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 ‘school’

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. ~

Fuzzy Math

Monday, August 30th, 2010

her moral energies are prostratedQ Dear Miss Abigail:

A man bought a number of eggs at three a dollar and as many eggs at four a dollar and sold them all at the rate of seven for two dollars, losing one dollar in the bargain. Find the number of eggs he bought.


A Dear Sreekumar:

I’m sorry ~ last week I was working and playing in New York City, and then when I got home Saturday night I went to a fabulous Halloween party. I really tried to concentrate on this problem of yours, but according to The Young Lady’s Aid to Usefulness and Happiness, which was written in 1838 by Jason Whitman, I can’t possibly answer your question. I need to rest for a few days, at least!

1838: Intellectual Improvement

In regard to amusements and recreations, I have sometimes thought that we overlooked or forgot the refreshment which may be derived from a mere change of pursuits. Consequently, we often fatigue and unfit ourselves for mental efforts, and destroy, for the time, our moral energies, by the exciting nature of our amusements. A young lady is often so engrossed in the anticipations of a ball or assembly, so absorbed in thought and feeling while preparing for it, and so highly excited amidst its scenes, that she is unfitted for any vigorous and profitable intellectual efforts for days after. And, then too, in the fatigue which follows, her moral energies are prostrated. Had this young lady simply danced at home, with her brothers and sisters, or with friends and neighbors who might be present, without any previous feverish anticipations, or any fatiguing preparations, it would have been a healthful and refreshing amusement. So if a young lady is fatigued with long continued study, or feels that she is in danger of neglecting to take sufficient exercise for her health, let her leave for a while her studies, and bestir herself in useful household labors, and she will find herself much refreshed.

Source: Whitman, Jason. The Young Lady’s Aid, to Usefulness and Happiness. Portland, Maine: S. H. Colesworthy, 1838.
~ pp. 189-90 ~

School Days

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Do you indulge in locker-love and corridor courtship?I spotted my first back-to-schoolers this morning. They looked so eager, with their empty backpacks and spiffy new clothes. Makes me want to stock up on my favorite Garanimals, just like the good old days.

This one goes out to all the bright-eyed schoolchildren out there. It’s from M. Thelma McAndless’s handy pamphlet titled Manners Today. Learn lots of good stuff this year, kiddos, and don’t forget to mind your manners!

1943: School Days

The privileged class ~ that title, if appropriate for anyone in America, applies to the millions of young Americans now attending schools, colleges, and universities, for if Freedom of Opportunity to plan, build, grow at the top of one’s ability isn’t a skyflight privilege, what, then, is?

Are you, as one of the privileged class, using or abusing your opportunities, or have you been hedging a little? Have you really gone sled length after knowledge? Have you been regular in attendance? When absent, have you made it your business to see about make-up work? Is it your policy to blunder into class a few minutes late? Do you then slap books, rattle papers, and annoy your seat mate? Do you copy his work? Don’t fib. What kind of school citizen are you?

Do you waste class time with hair-splitting questions? Do you laugh at stupid answers? Do you wave your fist wildly during recitations to attract attention? When you’re bored do you twiddle your thumbs? When your preparations are shaky, do you try apple polishing? If the Yes’s have it, you’re selling out the privileged class.

The right attitude toward public property ~ important, isn’t it? How do you rate? Do you loosen chair legs by rocking on them? Do you misuse school rulers, pencil sharpeners, scissors, maps, books? . . .

Do you throw apple cores, orange peel, scraps of paper, gum in the water fountains? Disagreeable habit, isn’t it? Do you cram desk drawers with wrappings, paper handkerchiefs, love notes? Do you litter the floor? Do you stuff your lockers, and then groan as they inconveniently spew out the junk? Too many yes’s here, and dimes to dollars you’re not proud of the appearance of your school or its campus.

Haven’t you seen him? Haven’t you heard about him? Oh, my dear, he’s the lunchroom pest. He’s a most inconsiderate person. He jostles elbows, juggles trays, steps in and out of line. He points at the food with a smudgy finger, speaks discourteously to the service crew, combs his hair over the food, coughs and sneezes and criticizes the cashier. He sprawls all over the table and gobbles up his lunch. Then off he goes, forgetting to dispose of tray, milk bottle, waste food. . . .

Do you contribute to the corridor jam? Do you break track records? Do you execute neat head-on collisions? Do you stampede the water fountain? Do you mob the classroom door? Do you indulge in locker-love and corridor courtship?

Do you slam lockers? Do you emit war whoops? Do you race wildly up and down stairs? Such behavior strikes school guests unfavorably. But more unfortunate, it reduces school efficiency, because schools are supposed to help people to live together comfortably.

Source: Manners Today
~ pp. 20-22 ~

McAndless, M. Thelma. Manners Today. Detroit: Briggs Publishing Company, 1943.

I Like This Guy in My Class

Monday, July 12th, 2010

your Guy-i.q. is as important as your i.qQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I like this guy in my class and I’m not sure if he likes me or not. Should I ask him out?


