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 ‘working women’

What is Finance?

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

we live in a chaotic worldEver the procrastinator, I’ve just now finished my taxes ~ April 14th at 10:00pm. During this traditionally painful event, I pondered why parents don’t just take care of their kids and do things like taxes and pay the bills throughout their lives. Wouldn’t it be great? Sigh.

Since that’ll never happen, I guess it’s about time I learn how to deal with my own financial life. Fortunately I’ve got a copy of Mabel Raef Putnam’s What Every Woman Should Know About Finance. Funny thing is, the book seems to have been originally owned by a gentleman named Stanley Love. Stan, honey, got some explaining to do?

1954: What is Finance?

Don’t let finance mystify you. Formidable it is until you understand it, and then it is fun. And undoubtedly it is the most fascinating study and work. This is what the dictionary says about it:

FINANCE, noun. The science of the profitable management of money and of monetary affairs; the systematic control and regulation of revenue and expenditures . . . funds on hand and coming in; the finances of an empire or an individual.
~ Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary

A knowledge of finance, for you, then, means a knowledge of the profitable management of your money ~ whether by you, your government, or a corporation in which you have invested money. And this profitable management of your money means an advantageous expenditure of it, that is getting good value for it, whether by you or by an empire. Or stated another way, the profitable management of your money is dependent upon your knowledge of how best to expend it, or of how to buy wisely. Moreover, it means a systematic control and regulation of revenue and expenditure ~ a budget, so to speak, whether by you or your government, or any project in which you invest.

Anyway, considering that today we live in a chaotic world, many women, and men too, have concluded that the time has come when women must qualify themselves to assume equal control with men of the nation’s wealth. But the basis of this accomplishment is a thorough knowledge of finance.

No one can even remotely comprehend the operation of our economic system without a complete understanding of the nation’s financial operations. In fact, good citizenship requires a knowledge of our country’s financial system. For finance is the key, the basis, of our national economy upon which our government and every other institution must depend.

Source: Putnam, Mabel Raef. What Every Woman Should Know About Finance. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954.
~ pp. 4-5 ~

Make Success Visible

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

saturate your mind with hopeI won’t go into details, but last week my coworkers and I were in need of a little cheering up so I turned to Edith Mae Cummings’ Pots and Pans and Millions: A Study in Woman’s Right to Be in Business; her Proclivities and Capacity for Success (whew!) and found the following. It was published by the National School of Business Science for Women right here in Washington, D.C., and I do believe it has helped pull me out of my slump. If it can work for me, it can work for anyone, as long as you have hope! All righty, then!

1929: Make Success Visible

Many women form the chronic habit of indulging in fits of depressing that we call the ‘blues.’ They allow the ‘blues’ an easy entrance to their minds, in fact are always at home to them and are susceptible to every form of discouragement that comes along. Every little setback, every little difficulty, sends them into the ‘blues’ and they will say ‘what’s the use?’ As a result their work is poor and ineffective, and they do not accomplish the things they desire.

Every time you give way to discouragement, every time you are blue, you are going backward, your destructive thoughts are tearing down what you have been trying to build. One fit of discouragement ~ visualizing failure or poverty ~ will rapidly destroy the result of much triumphant thought building. Your creative forces will harmonize with your thoughts, your emotions and moods; they will create in sympathy with them.

Saturate your mind with hope, the expectation of better things, with the belief that your dreams are coming true. Be convinced that you are going to win out; let your mind rest with success thoughts. Don’t let the enemies of your success and happiness dominate in your mind or they will bring to you the condition they represent.

I know of nothing that gives more satisfaction than the consciousness that we have formed the habit of winning, the habit of victory, the habit of carrying a victorious mental attitude, of walking, acting, talking, looking like a winner. That sort of attitude always keeps the dominant, helpful qualities to the fore ~ always in the ascendancy.

One of the most obstinate of habits in life, and one fatal to efficiency, is the habit of feeling defeated.

Source: Cummings, Edith Mae. Pots and Pans and Millions. Washington, D.C.: National School of Business Science for Women, 1929.
~ pp. 277-78 ~

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 ~

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 ~

Fear Not, Retiring Woman

Monday, August 30th, 2010

flood your mind with successQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I am eligible to retire but cannot get myself to “drop my papers” as they call it in my business. For one thing I am afraid. I have no life. I cannot get any of my friends or acquaintances to bike ride, canoe, go for walks in the woods, etc. People my age just rest, watch TV and eat. Needless to say, I am carrying ten extra pounds because I eat with them just to have company. I do have a lovely family but they live in two other states, Virginia and Maryland. No one seems to understand my fear and some people are jealous and think I am ridiculous. What is your advice please?

