Valentine’s Day has long been honored as a special holiday to celebrate love, friendship and family. At the turn of the century, it was a popular holiday among people in Grays Harbor County.
Valentine’s Day has a long history. February 14 was – and is – the Feast of Saint Valentine, a Catholic priest martyred by the Romans around 270 A.D. During the Middle Ages the day became a holiday to celebrate love and romance. By the turn of the century, the holiday had become quite popular in the United States and was celebrated much the same way as it is today.
A popular way to show love was to send valentines: special cards and messages. These included postcards and handmade messages in the shape of hearts with drawn or glued-on symbols such as cupids, doves and arrows.
While the holiday was less commercial than today, stores still did their best to sell candy, cards and flowers. “Valentine’s Day will soon be here,” reminded Evans Drugs Co. in 1905, “Make someone happy with a nice Valentine.” J.S. Waugh’s clothing store, however, saw such gifts as silly. The best Valentine for family was clothing. “Instead of giving some fiddle faddle,” their newspaper advertisement argued in 1910, “don’t you think it better to give something sensible?”
But most people disagreed. “St. Valentine’s Day,” commented the Daily Washingtonian newspaper on February 15, 1918, “…resulted in a profuse exchange of love missives in Hoquiam with many comic valentines included as usual. In the public schools among the grade pupils a period was set aside for the exchange of valentines. In some of the rooms the names of the pupils, girls and boys, were placed in a receptacle and drawn. A valentine was given to the pupil whose name was secured in this manner.”
Valentine Socials in Grays Harbor
The most common way people celebrated the holiday with loved ones and friends was with socials or parties. Clubs, fraternal societies, churches and friends gathered together. For example, in 1898 the Epworth League of Aberdeen’s Methodist Church held a Valentine social with games, refreshments and music. For music they went high tech forgoing the usual singing and piano playing. “Prof.” Duncan Warwick hand cranked the graphophone, grinding “out the dulcet strains with the grace and dignity of a professional.”
Many different groups, usually women, held gatherings. Aberdeen’s Temperance Society entertained a large crowd at a Valentine social at the AOUW hall in 1912 and Rebekahs of Elma held their own at the local Odd Fellows Hall in 1908. Other parties were held in each other’s homes. Mrs. Elmer Orr hosted the woman’s Monday Art Club members and their husbands at her home in 1916.
Other groups held basket socials. At a basket social, single women would pack lunch baskets which would be raffled off and they would each share the lunch with the single young man who had bought it. In 1909 the Ladies Aid of the Aberdeen Christian Church put a twist on that by matching the valentines attached to the women’s baskets with ones picked at random by the men.
Valentine dances were also popular. The young men of Aberdeen’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church held a Valentine ball in 1912 while the Modern Woodmen of Westport held their own in 1907. The George Hotel in Elma even served supper for a Valentine ball in 1903. People also held dances at home. Grace Young hosted a party in North Aberdeen in 1907, decorating the lawn with Chinese lanterns to light the area for an evening of dancing and music.
Decorating for Valentine’s Day
Aspiring Valentine Day party hosts could get many ideas from local newspapers on how to dress – white frocks for women with homemade garlands of paper roses or a paper heart fringe – and how to decorate homes. Showers of red and pink paper chains, hearts or gilded arrows could be hung over doors or from the chandelier – hopefully not when the gas light fixture was running! – and table cloths ringed with fringes of paper red hearts. Small cakes could be baked in heart shapes, with frosting tinted pink.
On February 8, 1894, the Aberdeen Herald reprinted an elaborate Valentine party outline from the Ladies’ Home Journal magazine. Dresden or bisque cupid vases could be repurposed to hold salted almonds, small cakes and bonbons – in heart shapes of course! The dining table’s centerpiece were Jacqueminot roses arranged in a heart shape, pierced by an inexpensive gilded Cupid’s arrow.
A Valentine-themed menu, written on a back of a heart shaped piece of red-painted Bristol board showed two kissing doves. Cream of tomato soup became “cream of love apples” (another word for tomato) while squabs became “turtledoves” for their romantic “billing and cooing.” Ice cream, any flavor, was served with a white coating to represent dove’s feathers. They also served heart-shaped meringue “kisses” which, the author teased, “from time immemorial have inspired conversation among young men and maidens for some occult reason.”
By the turn of the century, people were celebrating Valentine traditions that will be very familiar today. Times do change, but a turn of the century Grays Harbor Valentine’s Day would not seem so strange to us after all.