would do credit to a 104-year-old sailor and then, when taken under attack by his mother, will recall that he learned the word from his father, the father knowing damn well he learned it from the milkman. Occurs usually in the presence of guests, one a church worker.

SPAGHETTI LEG. Phenomenon resulting from attempts to put boots on a child, occurring as the parent orders the child to stiffen leg and push. Though the child ordinarily may have the bone structure of a Percheron and calcium deposits enough in each joint to be worth mining, this command to stiffen the leg causes a dissolving of all bones, joints and major muscles in said leg and reduces it to a state of limpness found only in overcooked spaghetti. A mother attempting to force the leg into a boot once it has achieved this jellied state might be more gainfully employed trying to thread a needle with an oyster.

UNIVAC’S QUIRK. An acute selectivity of the memory in which a child is unable to remember a parental command for five minutes but can remember a parental promise for ten years. The command may be leveled at the child in anything from a low roar to a raging bellow: “Quit jumping on that bed!” Five minutes later all will be forgotten and the boy and the bed will again sound like a kangaroo and a trampoline. The parental promise, however, may be made in anything from an unconscious grunt to an absent-minded grumble: “Yeah, four or five years from now Daddy’ll take you camping.” Four years later ~ to the day ~ the child will show up with a frying pan and a bed roll, usually snarling, “You promised!”

VESUVIAN BLADDER. A spectacular urethral expulsion of bodily liquids, resulting from sudden pressure of the bladder. Occurs exclusively among boy babies, usually from one to six months of age, and most often at bathtime when the child is without clothing and lying flat on his back. The expulsion takes the form of an arching stream and may attain a height of six to eight feet. Such heights, however, are rarely achieved, the stream generally arching only a few feet before striking the hovering parent between the eyes or, should the head be turned, in the ear. A new father, thus anointed for the first time, will usually back over a table or out the nearest window. His amazement, however, immediately gives way to parental pride, and for weeks the father will speak of the boy’s feat in terms usually reserved for men who put satellites in orbit."

Happy Fathers Day, all!

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?



Wherefore Art Thou Puberty

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

you may have to resort to booksQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I have an embarrassing question. I am sixteen and I haven’t gone through puberty yet. What’s wrong? Do you know? Please, I hate it! Thanks.


A Dear Justin:

Don’t be embarrassed, young man! I believe that Gladys Cox, author of Youth, Sex, and Life,can help ease your teen angst. According to her, you’re completely normal. At least in when it comes to puberty.

1946: Puberty and Adolescence

Puberty is the time when the sex organs are reaching maturity ~ when the production of ripe ova and sperms from the sex glands begins. It marks the end of childhood, and the subsequent period of transition to manhood or womanhood is known as adolescence.

Puberty in girls begins at about the age of fourteen, and in boys a little later, at about the age of sixteen; but in both sexes it may occur two or three years earlier or later than usual. In both sexes rapid growth is taking place at this period, and mental and physical changes ~ the secondary sex characteristics ~ develop that change the girl into a woman and the boy into a man. The powerful sex hormones or “chemical messengers” of the sex glands, and an increased amount of the secretions of other glands, are circulating in the blood, affecting the whole body and mind, and it takes some time for harmony to be restored.

Puberty and adolescence, then, are times of great physical and mental strain. It is not uncommon for periods of restless activity to alternate with times when the slightest effort, mental or physical, is irksome; and grown-ups who lack understanding are apt to become irritated with these spells of what appear to them to be sheer laziness ~ when the young people sit about crouching over story books or just day-dreaming.

This apparent laziness is, of course, due to the fatigue of mind and body when a great deal of energy is being used in growth and adjustment to the physiological changes that are taking place.

It is during adolescence that the sympathetic understanding of parents, teachers, and older friends can be of the greatest value. If you yourself are passing through this difficult stage, if you are perplexed by the unaccountable moods and emotions that overwhelm you at times, don’t think that it is the world that is wrong; it is just the same old world that you knew in the happiest moments of your childhood. It is you yourself who are developing. There is probably just as much happiness ahead of you when your body and mind has made its great adjustments and settled down to harmony again.

