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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day in Historical Newspapers

This month at the library we declare our love for newspapers, particularly historical newspapers. From advertisements to advice columns, from job listing to obituaries, old newspapers capture a sense of what the past was like. With Valentine's Day approaching, I decided to use our online archive of the Chicago Tribune to see what people in the past thought about the holiday.

A Burden on the Post Office

The USPS isn't in good shape these days, but it seems that Valentine's Day was an undue burden in 1876. A short article titled, "St. Valentine's Day: Post Office Statistics" (2/15/1876) laments that "12,000 brainless individuals" caused "havoc" for the Post Office in Chicago. Processing so many valentines "puts every one out of humor with too much hard work."

Avoiding Vulgarity

Many stories from this period focus on how to avoid "vulgarity" and bad taste on Valentine's Day. One story in particular, "Softests of Saints: How to Celebrate St. Valentine's Day in Proper Style" (2/14/1889) laments the state of paper valentines:

"The evolution of the paper valentine has not been satisfactory. In the time of our great-grandfathers the youth...meant something by their valentines. With infinite labor they cut delicate designs.... From these simple missives the valentine became a color chromo, decorated with lace paper and embellished with gilt."

Making Money on Valentines's Day

Fast forward to 1913 and the column "How to Earn Money at Home" (1/24/1913) suggests ways that women can earn money from home on Valentine's Day. One product that could be successful is "a vanity bag in bright scarlet with the base made in heart shape and a tiny box of talcum covered with the same silk". Another option would be to make "stuffed dates and figs that are so fresh and so good because they are made of good materials and delivered freshly made."

These are just a few examples of the hundreds of stories, columns, and advertisements about Valentine's Day in the Historical Chicago Tribune Archive. If you want to find similar stories, just log in with your library card, and search for "st. valentine's day". You can limit your search by document type, time period, and more.

And so your love affair with historical newspapers begins!

Can I access these resources from home?

Yes, you can!

With a valid Des Plaines Public Library, any of the links above should take you right to the online resource.

Don't have a library card? Stop by sometime and get one. Any Des Plaines resident can apply.


  1. I love this blog! I'm going to use it to make my own Valentine.

    1. That's a great idea! I hope it worked out.


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