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 ‘work’

Twelve Steps to Success in Public Speaking

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

enthusiasm is catchingI’ve been busy preparing for a talk I gave last week at the American Studies Association conference in Detroit. I was on a panel that discussed secondhand shops and thrift stores, and told all about purchasing books for this site.

Since I spend more time behind the safety of the keyboard, I was a bit nervous about speaking in public. Ruth Tolman’s Charm and Poise for Getting Ahead saved me, thankfully, and the talk went off without a hitch. And I didn’t even get a chance to size up the audience first!

Speech Now, or Forever Hold Your Peace

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

inspires respect and confidenceQ Dear Miss Abigail:

My boss has asked me to give a presentation at a conference, but I’m so nervous and don’t think anyone will listen to what I have to say. Do you have tips that will help me get through this?


A Dear Olivia:

How fitting this question is, as I sit in my home in Washington, D.C., listening to the helicopters fly by as they circle the Capitol building a few blocks away, where our President is at this moment giving that state of the union address thingie. I’m sure he doesn’t need any advice about giving a speech, but hopefully this will help calm your fears. It’s from a little book titled The First Book of How to Give a Speech (1963) by David Guy Powers.

1963: Good Posture Gives Poise

What is the first thing you notice about a person? Before he begins to speak you are apt to notice his appearance. If he stands tall, carries himself with dignity, and appears at ease, he usually inspires respect and confidence. The actor who wishes to impersonate a leader carries himself that way. He makes the audience realize the character even before he speaks his lines. If you wish to be a good speaker you must learn to convey meaning with posture as well as with words. Every good actor you see on television knows the value of looking the part.

Train yourself to express your meaning by effective gestures. Remember, ‘Actions speak louder than words.’ Your actions and your words should give one message to the audience. . . . A company advertising shoe polish once used this slogan, ‘Look at your shoes! Others do.’ A similar rule applies to your speech. ‘Look at your posture. Others do.’ Therefore, you should study to make your appearance say the same thing as your words.

Source: Powers, David Guy. The First Book of How to Make a Speech. New York: Frankin Watts, 1963.
~ pp. 24-25 ~

Sing, Sing a Song

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

gather an audienceQ Dear Miss Abigail:

How do I become a singer? How do I get a good record company and get my tape to the company? I have a good voice, but I can’t think of songs and my tape recorder doesn’t work well.


A Dear Chip:

Wow. Chip, honey, you’ve got quite a journey ahead of you if you’re going to make it big. To help you out here, I’ve turned to actor Debbie Reynolds, who wrote her debut advice book for teens If I Knew Then in 1962 with a little help from author Bob Thomas. Perhaps you should ask your parents for a new tape recorder (perhaps a digital one) for Christmas, and then start booking those shows.

1962: How Do You Get Started in Show Business?

You listen and you learn and you try.

You never know how good you are until you try. Your own town may seem like an entertainment wasteland, but you might be surprised at the opportunities it affords.

You might start with neighborhood shows, as I did. You can appear at school plays, charity bazaars, veterans’ hospitals, old folks’ homes, orphanages, fires ~ anywhere you can gather an audience. There are small night clubs and summer theaters and pageants and radio shows.

Listen to the audience or the lack of it, to the rapt silence of a darkened hall or a restless crowd. Those are the sounds that will tell you whether to quit or keep going. Listen to your teachers and parents, too. They can inspire you. They may also do you the service of telling you if you lack the gift of talent.

Develop your skills ~ all kinds. A person who can sing and dance as well as handle acting roles has a better chance of finding jobs. Learn instruments, too, especially the piano.

Source: Reynolds, Debbie. If I Knew Then. New York: Bernard Geis Associates, 1962.
~ p. 125 ~

Be a Good Worker Bee

Monday, August 30th, 2010

surrounded by cheerful peopleQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I am starting a new job soon. How can I make a good impression during my first few days?