Don’t be afraid of talking freely with your parents. Really understanding parents won’t force your confidence ~ but they will meet you more than half-way if you show that you need their sympathy and help. The older generation often understand far more than you suspect, and they are only too anxious to help you; but they, too, suffer from a certain shyness and reserve, and you must do your part in breaking this down by offering your confidences.

If, unhappily, your parents fail you, there may be older relatives or friends, or the family doctor or clergyman, who will step into the breach; or you may have to resort to books. Here let me warn you that some people and some books, even when they have every intention of being helpful, may be worse than useless to you.

Source: Cox, Gladys M. Youth, Sex, and Life. London: George Newnes Limited, 1946.
~ pp. 149-50 ~

My Family Doesn’t Like My Boyfriend

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

they aren't in the same blue mist as youQ Dear Miss Abigail:

My family does not like my boyfriend. We had broken up for awhile, but it looks like we’re on again ~ at least for now. I know that he’s changed his naughty ways, the question is: how can I make them see that this is true? Should I break with my family or break my heart?

Broken Hearted

A Dear Broken:

Sounds like you are in a pickle! I only hope that this advice will help bridge the gap between your loved ones and your love life.

1965: Going Steady

If the folks think a certain companion is not for you ~ trust their mature judgment ~ and drop that one. There are so many dates in your young life that one more or less is not worth a family feud. Besides, variety should be the spice of your date-life at first. How else can you know what you want without a basis for comparison and value? . . .

Parent-SELF differences over dates usually don’t develop until you reach this stage of deciding to go steady. So pull yourself down to earth and listen to them, if they protest loudly about your choice. They aren’t in the same blue mist as you, and consequently from their place on the fence, they see better. It’s not because they want to oppose or deny you pleasure or run your life. It’s rather to spare you unnecessary headache and even heartache, because some steadies can develop into an awful pain.

If you feel certain mother and dad are wrong or unfair or prejudiced in their judgment, the best way to prove it all around is for the four of you to spend an evening together at home. The folks will play it straight. Invite your friend to dinner and spend the after hours talking, playing cards or records. It’s the best test for manners, moods, likes and dislikes you can name. Sportsmanship and character come out in the way a person plays a game ~ personal preferences bespeak themselves in a choice of music ~ manners show up at the table, on arrival and leave-taking ~ likes and dislikes are unconsciously expressed in conversation. Everybody’s on his own on an evening like this ~ and you shouldn’t feel the least bit apprehensive about subjecting any right-thinking person to meeting your folks and surveying your home life. As a matter of fact, you should be proud to show off your date and be shown off in your natural element. If the folks were wrong in their opinion of your friend, they’ll be the first to admit it. If you are, the reasons will have spoken for themselves. No harm done anyone.

Source: Pemberton, Lois. The Stork Didn’t Bring You: Sex Education for Teen-Agers. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1965.
~ p. 220-22 ~

My Parents Won’t Let Me Have a Life!

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

this makes you maddest of allQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I’m 16 years old, and I’ve been getting really close to this guy; we’re really like best friends. I stay after school everyday just to spend time with him, and I’m constantly on the phone with him. My problem is that on the weekends my parents won’t let me go anywhere, anytime, whether or not I’ve done anything wrong. They simply just don’t want me to have a life. I don’t know what to do.


A Dear Azriel:

Lucky for you, during my perusal of thriftstores and used bookstores last week while on vacation, I found the perfect book to help you out. Here is an excerpt from Frank Howard Richardson’s For Young Adults Only: The Doctor Discusses Your Personal Problems.

1961: You and Your Parents

At your age there is probably no relationship more difficult that that between you and your parents. They have known you as children and as irresponsible young teen-agers. They have dictated to you. They have controlled you as best they could.

Now you are young adults, have minds of your own, are thinking your own thoughts, planning your own futures. Those thoughts do not always agree with those of your parents. It is a source of great irritation to you that they can’t seem to see your point of view, which you are convinced is the right one. This makes you feel bitter toward them. Then you blame yourselves for this feeling of bitterness. . . .

