Celebrating Valentine’s Day, 1918-style

Valentine’s Day in 1918 was nothing like the holiday we celebrate today, with couples going out for stressful dinners at crowded restaurants while single people sit at home wanting to die. Part of the reason was the war—there was much less attention to such frivolous topics than in previous years.

To the extent that it was celebrated, Valentine’s Day was a holiday for children, who exchanged handmade cards at parties, and single women, who got up to all sorts of hijinks with their friends. Men, apparently, refused to have anything to do with it. The February 16 cover of the Saturday Evening Post, which was a men’s magazine at the time, did have a Valentine’s theme, though,

J. C. Leyendecker Saturday Evening Post cover, St. Valentine writing, February 16, 1918.

J. C. Leyendecker, February 16, 1918

and its January 26 Norman Rockwell cover celebrates young romance:

Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover, boy stepped on girl's toe at dance, January 26, 1918.

Norman Rockwell, January 26, 1918

The Delineator tells us in its February issue that

Saint Valentine’s Day offers wide latitude for ingenuity and artistic skill, both to the wee tot in kindergarten, whose baby fingers have been newly trained to paste and weave and prick, and her grown-up sisters who can, with pen or brush, evolve delightful valentines with the personal touch, or design charming place-cards and dance programs, and contrive cunning nut and bonbon dishes.

Katherine Southwick Delineator cover, girl in bonnet with lacy border, February 1918.

Katherine Southwick, February 1918

According to The Delineator, the day “lends itself most happily for luncheons for brides-to-be and announcement parties.” One such party features a game called heart archery. A large heart is mounted on an easel, with a bulls-eye and numbered sections. Gifts are placed in a box, “tied with crimson ribbons and with the number on a tiny dangling red heart.”

Armed with a bow and arrow (handed to the guest by Cupid himself if possible), the guest tries out her skill in hitting the bull’s eye. If she is successful she should find that her number draws a package containing a ring, indicating that she will be the next bride. Other gifts, all significant, fall to the less fortunate: a mitten for rejection, a coin for wealth*, a rabbit’s foot for luck, a toy boat for a sea journey**, an automobile, a thimble for the spinster, etc. Any hostess will have the ingenuity to work out little fortunes for her guests, and if they fall to the right people, all the merrier.

Woman's Home Companion illustration, Engaged Girl and Soldier Boy Valentine's Day parties, February 1918.

Delineator, February 1918

Woman’s Home Companion tells us about some small-town girls who sent Valentine’s Day treats to the boys in khaki. (How, I’m not quite sure, given that the February issue must have been printed well in advance, and the United States wasn’t at war yet the February before.) They baked a huge spice cake, divided it into fifteen sections, one for each of the soldiers from their town, and iced it in white and red, “with an appropriate red heart as a centerpiece.” A good-luck charm (four-leaf clover, wishbone, or horseshoe) was baked into each piece. Small gifts, such as homemade cookies, chocolates, and khaki-colored initialed handkerchiefs, were “distributed impartially.”

So happy Valentine’s Day everyone, brides, spinsters, and rejects alike! Watch out for flying arrows, and don’t break your tooth on a good luck charm!

*You know, because being wealthy is way less lucky than getting married at age twenty.

**Maybe not such a great idea in 1918?

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