A Dear Jane:

Although the author of the following excerpt suggests that companies often give employees “a break” early on, she stresses the importance of manners and punctuality at all times. This is by Elizabeth Gregg MacGibbon, from her 1941 book titled Fitting Yourself for Business.

1941: Keep the Corners of Your Mouth Up

Remember the old saying, ‘Honey catches more flies than vinegar’? It goes without saying that an agreeable person is more apt to make good than is the grouch, the fuss-budget, or the ‘sourpuss.’ If employers had their way they would always be surrounded by cheerful people. No doubt you have heard of the secretary who in her efficiency fairly scolds her boss as though he were her erring child. Privileged employees, because of long years of service of inestimable value to their employees, may be permitted such idiosyncrasies; but, as a beginner, no such privileges are in store for you. Young people who are not cheerful are too easy to replace.

Source: MacGibbon, Elizabeth Gregg. Fitting Yourself for Business. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1941.
~ p. 263 ~

The Summer Job Conundrum

Monday, August 30th, 2010

get the pleasure out of a thingQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I have recently been offered a summer job at an amusement park running a ride. I was really psyched to take it, so I could enjoy my summer in the sun. But just today my Dad told me that they are hiring summer help where he works. The problem is that I already agreed to take the ride job, which would be fun and easy and I’d get to spend time with friends. It only pays $5.50, though, and the job where dad works will pay at least double that. I really want to take the fun job, but should I sacrifice a fun summer and take the tough job to really clear a lot of bones, or what? If I take the fun job, how do I tell my dad that I’m not interested in the job he’s offering?


A Dear Andrew:

Ah, the age-old dilemma of taking a boring summer job versus a fun amusement park one. I feel your pain, and wish you luck as you figure out a way to tell your father you won’t be taking his job. How could you? I see no choice, particularly after reading this excerpt from Dorothy Dix’s How to Win and Hold a Husband. I know, I know, based on the book title it doesn’t sound like it would be relevant, but trust me. Enjoy your freedom and happiness now, for you’ve got plenty of time to be miserable in your later years, no doubt while working at a dreary desk job.

Hey, I have an idea ~ perhaps a free season pass to the park would help convince dear old dad that you’ve made the right decision?

1939: Enjoy What You Have Now

Most people miss all pleasure in what they have because their whole attention is focused on wanting something they haven’t got, and so they lose even the happiness they could have. Don’t make this mistake. If you have health exult in it. Realize you have something to give three cheers for every minute of the day. If you have youth rejoice in it. Those who are young really don’t need anything else. They are on their tiptoes already. If you have a wife or a husband whom you love, and if you have little children, be down on your knees thanking heaven for its best gifts.

It is pitiful to see strong young people throwing away the happiness they might just as well have because they are longing for automobiles or fine clothes or freedom from work or something equally silly that has nothing in the world to do with happiness. And it is still more pitiful to see mothers and fathers getting no pleasure out of their children. Worrying because they are tied down at home with babies, or because little Johnny is noisy, or the money has to be spent on having little Mary’s teeth fixed instead of on golf sticks or a new frock.

And lots of foolish people put off being happy to some future time. They are going to be happy when they get rich. They are going to travel when they are old. The husbands and wives are going to enjoy each other after the children are grown up. But you can’t postpone being happy. You’ve got to get the pleasure out of a thing now or never. And so those who have denied themselves every joy for the great splurge they intend to have when they are old find out that they have waited too long. They have lost their capacity for enjoyment.

Source: Dix, Dorothy. How to Win and Hold a Husband. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1939.
~ pp. 254-55 ~

Yola, the Teenage Witch

Monday, August 30th, 2010

are the working conditions pleasant?Q Dear Miss Abigail:

I would like to become a witch. It seems very stupid and funny, but it is what I would like to learn more about. I fill that I have some potential to make that possible. Please advise me where to start.


