This Saturday Smith students may use their Facebook pages to send virtual flowers or water balloons or glasses of wine to one another in celebration of Valentine’s Day. Similar gifts were sent to and from Smith students in the late 1930s, but it was the Northampton post office and local telegraph employees who were responsible for those real deliveries.
In fact there were so many deliveries on February 14th that Valentine’s Day in Northampton was the busiest day of the year for local telegraph office employees. The Northampton post office was also overrun. Typically its canceling machine handled 10,000 letters on a single day; just before Valentine’s Day in 1937 the post office was canceling 19,000 letters per day! The local Hampshire Gazette newspaper reported that “the number of special deliveries increased from the average of 75 for daily business to 332 on Saturday and 16 on Sunday [Valentine’s Day itself].”
What were Smith students receiving and sending? Unusual deliveries were noted in press releases sent out by the Smith College Press Board detailing various types of valentines. In 1938 the gifts included ducks, goldfish, a ham sandwich, and even a few flowers and boxes of chocolates.
The six live ducks described in the above press release were apparently a difficult delivery. “Western Union officials, who were obliged to buy the ducks locally in accordance with telegraphed orders, hoped the supply would last,” according to the Hartford Courant newspaper.
On Valentine’s Day 1939 the Gazette reported that telegraph agencies in town were “virtually taken over” with incoming and outgoing wires: “Western Union attaches had to dig up a duck and a rabbit sent to a Smith girl by an Amherst college man.” A note in the Springfield Republican explains that many novel remembrances were received: “Among the variety of purchases made by them [telegraph employees] today were ducks, a rat, rabbits, a lemon, a fried egg, a cake of ice and several chickens.”
The Springfield Union included this photograph of messenger boy Perry Franklin on his way to deliver Valentine’s gifts at Smith in 1940:
So Happy Valentine’s Day from the Smith College Archives! And here is a virtual Valentine for you from the very real scrapbook of Elinor Daniels, class of 1907: