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 ‘personality’

Personality: How to Exert It (1915)

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

“Personality is defined as the qualities or characteristics, personal traits or attributes peculiar to some individual. Specifically, it is that quality which sustains poise through self-control in the face of propitious or unpropitious circumstances,” asserts the preface of H. Laurent’s Personality: How to Build It, which I picked up in Austin last weekend. Do you need to go look up propitious? It’s okay, take your time. I don’t think that word’s been used much lately, except maybe in the National Spelling Bee.

This chapter, titled “Personality: How to Exert It” seemed to be a good one to excerpt for the blog. I found the part on “learn to judge everything for yourself” fitting, given the recent hullabaloo over a certain trial in Florida and some jurors, who were no doubt trying to just do the job they were asked to do, despite the media frenzy.

"In everything, even in the smallest things, get the habit of acting for yourself, without following either the example or the advice you have received. Change them according to your own judgment. Make a style of your own. Do not imitate. It is by imitating that everything original is oneself.

No one in the world is exactly like another. The Creator fashioned us all after a different model. It is ourselves who, by some deplorable turn of our character, have made ourselves all about the same. Follow the laws of nature. Live your own life.

The first thing to avoid is that chronic and contagious folly, fashion, which changes our habits, our thoughts, our body and our life. Accept it only in reasonable form, follow it from a distance and under the least enslaving form.

Conserve your innate originality. Don’t be dragged into tastes which are not your own. Defend yourself against any characteristic of others. Learn to judge everything for yourself without being the perfect repeater of the judgments of others.

It is better to be paradoxical than void of all personality. For there is alway time afterward to correct one’s judgment according to the truth or justice. It gives the mind a chance to work independently, without any help from the brains of others.

Accustom yourself as soon as possible to analytical study. Carefully cultivate your intellect, make things clear to yourself, appraise at its own value what you know well and compare your analyses, your judgments with those already made. Learn to like the unexpected, the new, avoid routine. Be bold, go on ahead. Personality and originality avoid everything that is commonplace.

Practice patience also, kindness to others and will-power. Having developed personality, remember that it should be asserted, and that this exercise is the most difficult part of your task. It depends solely on yourself. Little by little acquire the necessary forces to affirm it."

Is a Man Abnormal if He Likes Art and Dislikes Sports?

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Sex Questions and AnswersI’ve got a husband who likes art and dislikes sports (and he seems to be well-adjusted), so I was a bit intrigued to read this excerpt in a new addition to my collection, the book Sex Questions and Answers: A Guide to Happy Marriage by Fred Brown and Rudolf T. Kempton. I’m not sure what this has to do with sex, though the authors may have felt it was an important issue ~ it’s in the chapter titled “Problems of Sexual Adjustment.”


Every normal man has a bit of woman in him and every woman contains some of the male in her personality. There is, generally speaking, no such thing as an “ideal” combination of masculinity and femininity in one person. In some primitive societies the females are breadwinners while the males do the housework and gossip. In other societies both men and women play dominant roles. Among ourselves it has, until very recently, been the accepted pattern for males to be dominant or “masculine” while females were expected to be “feminine” or passive. The ideal combination of traits, evidently, is whatever is regarded as most desirable in the particular society in which the person lives. Our standard requires that a man be aggressive and “ambitious” in his lifework, that he exhibit an acceptable interest in “male” recreations such as sports, that he look forward to marriage and the rearing of family, and that he seek enjoyment from the companionship of other men. The feminine part of him should enable him to show warmth and affection toward others, an interest in the arts, kindness and consideration. There are many men who would have a feeling for fine paintings, flowers, and the gentler aspects of life if this sensitivity had not been squelched early in life by an insecure father who insisted that these represented “sissy” interests. An excessive interest in sports to the exclusion of other interests may reveal limitations in the personality range and, in excess, a prolonged adolescent identification of manliness with the possession of physical prowess. Everyone tries to select from the environment those aspects of it which suit his intellectual and emotional needs. Some of those selections will be based upon inner weaknesses which require identification with a powerful football team and the need to win, while others will seek more passive and less muscular pursuits. Neither one nor the other is “abnormal” but merely reflects the different ways in which individual differences cause people to take from the environment whatever they need. The best balance of masculine and feminine traits is achieved when the individual is able to mingle with members of his own and the opposite sex without experiencing tension and strain.


Now that I think about it, I suppose tension and strain during sex might be a problem.

It’s Fun to Be a [Popular] Girl

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

It's Fun to Be a GirlAlong with the rest of the nation, I’ve been watching and enjoying Glee. And as a card-carrying lifetime member of the band geek club, it’s been bringing up all those lovely memories of the popular kids vs. the geeks “battles” that went on ~ most of you probably had some experience, whatever side you were on.

It’s been on my mind particularly as my 25th high school reunion approaches (I’ll be missing the festivities back in fun-city Punta Gorda, Florida, since its the same weekend of the opening of the play). Here’e some advice from Ruth Vaughn’s It’s Fun to Be a Girl, published in 1961, which alludes to the fact that musicians and artists can be popular too. Goody!


Popularity begins, not with making yourself important, but by becoming concerned and interested in other people. The result will bring happiness to you and others.

A group of girls were talking at a summer camp. One said, “It is so hard to maintain high standards and be popular.” Another girl spoke up, citing an incident where a girl with high ideals was crowned football queen.