A Dear Yola:

Choosing a career is often a difficult decision. In your case, being a witch is really a religious choice and not a career choice, but I think some of the same principles would apply. So before you move to Salem to start a new life, use the following checklist from Everyday Living for Girls to ask yourself some questions about your “career” choice. Is this really what you want to do? Will you make enough money to support you and your coven?

1936: Things To Look For in Your Study of the Vocational Field

In your study of the vocational field answer the following questions, recording your findings in a notebook or file; then compare your findings in several fields and see in which you are most interested:

1.What are the duties to be performed in the occupation? Is the work varied or monotonous? Why?
2. Is the activity involved chiefly mental or physical? Are any special mental qualifications required?
3. Does the occupation have to do with people or things? If with people, how will their type affect you?
4. List the various occupations within this field and check the one in which one is usually first employed.
5. What are the education requirements?
6. What are the facilities for obtaining this education: (a) over the country; (b) in your locality?
7. How expensive is it to prepare yourself?
8. What is the chance for advancement, and through what steps is it accomplished?
9. Are there special physical requirements as to age, height, build, color, or others?
10. Will one’s tenure be affected by advancing years, regardless of the quality of one’s work?
11. Are the working conditions pleasant, healthful, and conducive to best effort?
12. Are the hours of work reasonable and regular?
13. Is the work dangerous, and to what extent?
14. Is the work steady or seasonal, and is there much overtime, night work, or rush work?
15. How many persons are engaged in this vocation, and is the occupation overcrowded?
16. What is the beginner’s salary? If the salary of a beginner is low, are there opportunities or advantages which make up for this?
17. In later years will there be time and sufficient income for recreation, enjoyment of home life, and participation in social and civic affairs? If you hope to marry, how will this vocation affect opportunities for social acquaintance?
18. What satisfactions, opportunities, advantages, or reward will you derive other than those of a financial nature?
19. Are workers paid by the piece, hour, or day? Do they receive a commission?
20. What pay does overtime work receive?
21. Does the occupation involve profit sharing?
22. Is a bonus paid?
23. Does the occupation carry sick benefits, workman’s compensation, pension?
24. Is the vocation likely to change on account of new inventions, a change in public taste, or modern trends?
25. Can you change to some kindred occupation if necessary? To what would you turn?
26. What social relation to the community does the work have?
27. How much vacation is allowed? Is it with or without pay?
28. How does one get a job in this field? 

Source: Van Duzer, Adelaide Laura, et. al. Everyday Living for Girls. Chicago: J. B. Lippincott Company,1936.
~ pp. 226-27 ~

(One Man’s Suggested) Office Manners (for Women)

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

the privileges of the weaker sexQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I have an ex-boyfriend who immediately got a new girlfriend who works within my jurisdiction. His new girlfriend is my officemate. So I took revenge by forwarding their email that says “I love you”, using the guy’s email, to all of our officemates! Yeah, I knew his password. And eventually they knew I was the one who did it. Am I too bad? Do I really have to apologize when in fact they are the who started to mess with me?


A Dear Shao:

I could take this question in so many directions, but I think I’ll focus on one of the core issues at hand ~ your behavior in the workplace. Crummy boyfriend or otherwise, you better watch how you handle yourself at the office. Apologize now before you are out of a job, and take this opportunity to reflect upon your manners at work. Bad email-forwarding girl!

The following is from Walter Lowen’s How and When to Change Your Job Successfully (1954), found in a chapter titled “The Problems of Women in Business.” While the “problems” of the 1950s may have changed slightly (no, there was no email back then), it may help you to see that work is a very serious place and women should not take that lightly. Well, at least according to this guy, who seems to have a lot to say on how women should behave.

1955: Office Manners

Under the catch-all heading of ‘office manners’ comes a whole slew of things that can be problems for the woman in business if she doesn’t watch herself ~ and them. You know all about them, I’m sure, but just for a safety-first double-check, let’s run down a list of ‘don’ts’:

Don’t hog the telephone with your personal calls.

