Valentines in July

Valentines in July? It is as good a month as February, actually. Although the feast day of Valentine is celebrated in the Western tradition on February 14, there is an equally strong tradition in the Eastern Orthodox Church for commemorating St. Valentine on July 6th. So this is indeed a month for valentines

Why are there valentines in the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives? As mentioned in previous blogs, archives and manuscript repositories always include many unexpected odds and ends. A collection of personal papers can include a myriad of different objects and artifacts documenting the creator’s mundane daily activities as well the events, ideas, and milestones the creator is best known for. A good example of this is Elisabeth Elliot’s Memory Book. Elliot (1926-1915), a Bible translator and missionary to Ecuador, is perhaps best known as the author of several bestselling books narrating the death of her husband Jim, killed by members of the Waorani tribe in Ecuador in 1956, and her own later experiences living with the Waorani after that tragic event.

Elliot became an influential evangelical writer, speaker, and teacher in the second half of the 20th century. But her Memory Book in the Archives precedes her famous ministry, when she was just Elisabeth Howard, known to her friend and family as Betty or Bets. The scrapbook reflects the interests of a young girl in her pre-teen and teen years. Its contents includes letters, photos, postcards, hair curls, paper dresses, maps, early writings, and much more, covering the period of approximately to 1938 to 1943 as well as comments Elliot later wrote in the book as an adult . A map of the 1939 New York World’s Fair contained in the Memory Book was featured in a previous blog post. And among all this wonderful memorabilia are Valentine cards Elliot received at school on February 14, 1940, when she was 13 years old.

These Valentine cards are a wonderful reflection of American attitudes toward love and friendship in the 1940s and some of the ways the vocabulary and expressions surrounding the holiday have changed in the past 80 years. As can be seen in these examples, Valentine cards could contain some sharp ribbing as well as sweet sentiments. Because Elliot’s later notes are sometimes hard to read, where they occur there is a transcript below the image. The original Valentine cards can be found in Collection 278, Box 8.

A three-part Valentine card inscribed “To Bets Howard from A. L.”

As an adult, Elliot annotated the Memory Book in her elegant script, recalling “These are the valentines I received on February 14, 1940 in the eighth grade.  It was a terrible blizzardy day and we didn’t have time to look at them in school.”

Apparently from the sender, “To ‘Lizy (Belgium fein; baldy bell) Howard.” Elliot had been born in Belgium. In German, “fein” means fine or delicate.

Inscription reads: “Bob Held.” Located in Collection 278, Box 8.

Inscription on the reverse in Elliot’s handwriting reads: “I never guessed who this was, much to my disgust.”

The least romantic card of the collection, this anonymous card from a classmate takes a less-than-loving approach.

The Valentine cards featured here are located on this faded and fragile page from Elisabeth Elliot’s Memory Book where she pasted them and later added annotations. At the top of the page she wrote, “On Valentine’s Day (1940) Franklin P. Stow, a boy in my class at school, gave me a ‘Valentine Boat’ made of two red candy hearts put together with toothpicks. These little sails and red heart were also on it.” Elliot included one of the toothpicks at the bottom of the scrapbook page.

For more information about Elisabeth Elliot’s life and ministry, browse the collection description for Collection 278: Papers of Elisabeth Elliot. Materials documenting the life, death, and spiritual legacy of Jim Elliot are scattered throughout the Archives but are also concentrated in Collection 277: Ephemera of Jim Elliot and Collection 721: Papers of Fred and Clara Elliot.

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