Happy Valentine’s Day! When I think of Valentine’s Day, I think of candy, cards, chocolate, and flowers. I also think about how restaurants often have dinner specials, highlighting a wine or special foods, all designed to enhance romance. Or that I could pick up a newspaper and see recipes for making an intimate dinner at home. And of course, I think of children and those Valentine’s Day cards that are available everywhere – always have to have enough for every child in the classroom!
But I wonder, has this always been true? What would it have been like to say, live in Bloomington in the early 20th century and celebrate Valentine’s Day? To answer this question, I decided to peruse the one of the local newspapers available at that time, the Bloomington Evening World from 1925 and see what I could learn about early 20th century Valentine’s Day celebrating.
The first advertisement for Valentine’s Day shows up on February 6 with an ad for “Valentine Tokens” at Wylie’s. The ad proclaims: “Sweethearts of every age and every preference will find a truly delightful assortment of Valentine’s here” with the added reassurance: “most of them inexpensive.” Not only that, Wylie’s entices us with the promise of a window display: “Our window will interest the kiddies.” Aside from that, one other small reference appears to Valentines for sale at The Fair Store.
I think that the use of the word “tokens” points to something like “a token of my esteem” rather than a token in the sense of a coin (like a subway token) or a playing piece. And I think that the reference to “kiddies” might be one of only a couple of references in the paper to children and Valentine’s Day. From all the other information in the Evening World, it looks like Valentine’s Day was very much an adult and largely feminine celebration.
We can see this adult, female focus in the tantalizing items included in the regular column entitled “Society” by Edith Nay. We learn from Edith Nay’s column that Valentine’s Day club socials and dances were quite common. First to show up is the Business and Professional Women’s Club. Planned as part of their regular Monday night meeting (to be held at the city library), a Miss Mary Blair was in charge of the program on February 9. On the day after the event, we learn that 40 women attended and the evening “was spent in various valentine contests and stunts.” Prizes were awarded. Don’t you wish you could see some of those “stunts”? Two other groups were on the early side of celebrating Valentine’s Day, with the American Legion Auxiliary Valentine Party, also on Monday, February 9 and the Country Club planning a Valentine Dance for Wednesday, February 11. For this dance, the Jordan River Harmony Kings would provide the music and the dancing would begin at 8:30. The Legion Auxiliary event, with over 30 in attendance also had games and stunts, and everyone had been encouraged to bring comic valentines, which reportedly provided much fun. The lucky ladies of the American Legion Auxiliary got to enjoy heart-shaped sandwiches and cocoa. This group was on a holiday roll, as they announced that the next meeting would be a Martha Washington party. Now, I would love to see pictures from that!
Games and stunts were clearly a regular part of the Valentine festivities. A Mrs. Taylor hosted the Friendship Club where they held a valentine making contest. Paper, paste, and scissors were provided for the creative members, with a “charming valentine awarded to the lady making the best” and a “comic valentine to the one who made the worst.” The 17 ladies present at this charming event, enjoyed “dainty refreshments of heart-shaped cake, ice cream, and coffee.”(“Society – Tell Edith,” Bloomington Evening World, February 13, 1925)
The University was not to be outdone, and we learn from the Friday, February 13 Society column what was coming up for the weekend. The Women’s Pan-Hellenic Council would be having its annual formal at the Student Building that night, and “Extensive preparations have been made, multitude of hearts having been promised by the decorators.” Jack Tilson’s orchestra would be playing, or as they said “will furnish the syncopation.” Additional dances offered that Valentine’s Day weekend were the medical fraternities at the Beta Xi house; the Indiana Union was having an open dance, free to members at the Student Building; and the Delta Upsilon fraternity would be giving its spring formal on Saturday. The local bands were getting a workout with Carmichael’s Collegians (and yes, it was indeed Hoagy’s group) playing for the medical students; the Jewel Melody Kings at the Union dance; and finally The Crimson Serenaders would be on hand to, ahem, serenade the Delta Upsilon fraternity.
If you were looking for flowers, Ellis Flowers had “The Best Way to a Girl’s Heart” because “of course, you will send flowers on St. Valentine’s Day, whether your sweetheart is 16 or 60.” And on Tuesday, February 10, Wylie’s again urged us to head to see their Valentine Window, “bring the kiddies down.” There was also a spcial candy sale at Nick & Tom Company, 212 N Walnut St. They offered “beautiful boxes of Valentine Candy,” all “presented in an interesting variety.” And if you weren’t stopping by Wylie’s or The Fair Store for your Valentine cards, you could stop by The Gem, where a “complete assortment” was available for prices ranging from a penny to ten cents.
The relatively new pastime of crossword puzzles even got in on the act with a special Valentine’s Day theme and shape for the daily crossword. I think Will Shortz needs to consider this for the next New York Times Valentine’s Day puzzle!
I was a little surprised to not see any jewelry stores advertising Valentine’s Day specials or restaurants offering special meals. You can see from the Graham Plaza ad that could have run any day of the week, that special meals out were not the thing.
I think I would have enjoyed these options for Valentine’s Day – we don’t really have dances and club socials (wait – I would have to belong to a club, wouldn’t I? Oh, dear, that’s not really a 21st century thing, is it?). And I like the idea of stunts and games for Valentine’s Day. Let me know if you have any idea what those could be. And let me know, too, if you have any luck with the crossword puzzle!
Post Submitted by Georg’ann Cattelona (Library Volunteer)
While not having done much with her History degree in recent years, Georg’ann Cattelona thinks that the chance to read some microfilm and poke around in old books is the bee’s knees. So this chance to write a bit for the Monroe County History Center blog is, as they would also say in the 20s, the elephant’s eyebrows.