Monday, February 12, 2018

Valentine's Day and a Woman Entrepreneur

A footnote from history by Stephanie Grace Whitson

I just returned from a writing retreat in Florida. While there, I visited several historical sites, among them the gorgeous Henry Plant Museum, now located in one wing of the 500-room Victorian hotel built by Plant to lure the rich and famous in the late 1800s to play in Tampa. 

One of the special exhibits at the museum was a display of exquisite vintage Valentine's Day greetings. I photographed all the Valentines in this blog post at the museum. 

A woman entrepreneur named Esther Howland is credited by many with popularizing Valentine's Day in America.

Esther Howland
Esther was part of the class of 1847 at Mount Holyoke Seminary in Massachusetts. She apparently had both an artistic eye and an entrepreneurial spirit, for when she received an English Valentine from one of her father's business associates, she thought she could do better. And so she did. She ordered supplies and made a dozen samples for her brother to take along in his sample book on his next sales trip. (The family operated a large book and stationery store.) Her goal was $200 in orders. Imagine her surprise (or sense of panic) when her brother returned with $5000 in advance sales!

Esther created a production assembly line at home, employing the help of several of her friends. Soon, her cottage industry had taken over the third floor of the Howland house. 

Eventually, the New England Valentine Company rented its own building and even published a small book called The New England Valentine Co.'s Verse Book for 1879

Esther Howland didn't invent the American valentine and she wasn't the first to make them, but she did popularize her own style. In 1881, Howland sold her business to George Whitney, which became the largest valentine factory in the world.

How about you? Do you celebrate Valentine's Day? In what way? At my house, Valentine's Day was about birthdays ... my daughters were born on February 14 and February 15. 

* * *

Stephanie Whitson's historical romances feature love stories from the past. This one was inspired by a newspaper article reporting on an even that took place in Grand Island, Nebraska in the late 1800s.

In Karyn's Memory Box, a German immigrant who chose to come to America rather than marry the man her father had picked out, marries a stranger who takes her home to a "house made of dirt"--a Nebraska soddy. It isn't at all what Karyn envisioned. But she is beginning to fall in love with her husband when circumstances threaten to ruin the dream she's beginning to believe in. Inspired by an event.

Find the ebook here for only $2.99: 

And the trade paperback:


  1. Valentine's Day is a hit or miss affair in our home, dependent upon the state of our pocket money. I love flowers but I don't care if they are bought on any specific day. And my husband is happy any day I will bake him cookies.

  2. I’d say you practice Valentines Day many days of the year😉.

  3. Celebrating Love is something our family does daily with "I Love You" via phone conversations, texts, etc. These vintage Valentine's are reminders of the past which I love the old Valentine's more.

    1. What a beautiful way to celebrate love, Marilyn. Glad you enjoyed looking at these vintage Valentine's. The collectors display of dozens was a delight to see.

  4. They did make some beautiful Valentines back in those days. We don't really celebrate Valentine's much. I'll make a special dinner for my husband, and I send a few cards to close friends. Other than that, it's an ordinary day. I think Valentines were first popular in England and the idea came to America in the 1840's or so.

  5. I read similar info at the museum but it wasn’t sourced so I wasn’t sure. Good to read the confirmation re English roots.