You are mature enough to realize that there is always a conflict being waged between parents and their children who are maturing into adulthood. In this difficult situation you can see that this conflict between parents and children is inevitable. Both sides may well pray hard for wisdom. But you can take the situation in hand. You know you cannot yet be independent of your parents and go your own way. For they are supporting you, and you don’t really want to break with them right now, anyway. You know that.

What you do want is a fair deal, and you feel that you are not getting it. It may be about your allowance, or the use of the family car, or staying out too late at night. Or, and this makes you maddest of all, they may not like the boy or girl you are going steady with. . . .

Your parents are as anxious as you are to get things on the right footing. But they don’t know how to go about it. You can be the one to show them.

Choose a time when they are in a good mood. Then, reasonably and quietly, present your case. A good time is right after you’ve enjoyed a good meal. Don’t press for an immediate answer. They may have to have a little time to think things over. But it may amaze you to find how they will swing around to your point of view, if you have presented it unemotionally and maturely. No, this will not be easy. But who has ever claimed that growing up into adulthood is easy?

Source: Richardson, Frank Howard. For Young Adults Only: The Doctor Discusses Your Personal Problems. Atlanta, Ga.: Tupper and Love, 1961.
~ pp. 28-30 ~

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 ~

Stop Drinking and Listen To Your Mother

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

so it goesQ Dear Miss Abigail:

If you let your thirty-one year old son live with you, and you’re trying to help him get on his feet, and you’re selling him a car, shouldn’t he respect you and quit drinking?


A Dear Dolly:

Oh, goody. This is an easy one ~ YES!

In fact, if he doesn’t shape up and show you some respect, your son is destined to join the Fellowship of the Rude, rather than that of the Well-bred as Mary Clark and Margery Quigley discuss in the following passage from Etiquette, Jr.

1939: At Home

Most boys and girls seem to feel superior to their parents. It is a chronic condition; in all probability, the present parents in their day felt superior to the parents of the generation before. So it goes. Shades of Darwin forbid us to think back too far. . . .

The superiority complex prevents many adolescents from listening carefully while their mothers and fathers address them, and from answering intelligently and truthfully questions put to them. Sometimes they omit the word ‘Mother’ or ‘Father’ from ‘Yes, Mother,’ ‘No, Mother,’ ‘Yes, Father,’ ‘No, Father.’

No one can be admitted to the Fellowship of the Well-bred who is rude or patronizing to parents or to older people. Boys and girls are judged very severely by their attitude to their elders. Every Week, National Respect-For-Elders Week was brought into general esteem by Confucius as early as 500 B. C., and millions of persons are still cheering the big idea.

Source: Clark, Mary E. and Margery Closey Quigley. Etiquette, Jr. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1939.
~ pp. 187-89 ~

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 ~

Household Secrets Revealed! Story at 11.

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

learn not to go away madQ Dear Miss Abigail:

What does one do to stop their children from revealing household secrets?


A Dear Lori:

Whew! I think it’s time to have a little family conference to let those kids know how you really feel about their blabbering mouths, and to let them air their “issues.” Henry and Elizabeth Swift explain how to do it in their informative book Running a Happy Family.

Let me set this up for you: In this case, the Becker house has one TV, and six family members to share it. Instead of fighting over the TV, as their neighbors the Millers do, dear old dad has worked out a wonderful system for planning the weekly viewing schedule. They discuss, listen, vote, and go away happy. It’s all about communication, baby, no matter what the issue.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my crazy mutt Frieda and I need to have a conference about her desire to balance on the back of the couch.

1960: Holding Conferences

1. Hold a Conference to Plan Family Activities and Policies. Both regularly scheduled meetings and those called for a special purpose can be a real help to better understanding within the family. Such meetings make it possible for everyone to get a fair hearing, and to air their views and grievances. They also provide an opportunity to settle family questions in a friendly way, as George Becker learned when he brought home what he had learned at work about conference leadership. Through participation in family meetings you can teach, train, and develop your children. They can learn from you how to disagree without losing friends or holding grudges, and, best of all, can learn not to ‘go away mad.’

2. Plan and Prepare in Advance for All Conferences. Be sure of the main purpose of the meeting, and that all who will be present know just what it is. If you are in charge, plan a convenient time and place and let everyone know about it ahead of time. Prepare the agenda, also in advance if possible. As leader, have some kind of guide in the form of mental or written notes, and see that any necessary equipment is available. The fact that the Becker family was well prepared, with comfortable surroundings and the necessary television guide and calendar, contributed to the success of their conference.