Don’t spend too much time in the washroom.

Don’t keep a sloppy-looking desk, outside or inside.

Don’t take long lunch hours to do your shopping.

Don’t dress too severely, or too glamorously. If you have a date right after work, wear something that will serve both purposes ~ such as a tailored suit that can be dressed up after five with a colorful scarf or gay pin.

If you have to be home at a certain time each night ~ to take care of your husband or child, perhaps ~ make sure the boss knows about this in advance, and agrees.

Don’t overdo lateness and absences and chalk them up to sick leave on the theory that women are entitled to more ailments than men.

Don’t excuse poor job performance by taking refuge in your sex.

Don’t carry on feuds with other female employees ~ a tendency which is especially true on the secretarial level.

Don’t gossip, especially about men, more especially about men in the office, super-especially about married men in the office.

Don’t expect to combine the freedom of the career girl with the privileges of the weaker sex. Any working woman who thinks she deserves special consideration because she is a woman doesn’t belong in a plant or office.

Source: Walter Lowen, How and When to Change Your Job Successfully. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954
~ pp. 191-92 ~

Hey Joe, Could You Please Clip Your Nails in Private?

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

no one should yawn at work!Q Dear Miss Abigail:

Help! How does one gently tell a young and impressionable co-worker that clipping his fingernails in staff meetings ~ and even at his desk ~ is distressing to the rest of us? Eeewwww.

Grossed out by a Guy

A Dear Grossed out:

Staff meetings? Yuck. Hmm . . . Perhaps you could send one of those forwarded emails around to everyone in your office. The body of the email could say “Can you believe this crazy old advice? Fresh underwear! Ha! You gotta check out this web site ~ it is soooo cool!!!! :)” with the text below pasted in. It’s from a chapter in Etiquette, Jr., a book written for young people by Mary E. Clark and Margery C. Quigley in 1939. Let’s hope it helps your co-worker realize he is making his office mates absolutely insane.

1939: Your First Job: Grooming

Be clean. Do not start off to work in an untidy suit or dress, with unpolished shoes, untidy nails, unkempt hair, or with evidences of having recently eaten garlic or onions. Bathe every day and, if possible, twice a day; nothing takes the place of soap and water. ‘The nose knows.’ Always wear fresh underwear, for the same reason. Do not wear party clothes to work, or clothes which are not plain. The desk or counter, or even elevator, is no place to clean your nails, or to comb your hair.

Do not eat except during lunch hours, and then only in the place appointed you to eat. Never pick your teeth in public; do not chew gum. Both are atrociously bad form. Do not chew the office’s pencils or your finger nails.

If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with your handkerchief. A person must always cover his mouth with a handkerchief to hide a yawn ~ but, then, no one should yawn at work! Always have a clean handkerchief with you, not a crumpled one. Use it. Do not substitute the back of your hand or your sleeve or your fingers. After using your handkerchief do not examine it, but replace it where it belongs. Do not leave it lying around.

Source: Clark, Mary E. and Margery Closey Quigley. Etiquette, Jr. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1939.
~ pp. 238-39 ~

Don’t Whistle While You Work

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

running through the hallsQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I work in a small shop and one of my coworkers whistles very loudly. Many of us have asked him to stop because we think it’s rude to expose us to the awful noise. Maybe if he sees it in print he will stop.


A Dear Sam:

Ask, and you shall receive. How’s this for something to post on the shop bulletin board? I found it in Estelle Hunter’s fifth book in her Personality Development: A Practical Self-Teaching Courseseries, which was published in 1939 by the Better-Speech Institute of America.

My office is perfectly well-mannered, of course. Unless you think that the dog licking her privates while I write this is in bad form. Do you think I should have a talk with her?

