Writing a letter may seem outdated in the modern era since we can now communicate instantly via texting, email, and video calls but for most of human history snail mail was the dominant form of communication. Letters told the news from home, conducted business, or even proposed marriage. Many different aspects of love and courtship have taken place through the mail over the years. Love letters slipped into a classmate’s desk, flowery declarations of love, and epistles formally asking a father for permission to court his daughter are all included in this exhibit. Love and courtship does not always end happily ever after and the more painful side is seen in a letter rejecting a suitor.
Although mail is no longer the prevailing form of communication as it was prior to the inventions of the telephone and internet, 155 billion pieces of mail are sent through the United States Postal Service each year. Many people continue to use the mail system to send holiday cards, packages, and letters to loved ones.
One day when the written word is still used to express love and affection is Valentine’s Day. Legend has it that a jailed priest signed a letter to a woman he had fallen in love with “from your valentine,” starting the tradition of sending written notes of affection. In the 1500s valentine messages began to be sent to loved ones. In the mid-1800s commercially printed valentines started to be produced in the United States, often depicting Cupid or hearts.
To the left you can see examples of Valentine's Day cards that were sent by Amherst residents throughout the years.
This exhibit was originally on display in the Jones Library Special Collections in January/February 2016 and has now been made available digitally.