The story behind Valentine celebrations

Last Updated: Jan 17, 2011, 11:15 AM IST

Washington: Did you know the American tradition of sending valentines originated with a young graduate of Mount Holyoke College?

Esther Howland (1828-1904) who graduated from what was then the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1847 was inspired by an ornate English valentine sent to her by a family friend to create her own elaborate renditions of the greeting card.

Each year, the Mount Holyoke Archives and Special Collections displays its collection of valentines in honour of the Worcester.

According to the American Antiquarian Society, Howland was fascinated with the idea of making similar valentines, and she arranged with her father - who owned the largest book and stationery store in Worcester - to have paper lace, floral decorations, and other materials sent to her from England.

Increasing demand made her ask her friends for help.

She began to advertise in a Worcester paper in early 1850, and she eventually turned the assembly line operation that began in her home into a thriving business grossing USD100,000 annually.

The annual Mount Holyoke exhibit contains a selection of original valentines made by Howland`s New England Valentine Co., as well as some by George C. Whitney, to whom she sold her business.

The exhibit also features valentines given to the College in the personal papers of former faculty members Mildred Allen and Ruth Lawson.

The cards display the stylistic shifts within the valentine industry as it endured paper shortages, postcard crazes, and a growing nostalgia for the Victorian-style cards that characterized the golden age of valentine production in both Western Europe and the United States.