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 ‘popularity’

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.


The Desire of Pleasing

Monday, August 16th, 2010

restless pursuit of popularityHave you ever met anyone who must constantly please people? Someone who hates confrontation and likes to obey the rules? Well, you’re talking to her. I can’t help myself. All of my friends like to make fun of me, and yes, I know I’ve got a problem. I guess it’s just my good upbringing and desire to charm the pants off of people.

Here’s a little something on the topic, from a book I picked up at a small shop in downtown Atlanta while traveling for my real job.

1863: The Desire of Pleasing

The desire of pleasing is natural and strong in youth. If guided to correct channels, it is an incentive to improvement, and happiness. When it rejects the motive of selfishness, and seeks only to ‘please others for their edification,’ it becomes a Christian virtue. This may be easily distinguished from that restless pursuit of popularity, which being the offspring of ambition and pride, ever involves some elements of disappointment and envy.

In the art of pleasing, the instruments least dependent on contingencies, are undoubtedly good manners. They are of far more importance to the young, than the adventitious distinctions of dress and beauty: more valuable than the latter, because more permanent, and more certain in their results than the former, because a style of dress which attracts once class of admirers may be repulsive to another, but fine manners are intelligible to all mankind, and a passport in every country.

Source: Mrs. L. H. Sigourney. Letters to Young Ladies. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1863.
~ p. 105 ~

Unstick Me From Seventeen

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

she yields to the pressure of opinionQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I am seventeen years old and have hardly no experience with other kids my age. I am a girl but I feel so unfeminine and not pretty. It ruins everything when you’re stuck like this. What should I do?


A Dear Lolita:

Wow, Abigail, is that you? Oh, sorry, I thought you were me as a teenager speaking. You are not stuck, you are just seventeen. Things will get better. Personally, I had to wait until my thirties for things to really pick up, but it’s been worth the wait. I turned out okay, don’t you think? Here are some thoughts from our friends Evelyn and Sylvanus Duvall on growing up at your own pace. It’s from their 1962 book titled Sense and Nonsense About Sex.

1962: How Much Is Popularity Worth to You?

A considerable body of evidence indicates that the effort to be popular is overshadowing the real education and development girls need to become happy, creative women today. So much energy is put into getting into the social whirl that girls have little time or strength left for the study and reflection that are required to reach full maturity as persons.

Many a girl is trapped early in her teens into thinking that getting boys’ attention is the most important thing in life for her. She yields to the pressure of opinion that being popular with the fellows is necessary in order to feel adequate as a girl. She learns early in her high school career that getting into activities is one way to social success, and so she rushes from one thing to another in an effort to keep up with what she thinks is expected of her.

The girl who grows up at her own pace enjoys fellows and girls in her own way. She belongs only to those clubs that appeal to her; she associates with people she enjoys, regardless of whether they are ‘the big wheels’ or not. She may not have a date every Saturday night. She may prefer going to church Sunday evening to going out on the town. She isn’t afraid of studying and getting the grades that she merits. She doesn’t mind being ‘a nice kid’ because she knows deep within herself that being the most popular girl in high school may not be worth all it costs.

Many of the world’s greatest women were not particularly popular through their school days. They started out shy and retiring, seriously studying their lessons and slowly developing the talent within them. They didn’t try to force themselves into premature commitments or activities. But they laid foundations during their teens on which they could build through the years.

A parallel can be drawn from hothouse flowers forced to bloom in time for the holidays. Horticulturists have been able to bring lilies to market in time for Easter, poinsettias for the Christmas trade, mums for football games, and colorful displays in time for Mother’s Day. But although these flowers bloom in time for market, they rarely can be transplanted successfully into the home garden where they might thrive through the years.

Why should girls be forced into early blooming, and lose the chance to mature slowly for the rich full years that lie ahead of them as women, wives, mothers, and persons in the modern world?

Source: Duvall, Evelyn M. and Sylvanus M. Sense and Nonsense About Sex. New York: Association Press, 1962.
~ pp. 62-64 ~

“Don’ts” Every Girl Should Know

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Reading Cosmo (once a sick vacation pleasure of mine) and those Rules books inspired presentation of this excerpt. Here are some older “rules” ~ or in this case “don’ts” ~ from Dorothy Dix’s How to Win and Hold a Husband (1939). I chose the most entertaining from a somewhat longer list. Are you taking notes? You will be quizzed later.

1939: “Don’ts” Every Girl Should Know

A discerning young man of my acquaintance has compiled a list of Don’ts for girls who want to be popular with men. . . .

