University of Virginia: Celebrate the Day With Vintage Valentines From UVA Special Collections

The University of Virginia’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library holds more than 3.6 million items in its archives – among them delicate cards, miniature books and personal albums, all celebrating love.

To mark Valentine’s Day this year, UVA Today dug into the archives with two Special Collections staff members – Holly Robertson, an exhibits coordinator; and curator Krystal Appiah – to find vintage valentines, notes, photos and ephemera.

While the origin of many of the library’s valentines are a mystery, a few have stories attached. A 178-year-old valentine, sent by an unknown soldier to Mary Berdan, daughter of the first mayor of Toledo, Ohio, contains a handwritten poem full of yearning that ends with resignation: “I’ve thought of thee, Mary/As designed for another/And all that I can ask/Is to be thought of as a brother.” According to archive notes, the valentine was treasured by Berdan and passed down from one generation to the next until it was donated to the University by Berdan’s grandson, William Murphy, in 1964.

Another item, a scrapbook that once belonged to a woman named Jessie Fuller, who was born in Chicago in 1926 and attended Hampton Institute from 1945 to 1949, contains valentines and notes from friends, as well as mementos from her sorority and photos of her basketball team.

“I love using the album in classes because students relate well to a peer from another historical era,” Appiah said in an email. “There’s a misconception that archives are only about serious research; but students always laugh and get excited as they leaf through the album in response to the joy that Jessie documents about belonging to a sorority, hanging out with her friends, and going to dances. African American history is so often limited to the difficult parts, like slavery and Jim Crow, but this album is a wonderful record of joy and social bonds.”

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