A Dear Samapalooza:

You might consider tracking down Ellen Peck’s How to Get a Teen-Age Boy and What To Do With Him When You Get Him, a book chock-full of valuable information for every teen-age girl. Peck advises, in her chapter entitled “Boys and School,” that you should make your interest in a particular boy known through tactics such as flirting and being smart, but not too smart, in class.

This excerpt should at least get you started thinking about conversing with, which might lead to asking out, the boy of your dreams.

1969: Boys and School

Most schools are boy-girl. Thus, boys and the learning process are inextricably mixed together. As far as you’re concerned, the classroom is a social place as well as a learning place. So, it shouldn’t be too shocking to say that you have to be constantly aware of boys. You have to be aware of how you look to them and sound to them. You have to be aware of them, right along with the geography lesson. (Though not to the point where you forget the geography lesson.)

But the point is, school situations are social ~ not just academic. Schools are, in fact, lab situations in Living with Others. It is absolutely just as important for you to be aware of your classmates as it is for you to be aware of the teacher’s lecture. Your future life may not be any happier if you know all about mean annual temperatures, but it can be happier if you know something about Greg, who sits three rows over.

In short, your “Guy-Q” is as important as your “I.Q.”. . .

Boys and books call for one identical skill: thinking. With both, you learn to think fast. To think ahead. (Predicting outcomes in a novel you’re reading, for example; and predicting the direction of your conversation with Greg.) To think as you talk. To think on your feet. To think of responses. But above all, to just plain T-H-I-N-K. . . .

No matter where you’re sitting [in class], relative to Greg, talk to him after class, OK? You should always have something to say to him when that last bell rings. But what? “Hi, there” might come off a bit silly, given the circumstances. And it’s not always the smoothest thing in the world to come out cold with a question about boating or a remark about last night’s TV special. If you think about it a minute, you’ll see why.

Imagine the following: Greg getting up from his seat. You getting up and falling into step with him. You breaking the silence by saying, “I saw the greatest TV show last night.”

It’s a bit jarring, isn’t it? Because it’s not a natural, spontaneous comment. Start, as usual, with a comment about something that’s just happened (history class). Then, make a connecting statement to bridge the gap between that comment and the TV comment.

The result will be a lot smoother!

Source: Peck, Ellen. How to Get a Teen-Age Boy and What To Do With Him When You Get Him. New York: Bernard Geis Associates, 1969.
~ pp. 115-16, 126-27 ~

1923: Classroom Manners

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Sharpen your pencils, plug in your keyboards – it’s back to school time! To bring in the new year, I was going to share with you something from Gael Greene’s Sex and the College Girl, but it seemed a bit too scholarly for this crowd, with all those statistics about young virgins and loose girls. So instead, here’s some advice for the younger set. This excerpt is from the Everyday Manners for American Boys and Girls by the Faculty of the South Philadelphia High School for Girls (New York: MacMillan Company, 1923). There’s a whole chapter devoted to classroom manners; I’ve selected a few highlights for you:

The traffic rule, Keep to the right, applies to classrooms as well as to streets and corridors. If you keep to the right, and leave a passageway at your left, you will make entrances and exits easy.

When you enter a classroom go at once to your own seat. Put into your desk everything you will not need for that period. Nothing looks worse than a roomful of desks littered with piles of books, packages of lunch, baseball gloves, and oranges.

Never borrow books, inkwells, pens, or pencils from the teacher’s or a pupil’s desk without asking permission. Never sit in the teacher’s chair unless the chairmanship of the lesson has been given over to you. Never stand close behind a teacher’s desk, except when talking to her. The books and papers on her desk are her private property. You have no more right to examine her papers or read any writing there than you have to read other people’s letters.

Interruptions of any sort are just as rude in the classroom as anywhere else. If you raise your hand while another pupil is reciting, you interrupt him. Often the sight of hands waved madly in the air breaks one’s train of thought and makes it impossible for one to go on. If you wish to ask or answer a question, wait until the one who is reciting has finished and until the teacher recognizes you. Try to break the hand-waving habit.

Never ask a new question until the one perviously asked has been answered. That, too, is an interruption. Do not answer a question addressed to some one else.

If you do correct some one, do it tactfully. It is often the manner in which the correction is made, not the correction itself, that hurts. The one who is corrected should accept the criticism courteously.

Do not make fun of other’s mistakes. To laugh reasonably at an amusing remark or happening is natural, but it is rude and unkind to make a boy or girl feel ridiculous.

At the end of the period, do not gather up your books until the signal for dismissal has been given. Never rattle paper or stand poised for flight while some one is talking.

If you are the first one to leave the room, fasten the door back. If it cannot be fastened, hold it open for the person behind you. He should hold it open for himself as soon as he reaches the door. Doors should never be slammed, but always closed quietly.

Some of these could be useful at the office, now that I think about it.