Don’t look overjoyed when a man dates you up. Take it as a matter of course. A man thinks he must be a sap if he is the only one who ever notices you. Act as if you could take ’em or leave ’em and it didn’t matter which to you.

Don’t be too easy. No man wants the peach that threatens to fall in his mouth whether he desires it or not. The one he craves is the one that he has to climb a little for, but not too much nor too high. So calculate your distance and don’t really get beyond arm’s reach.

Don’t overdress. A man likes a girl to wear pretty clothes, but she scares him off when she decks herself out in what looks like a million dollars’ worth of finery. He begins to figure the upkeep of a wife who is addicted to Parisian gowns and hats, and then he decides that he can’t afford her.

Don’t make your flattery too obvious. All men are vain and like to be complimented but they want it done artistically.

Don’t be sentimental in public. If you want to get a line on how men really feel about this watch those couples in automobiles where the girl has her arms around a boy and her head on his shoulder and is looking up soulfully in his face, while he is sitting up as rigid as a ramrod, with “damn” written all over him.

Don’t accept every invitation a boy offers you. Stay at home now and then. The harder it is to get a date with a girl, the more eager a boy is for it. Men always want some other man’s O.K. on a woman.

Don’t brag about your conquests and tell how many men you could have married. It gives a boy cold feet because he feels that he will be Exhibit X in your collection of scalps, and you will be giving some other boy all the gory details of how you slew him.

Don’t call a boy up over the telephone during business hours. He will hate you for it, because you are jeopardizing his job. Don’t call a boy up at any time and reproach him for not having been to see you or inquire why he doesn’t take you out somewhere. He has your number and knows how to communicate with you if he so desires. There is no surer way for a girl to make herself unpopular with men than to be a telephone hound.

Don’t talk too much and, above all, don’t talk about yourself, ever. Men have a horror of girls who babble on forever and ever like a brook. Men like to talk about themselves and what they want is an intelligent listener.

Don’t think that you can get by with just a pretty face. That’s all to the good, of course, but if a girl wants to make a hit with men she has to have a lot of parlor tricks besides. She has to know how to be entertaining and amusing; how to dance and play a good game of bridge; how to fit in any company. Only senile grandpas fall for the beautiful but dumb, and Venus herself would be a wallflower if she had to be towed around a ballroom floor or trumped her partner’s ace.

Don’t be too ready to tell a man you love him. Keep him guessing ~ and keep him interested.

Source: Dix, Dorothy. How to Win and Hold a Husband. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1939.
~ pp. 118-23 ~

First Valentine to the Boy Wins!

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

the unexpected can be amusingQ Dear Miss Abigail:

Please help! There is this girl that I know who likes this boy that I also like. This Valentine’s Day I’m getting ready to tell him in his Valentine this, “I like you, will you be my Valentine?” Should I or should I not? I want to get my Valentine to him before she does so that I can be his girlfriend. What should I do about the Valentine problem?


A Dear Clueless:

I think if you spend a little time making a really super duper creative Valentine that says exactly what you feel, it doesn’t matter if your card is first or second to arrive in his locker. Just remain optimistic, and be enthusiastic about your next move, as this quote from Charm and Poise for Getting Ahead explains in a section describing how women can become popular. I’m sure that your boy will be very impressed with your efforts, and will choose you over that other girl any old day.

1967: Popularity, for Women

Be Enthusiastic. Life attracts life. Your enthusiasm will go out from you in ever widening circles to enchant those who come within its seductive power. Enliven your relationships by bringing in fresh fuel to the fire. If your social contacts have grown stale, introduce new and fascinating subjects. Plan new activities. Create an atmosphere of merriment. The unexpected can be amusing. Dress your days with gaiety so that later when you take them out of the closet of memories you can say, ‘This one was fun to wear.’

Be Optimistic. You only have to look at a small lichen clinging to a precipice to realize that life goes on under the most difficult circumstances. Everywhere you can see the marvelous manifestations of life’s goodness and abundance. There is enough love, beauty, harmony, for everyone. If you cut your finger, immediately all the forces of your body are brought into action to heal your finger and make it all well again. Mother Nature has given you many defenses against the onslaughts of outrageous fortune. She is not discouraged. She never says, ‘What’s the use.’ She obeys the laws of her being and is ever optimistic. We should not be less. To abandon ourselves to hopelessness is going against all the rules of Life.

Source: Ruth Tolman. Charm and Poise for Getting Ahead. Milady Publishing Co., 1967
~ p. 228 ~