Esther Howland born in 1828 in Worcester, Mass., and a Mount Holyoke alumna, is credited with having established the commercial valentine industry in the United States, a Mount Holyoke official said. Howland, who graduated from what was then the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1847, was inspired to create elaborate renditions of an ornate valentine sent to her by a family friend in England.
The American Antiquarian Society said Howland was fascinated with the idea of making similar valentines, and she arranged with her father -- who owned the largest book and stationery store in Worcester -- to have paper lace, floral decorations and other materials sent to her from England.
She created Valentines using the materials with messages such as: "Weddings now are all the go, Will you marry me or no?"
The handmade Valentines were popular and Howland recruited friends to help her keep up with the demand.
She advertised in a Worcester newspaper in 1850, and eventually turned the assembly line operation that began in her home into a thriving business, grossing $100,000 annually.
In 1881, she retired and sold her business to the George C. Whitney Co. She died in 1904.
Donated by card collector Marjorie Eames in 1993, the Mount Holyoke valentine collection spans the 1840s to the 1980s and contains several original valentines made by Howland's New England Valentine Co. in the 1870s, as well as some by George C. Whitney.