“Sure,” the first girl remarked, “but she can play the flute, sing like a bird, and paint pictures. She can do almost anything. Most of us are not that talented!”

To be popular doesn’t require many talents. Everyone possesses at least one talent. The most important thing to do is to cultivate it. You play the piano? Develop it to the greatest popular capacity. You are pretty good with a tennis racket? Become very good. If your outstanding attribute is simply making friends and being a loyal, warm person ~ work at that. Being vastly talented is nice, but it certainly is not a requisite in this business of being popular.

Don’t try to be the best at everything. If Gail gives a reading which is a scream, don’t get up and try to compete with her or try to throw cold water on her praise. Add your part by getting a good seat to watch and applauding with all your heart for her talent. If Cheryl sings with such a radiance and warmth that it fills the entire room, don’t make a spectacle of yourself by trying to sing as well. Face yourself honestly and accept your own limitations. But develop and polish the talents which you possess.

Being the kind of girl who is popular takes self-discipline. The girl who has such a gay, appealing personality was not born that way. She learned to discipline herself pretty sternly because she knows the great rewards it brings.


Sweetness and Kindness

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

not the cloying, sticky, kittenish sweetnessHoney sweetie pie! Sweetness! Baby sweetie darling! Here are some words on this lovely subject from volume one of Frances Dare’s Lovely Ladies: The Art of Being a Woman. Hope you enjoy it, sweetheart.

1929: Sweetness and Kindness

Every real woman must be sweet, and she must express her sweetness in kindness.

The real sweetness that is the essence distilled from a lovely soul is not the cloying, sticky, kittenish sweetness that all too inadequately conceals its owner’s claws, but the deep, real loveliness that shines from the depths of the lovely soul, and often produces an effect of actual physical beauty.

True sweetness is ‘as rare as a day in June’ ~ and I mean ‘rare’ in the sense that it was used by the author of this quotation. Rare meaning ‘choice, priceless, and seldom found’ applies to sweetness on all three counts.

A naturally sweet disposition is often an inherited quality or the product of an environment where one is constantly surrounded by others who are so pricelessly blessed. Yet, even though it may be latent, the germ of sweetness abides in each of us.

Sweetness is founded upon many things. Often it is based upon a philosophical outlook which is sometimes called understanding ~ at other times tolerance. For one with a sweet personality may, at times, be rather easily hurt, but realizing and having the intelligence to analyze this hurt, that person never retaliates. And also, upon such a one, the cares and irritations of life seem not to weigh too heavily, despite the fact that usually she is not the type of moron who is always happy because she cannot feel sorrow.

Life being what it is, it appears to me that the sooner one cultivates a philosophical attitude tinct with humor, the sooner will one be equipped to go through it with a minimum of discomfort to one’s self and to others.

Source: Dare, Frances. Lovely Ladies: The Art of Being a Woman, Vol. I. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1929.
~ pp. 30-31 ~

Personality Counts More Than Appearance

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

vivid, attractive, wholesomeThis selection is from Eighteen: The Art of Being a Woman. It was written by Catherine Atkinson Miller. My copy is a discarded library book, and had the checkout card in the back of the book. In case you were wondering, it was borrowed by “McKellar” on 10/15/35 “to keep indefinitely – OK’d by Mr. D,” then renewed on 4/26/37 (“advised is using constantly outside”). Our friend McKellar renewed the book again on 3/23/38, 1/27/39, and 2/13/39. I sure hope it was put to good use.

1933: Personality Counts More Than Appearance

Nothing is more disappointing than meeting a delightful-looking young woman and discovering that her personality is no more vivid than that of a rag doll. Pretty clothes can be bought ready-made but you must make your own personality ~ that total expression of youwhich is the result of your characteristic attitudes, thoughts and actions. Some people’s attitudes toward life are so negative, their thoughts so commonplace and their actions so obvious that we may speak of them as lacking personality. We mean, actually, that they lack the kind of personality which most people like ~ vivid, attractive, wholesome personality.

You must make your own personality but you cannot do it directly, as you would make a cake, stating, ‘Now I shall make a cake,’ and then carefully following the routine of measuring, mixing, baking, frosting and so achieving a luscious result which will disappear as soon as the family discovers it. If you should declare, ‘Now I shall develop a charming personality,’ and concentrate all your attention on doing so you would become a conceited prig and repel the very persons you most desired to attract. Curiously enough, you develop personality most effectively by forgetting all about it!

Just as happiness usually comes when you are so busy doing something for someone else that you forget to look for it, so does personality develop quietly and surely as you live a busy, wholesome life filled with eager awareness of other people and of all the thrilling things which make the world, and life, so exciting. Even if you have never seen her, you are sure that Mary Carolyn Davies has a pleasing personality when you read her opinion of life:

‘The life and lure and urge and power
Of life makes joyous every hour.
Every instant is a gay
Adventure, every passing day
Is a world we may explore;
Every face an open door
Leading out to lands unknown!
There’s so much to find and be,
Give and have and seek and see,
Here and touch and taste and know,
Life, life, life! I like you so!’

The strength and charm of your personality depend upon the degree to which you are able to live fully; enjoying natural and man-made beauty, finding new ideas and dreams in books, proving yourself in stimulating work, relating yourself to the problems of your time, forgetting yourself in happy relationships with other people.

Source: Miller, Catherine Atkinson. Eighteen: The Art of Being a Woman. New York: Round Table Press,1933.
~ pp. 31-32 ~