Ann in Buffalo, NY

A Dear Ann:

Although Pots and Pans and Millions: A Study of Woman’s Right to Be in Business was written in 1929 for women entering the workforce for the very first time, the following excerpt should inspire you to take charge and get on with your next phase in life. Author Edith Mae Cummings would have been very proud to see you’ve had a successful career, and I’m sure she would absolutely insist you take pleasure in your much-deserved retirement!

1929: Fear

How easy it is for us to deplete our strength and lessen our chances for success by lying awake nights, worrying over our problems of tomorrow! And if we will analyze the things we have worried about in the past, we can see now how little alarming they really were. Worry never adds anything to our income, our health or our comfort, and fear never solves our problems or helps us in any way, and we all know, if we will stop to think about it, that the greatest secret of success and happiness is to have faith to face life with courage and confidence, and not to anticipate trouble.

Scientists tell us that fear may be conquered, that it has at last become possible for large numbers of people to pass from the cradle to the grave without ever having a pang of genuine fear. There is no doubt that fear and worry, those terrible evils that have so long cursed mankind and held back the development of the race, can be absolutely driven out of our lives. And you will not get very far, my friend, nor climb very high, until you rid yourself of your fears and doubts, of the worry and discouragement which are blighting lives, strangling aspirations and obscuring ideals. Many really able women are struggling along, barely making a living, getting nowhere near the realization of their dreams, because they listened to the whisperings of those traitors, the fears and doubts and worries which held them back from doing what they were sent into the world to do!

Instead of picturing trouble and misfortune ahead, brooding over the difficulties that confront you, and fearing you will never be able to get past them, flood your mind with success thoughts, with the thought of the power that is stored in the great within of you, always wanting to be used, always more than a match for the giant fear that tries to frighten you with unrealities that have no existence outside of your troubled imagination.

Source: Cummings, Edith Mae. Pots and Pans and Millions. Washington, D.C.: National School of Business Science for Women, 1929.
~ pp. 327-28 ~

(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 ~

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 ~

Wise Purchases and Wardrobe Economy

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

color and style appropriate to youI don’t know why exactly, but as soon as the cooler weather hits town, I always feel the need for a whole new wardrobe. Must be jealousy ~ I see all those kids in their new school clothes and yearn for a fresh outfit and a new notebook.

The following advice came in handy when my friend Liz and I visited an outlet mall this afternoon. It’s from Volume II of Lovely Ladies: The Art of Being a Woman by Dare Frances. Perhaps you’ll find it useful as well.

1929: Wise Purchases and Wardrobe Economy

What woman is not interested in wardrobe economy? Inborn in almost every human heart is the desire to get the most for the money we spend, whether this be a matter of necessity or not. However ample be your checkbook, the more value you get from what you spend, the more you can spend.

Wise purchases are the very thing. The little mother, possibly raising a sizable family on a very small income, with the house to be paid for, the children’s schooling, and the car to be bought if possible, has a perfectly natural desire to appear at her best. And when she does purchase something it must be the very wisest purchase she can possible make.

Business women, for a different reason, must be wise in their purchases. Their reason is mostly one of time ~ the lack of time in which to shop. Therefore, their purchases must be good and have some lasting, economical merit.

A wise clothing purchase is the garment that you select in color and style appropriate to you as an individual and one that fits into the rest of your wardrobe, without necessitating, consequently, an entirely new set of accessories. A lovely lady must know what she wants and why. If you depend upon a saleswoman’s advice you may expect to be dressed according to the saleswoman’s taste. Not that her taste may not be excellent, as she has an opportunity to study the mode trends that you have not. But too often even the fairest-minded saleswomen are intent upon ‘turning over stock’ or ‘getting rid of deadheads.’

Source: Dare, Frances. Lovely Ladies: The Art of Being a Woman, Vol. II. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1929.
~ pp. 469-470 ~

Forever Lonely ~ Or Not?

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

no fish rising to her baitQ Dear Miss Abigail:

Will I stay lonely forever?


A Dear Maris:

I cannot say whether you shall remain lonely forever, my dear, for I do not know you or your situation. But Dorothy Dix’s words on the dateless girl (from a chapter in How To Win And Hold A Husband) offers some things to think about. This excerpt is kind of long, but I just had to share. Dorothy certainly doesn’t sound to keen on marriage, does she? Tee hee.

1939: The Girl Who Has No Dates

The plight of the girls who have a natural feminine yearning for the attentions of men and love and romance and marriage but who are denied these is truly a sad one. What makes this situation still more pathetic is that they exaggerate their value and the happiness they would bring them. The girl who has no dates pictures every party as a wild orgy of joy. She imagines every man is a Prince Charming and she has never a doubt but that if she did marry her husband would be an ideal mate and her home an earthly paradise.

