Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Today in History: Valentine's Day Letters

This year for Valentine's Day, we have selected three items from the Manuscripts Division to show the variety of ways people have observed this holiday over the years. From children exchanging cards at school to poems proposing marriage, this holiday celebrates love and friendship in all its forms.

Sidney Platt to Maria Perit, 1800. From the Huntington scrapbook.
The first is a love letter from 1800, included in the Huntington scrapbook. This lighthearted letter hints at a happy and loving relationship between the letter-writer and recipient. Sidney Platt writes to his "other half" that, since he is incapable of writing poetry, she must "do [her] part in making the rhymes," while he does his by "sending a Valentine Present of a pair of Garters." The full letter reads:
New Haven St. Valentine's
Miss Maria Perit
How fare you
If you will take the trouble to revert to an Almanack, you will perceive that this is St. Valentine's day: I have accordingly taken the liberty to send you my Valentine, which I hope will meet your warmest approbation. As fate has so ordained that I cannot boast of a Muse, I must beg your indulgence in omitting the verses or rhymes common on this occasion: But as you are considered my other half by the Adorable Julia a person of much consequence and Cotton-Boxility, I know no reason (since this is the case) why you should not do your part in making the rhymes, while I do mine in sending a Valentine Present of a pair of Garters.
With sentiments of the most
Profound esteem for your
person & self, I remain your
Friend & Humble Servt.
Sidney Platt
Valentine for Anna Galloway, ca. 1850. From the Women's History Collection.
The next item is a valentine addressed to Anna Galloway, circa 1850, from the Women's History Collection. The paper lace valentine is decorated with a cupid and scroll and contains a handwritten love poem regarding marriage, signed by "St. Valentine."
To Anna,
There is witchery - aye, witchery -
In those lovely eyes, I trow;
And strong the spell, I feel, too well:
Why did I linger? who can tell? -
Ah! why am lingering now?
There is but one answer
Found in earth, or heaven above -
I cannot flee - I'm bound to thee,
By such a potent witchery,
I only know I love.My hearth is bright, but lonely -
It sues for a gentle wife -
I offer thee - thee only -
My heart, my love, my life.How happy he who worthy is
To share your smiles through life;
Thrice happy he whose fortune 'tis
To win you for his wife. 
St. Valentine
The last item, from the MacDonald family papers, is a letter from a young girl named Catharine to her Aunt Mamie, dated February 16, 1936. In the letter, she describes how valentines were delivered at her school, including a diagram of the decorated box to put them in and a sketch of a valentine person made of hearts:

Catharine to Aunt Mamie, February 16, 1936. From the MacDonald family papers. 
"Following that came St. Valentine's Day. At twelve o'clock (I mean 11:45) on Friday we were to have the fun of delivering and receiving valentines. One person was chosen to call out the names on the valentines and two people were to deliver them. We had a pretty box like this to put them in: [diagram]. The valentine people looked like this: [sketch]. When somebody came to school, he put his valentines in the box, through the slit."
Related posts:
Today in History: Valentine's Day Cards

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