1939: High Standards Must Be Maintained

In order to create confidence and good will, a business organization must preserve an atmosphere of dignity and decorum. Many companies spend vast sums of money for advertising and publicity designed to inspire confidence and respect. With the same end in view stores and offices are artistically and expensively furnished and decorated. Much more important, however, is the impression created by the personnel of the company. If the appearance and manners of the employees are not in harmony with their surroundings, the effect is, to say the least, incongruous.

Those employees who meet the public should measure up to particularly high standards, but even those who have no contact with the public are expected to look, speak, and act in a manner that will raise and not lower the tone of the organization. This tone depends upon many small details. Only by keeping a constant check on ourselves can we be sure that we overlook none of them.

Behavior. The keynote of acceptable office deportment is dignity ~ not self-conscious dignity, but the reserve that accompanies attending to one’s own affairs in a serious, quiet manner. As one employment manager points out, ‘The office manual would have to be an entire library if it gave insructions on every item of behavior. We have to expect employees to possess at least a minimum of manners.’

Here are a few samples of the bad manners objected to by office managers:

Sitting on desks
Running through the offices or in the halls
Eating in the office
Chewing gum
Manicuring nails in the office
Putting on make-up in the office
Humming or whistling at work
Playing practical jokes during office hours

Anything that interferes with your work or another’s or that destroys a businesslike atmosphere is a violation of business etiquette.

Source: Hunter, Estelle B. Personality Development, Unit Five: Your Way of Life. Chicago: The Better-Speech Institute of America, 1939.
~ pp. 76, 78-79 ~

My Boss Hates My Wardrobe

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

get a load of Bertie Lamson!Q Dear Miss Abigail:

My job sucks because my boss thinks I’m a moron. As near as I can figure out, it’s because my wardrobe lacks that business flair, and I’ve got tattoos. When she first hired me I had pink hair and have since dyed it a sensible brown, but I will NOT wear silk. I guess what I’m asking is if there is a polite way to tell her to go f#*k herself?

Silky at home, but not at work!

A Dear Silky:

Sounds to me like you are yearning to be professional while keeping true to that which makes you who you are. Take a deep breath, and don’t curse out your boss. Instead, pay attention as we turn to Helen Gurley Brown for a bit of wardrobe advice.

1965: Sexy at work is no problem!

If you’re clever . . . you can have it all ~ success, the look of a lady and an air of devout sexiness right in the no-nonsense precincts of an office. . . .

Your aim, then, is to dress beautifully. Within that framework, what can you and what can’t you get away with in an office? Aren’t there some never-nevers? Yes, rhinestones, sequins, slinky-slinky black, tiers of organdy, miles of lace, clankety-clank jewels, the fragiles, the wispies and the see-throughs are out. What do you care when gone-mad colors, sensuous silks, huggy-bear wools, starchy piqués, maddening plaids, shocking chic and clothes that fit like hot wax are in? Who needs rhinestones?

There was a time, of course, when all managements preferred a little brown wren at every desk. Around 1908 it was thought dare-devil enough for girls to be in offices without calling attention to their faces and figures. Things really have changed since then, though some people aren’t aware of it. In her book, Manners in Business, Elizabeth Gregg MacGibbon advises the executive secretary, “Make yourself as inconspicuous as possible.” Really! What boss, pray, who has gone to the ends of the earth to hire the most dazzling girl he can find wants to have to locate her with a divining rod when he’s ready to dictate? If a striking appearance really disturbed him, a girl with large mammary glands would have to wear a suit of armor, and youknow any boss with a secretary who did that would shoot himself ~ or spend his entire day keeping track of his can-opener.

Of course we don’t want you to be the girl about whom men poke each other in the ribs and say, “Hey, Charlie, you ought to drop around and get a load of Bertie Lamson today . . . leopard culottes!” What we do want them to say or think about you is that you’re delicious and chic and that you look good enough to eat ~ or to take to eat at Perino’s or “21.” 

Source: Brown, Helen Gurley. Sex and the Office. New York: Pocket Books, 1965.
~ pp. 18-19 ~