3. Encourage Active Participation From Everyone Who Is Present. Use leading questions to encourage participation, and be sure to give genuine consideration to all opinions. Giving the children their chance to speak is of no value unless they feel that some attention is being paid to what they have to say. After a thorough discussion, the leader should guide the group to evaluate the results. A vote may be the most appropriate means to insure that all take part in the decision as well as the discussion. Participation by all leads to better understanding and sounder decisions, and children learn more about making their own decisions if they have a chance to contribute in such a way at home. All members of George Becker’s family took part in the television conference except the baby ~ when she learns to talk she will be urged to participate too!

4. Listen Actively and Speak Clearly, as Leader or Participant. Children must learn to keep alert and to listen to the opinions of others whether they want to or not. They can also learn from your examples as a means of strengthening their case and making their points understandable. Through holding regular family conferences as the Becker family does, this valuable training is easily absorbed; whereas no one listened to anyone else during the free-for-all over television in the Miller household which resulted in antagonism and hurt feelings.

Source: Swift, Henry and Elizabeth. Running a Happy Family. New York: The John Day Company, 1960.
~ pp. 126-27 ~

Just Say No to Minivans

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

married love must be deeply & firmly rootedQ Dear Miss Abigail:

My husband and I live in a major metropolitan area, where the average age at marriage is about 37.5, and the average amount of time that elapses between wedding vows and baby bottles is somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 months.

Our problem is this: we wed at the infantile age of 27, planning to pursue the Yuppie American Dream (travel, dinners at restaurants, fancy electronics . . . your basic hollow, materialistic existence) for a few years before settling into the world of minivans, purple dinosaurs, and soccer games. But now that we’ve passed our one-year anniversary, our married friends are beginning to question our childlessness.

They tell us how tiring it is to have a child at their age, and how enriching it is for the marriage, and how ~ knowing what they know now ~ they would’ve had their kids sooner. I would love to politely tell them “please, don’t drag us into your mid-life parental crisis,” but I don’t know how. Your advice would be welcome!

28, energetic, fertile, childfree, and HAPPY ABOUT IT

A Dear Childfree:

Right on, sister! I think your friends are jealous, as well they should be. Look what they are missing out on! And who wants a minivan anyway? Not me.

You have plenty of time to have kids. Why not enjoy your years of freedom while you can? And as you can see in this quote from Margaret Sanger, birth control rights leader, she agrees.

1940: Premature Parenthood

Two years at least are necessary to cement the bonds of love and to establish the marriage relation. Parenthood should therefore be postponed by every young married couple until at least the third year of marriage.

Why is this advisable?

When the young wife is forced into maternity too soon, both are cheated out of marital adjustment and harmony that require time to mature and develop. The plunge into parenthood prematurely with all its problems and disturbances, is like the blighting of a bud before it has been given time to blossom. . . .

Married love does not spring fullgrown into life. It is a delicate plant and it grows from the seed. It must be deeply and firmly rooted, nourished by the sunlight of tenderness, courtship and mutual consideration, before it can produce fine flowers and fruits. This period is as essential for human development as the period of body-building and adolescence.

It is a period of mutual adjustment. It is a period of spiritual discovery and exploration, of finding one’s self and one’s beloved. It is a period for the full and untroubled expression of passionate love. It is a period for cultural development. It thrusts forward its own complex problems ~ problems, let it be understood, intricately complex in themselves. . . .

Love has ever been blighted by the coming of children before the real foundations of marriage have been established. Quite aside from the injustice done to the child who has been brought accidentally into the world, this lamentable fact sinks into insignificance when compared to the injustice inflicted by chance upon the young couple, and the irreparable blow to their love occasioned by premature or involuntary parenthood.

For these reasons, in order that harmonious and happy marriage may be established as the foundation for happy homes and the advent of healthy and desired children, premature parenthood must be avoided.

Source: Sanger, Margaret . Happiness in Marriage. Garden City, New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1940.
~ pp. 192, 195, 203 ~