Valentine’s Day in the beginning of the 20th century got much more attention than it does today. Most women’s periodicals dedicated full sections to “cupid’s holiday” and many magazine covers carried heart shaped themes. The 14th of February presented a socially acceptable time for both men and women to express their interest in each other publically. Both children and adults exchanged valentines and attended parties. Let’s take a look at the two major components of the day.
Exchanging Valentines, Candy and Flowers – The social rules regarding calling cards, invitations, and expressing interest in the opposite sex were formal and often rather rigid, however Valentine’s Day relaxed the rules a little and allowed both men and women to express their interest in each other. The practice of exchanging Valentines began with young children and continued to adults.
“I have half a heart
And you have the other
Let’s make a whole one
By putting them together.”
Store bought cards were expensive and relatively rare. It was proper and appropriate for both adult men and women to exchange handmade cards. Women’s cards were often decorative, adorned with lace and ribbons. Men often gave simpler valentines containing an original or copied poem. This might seem pretentious or odd today, however poetry was very popular in years past. Love letters, (not emails) often contained long poems. It was appropriate to include a poem in thank you letters and other social correspondence, so poetry in Valentines was common place.
The custom of the gentleman offering gifts to his lady was already established in the early 1900’s. In large cities, like New York and Chicago imported flowers were available, even in February. In the February 1902 Ladies World magazine Frances Linton writes “in New York one can get any flower almost that grows, and roses, lilies, chrysanthemums are cultivated to such a high state of perfections …winter weather flowers are imported quite successfully.” Chocolates in heart shaped boxes was also common place and available in most cities both large and small. Although quality candy stores offered fine chocolates, the forgetful beau could always pick up a box at the drug store; some things never change.
Valentine Day Parties
In the early 1900’s parties and formal occasions created proper settings for young, unmarried people to mingle and meet. There were always chaperones in attendance, and this was true whether the party goers were 8, 18, or 25 years old. If men and women mingled publicly, it was proper to have chaperones.
Many women’s magazines had etiquette and entertainment advice and most February issues offered readers suggestions for ‘Cupid’s Day’ events. For example the etiquette column Dame Hospitality by Marjorie March in the February 1907 issue of Modern Women gave ideas for decorations and party games for an adult party.
“The rooms can be effectively decorated with red paper hearts strung on baby ribbon or golden cords, while enough winter spirit is still in the air to make a touch of evergreen or southern moss blend harmoniously with the vivid red of these symbols of sentiment which are in evidence about the rooms, here, there, and everywhere. Festoons of crepe paper rope in red and white coloring also make a gay bit of brilliancy to place over doorways, pictures and entwining chandeliers. When all are assembled several games of a sentimental nature can start the ball of fun rolling.”
Ms. March goes on to suggest that a family friend should dress up like Cupid and be the MC for the party. Her column was similar to many others in that she encouraged flirting among the guests and suggested activities to make such behavior acceptable. The excuse of merriment allowed men and women to publicly test the romantic waters and dismiss rejection as a mere party game.
Here’s an example of such a game. One girl (women were called girls and men were called men), would write a random word on the top of a piece of paper and “the second girl in each case writing for a question a little note of flirtation or sentiment, asking some unknown lover to do them some trifling favor or service. These words and questions are given to the hostess who puts them in a second basket from whence each man draws one and must write a verse bring in the word and answering the note.”
Today Valentine’s Day is still celebrated with romance and gifts however men are often expected to give more expensive gifts, especially jewelry and private dinners at restaurants have replaced the popular parties from a century ago. However, I still think Cupid as an MC is a great idea.
Please let me know how you plan on celebrating Cupid’s Day this year?