St. Valentine’s Day and Marriage — a Shot in the Dark?

Mrs. W. G. Donald, circa 1910

Valentine’s Day is a time of romance.  We think about flowers, candy, and cards non-stop for weeks in advance (probably thanks to the many commercials and ads we see).  The legacy of Valentine’s Day was already well-known in the United States by the 1870s.  Newspapers counted down the days and local stores placed information in the papers on their Valentine card stock a week or two before the 14th.  By February 15th, the post office released the number of valentine cards processed the day before.  Several thousand valentines passed through the Davenport post office during the 1870s.

Occasionally, the papers of that time also mention the names of those who had taken out marriage licenses around this romantic day.  A quick glance through Marriage Records, 1870 – 1879, Scott County Court House, Davenport, Iowa shows that while many marriage licenses were obtained on or around February 14th, this did not mean those headed for wedded bliss intended to celebrate the day with St. Valentine.  On average from 1870 – 1879, about three out of thirty marriages in February actually occurred on the 14th.  So, while Cupid’s arrow might jump start a man into springing for a license on the most romantic day of the year, weddings were far too serious a matter to leave to the dubious aim of the little winged dickens.

However, most couples didn’t wait too long: February actually was one of the busier months for marriage in Davenport in the 1870s.  And the slowest, you might ask?  That would be July–who wanted to wear heavy wedding clothes during the hottest month of the year, a century or so before air-conditioning?

Jumping ahead fifty years to the roaring twenties, we find newspapers detailing the marriages of those who chose to be married on St. Valentine’s Day  While the numbers actually appear relatively similar to those of the 1870s, the day seems much more connected to the idea of love and romance in the flowery description provided by the papers.

As you peek at other wedding announcements, it becomes obvious that young couples probably felt Cupid’s arrow just as strongly on their chosen day as if they were being married on St. Valentine’s Day.

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