It never seems to occur to these girls that most of the parties are dull, stupid affairs where the guests yawn in each other’s faces; that the boy friend, too, is often a bore who reduces a girl to tears and with whom she goes out only in the hope of meeting some more entertaining companion. Nor does she suspect that on their wedding days most wives do not enter into an Elysium but get life sentences at hard work.

If the business girl will look around at her married friends she will see that most of them look older than she does; that few of them are as well-dressed or can afford the amusements she enjoys. And she will discover that the husband who remains a gallant lover after three or four years of married life is about as rare as hens’ teeth.

For most women marriage is doing without pretty clothes and is hard work and childbearing and walking colicky babies and putting up with the temper and crotchets of a man who generally is disallusioned with matrimony himself. So the average engaged girl who thinks she is going to miss all the trials and tribulations of matrimony and draw the capital prize is simply fooling herself.

Still all of this does not keep girls from wanting to marry or their mothers from wanting to see them married. That is nature, with which we cannot argue, and the pity of it is that there is not some way by which a miracle could be wrought to provide proper bridegrooms for all these nice girls who would make such good wives. . . .

It seems to me there are only two things these matrimony-minded girls can do, especially after they have reached the age of thirty when time becomes a great factor in success. One is boldy to take the initiative and do the courting themselves; pick out the particular men they desire to have for husbands and go in for a whirlwind campaign. Virtually any woman can marry any man if she will just go after him hard enough, provided she never lets him suspect that she is being the aggressor. . . .

[What] can the girl do whom boys never date up of their own volition, whose partners have to be conscripted for her at dances and who knows herself to be an undesired addition to any party she wishes herself upon?

Before succumbing to the inevitable she might give herself one more chance by making a change in her environment. Many a girl who is a social failure at home is a success abroad. Many a girl whom the boys on Main Street couldn’t see becomes one whom strange men behold with admiration, as is witnessed by the number of girls who marry away from home. If, however, a girl finds that threshing in different water brings no fish rising to her bait, then she saves herself mortification and wear and tear on her soul and body if she accepts the situation, gives up the struggle to attract men and fills her life with other interests.

Source: Dix, Dorothy. How to Win and Hold a Husband. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1939.
~ pp. 105-107 ~

Does Your Career Conflict with His Interests?

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

aims and interests are mutualThis selection is written by Mrs. Dale Carnegie. In her introduction to this somewhat disturbing book with a very long title, How to Help Your Husband Get Ahead in His Social and Business Life, Mrs. Carnegie states:

“I wish I could guarantee that, by following the rules in this book, you would slowly but surely help your husband to become a millionaire. It isn’t inconceivable, but the odds are against it; great fortures are harder to amass these days, and the higher one goes up the ladder, the narrower it becomes . . . any woman who applies these principles intelligently and judiciously, will have removed many of the barriers that keep men low on the ladder. She will have gone very far indeed toward motivating and stimulating her husband’s natural impulse to give his best to the world, and that he will be a more secure and happier person she may rest assured.”

I think that says it all.

1953: Does Your Career Conflict with His Interests?

If you have a job or career of your own, would you be willing to give it up if it would advance your husband’s interests to do so?

If not, you’re reading the wrong book! You are more interested in promoting yourself than promoting your husband.

Helping a man attain success is a full-time career in itself. You just can’t hope to do it unless it is important enough to claim all your attention. . . .

I do not underrate the many wives and mothers who are forced by circumstances to work at jobs outside their homes ~ I salute them with profound respect. I believe that women should equip themselves to earn a living by their own efforts, since life is uncertain and none of us ever knows when she may have to become a breadwinner to feed, house and clothe her family. Sickness, death, unemployment and disaster can upset the best-laid plans.

But since we are discussing ways and means by which wives can help their husbands to succeed, we cannot ignore the fact that this is a big enough job in itself to demand single mindedness in a wife.

No wife who is conscientiously bending her efforts on a career of her own can have much excess energy left to promote her husband’s interests. There are exceptions to everything, but observation and experience have convinced me that husbands and marriages have a better chance when aims and interests are mutual.

So, the next important rule for being adaptable is:

Be willing to give up a career of your own if it conflicts with your husband’s happiness and best interests.

Source: Carnegie, Mrs. Dale (Dorothy). How to Help Your Husband Get Ahead in His Social and Business Life. New York: Greystone Press, 1953.
~ pp. 111, 113-14 ~