Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




"In Praise of Bishop Valentine" is a cultural history of Valentine's Day in the American antebellum Northeast. By the middle of the nineteenth century, residents of England and North America had been observing February 14th with various folk customs for centuries. In the early 1840s, however, Northern businessmen and women discovered an enthusiastic and consumptive market for their ready-made valentines. Within a matter of years these merchants' efforts to sell printed cards fundamentally changed the way saint's day was marked. Valentine's Day had become one of the most celebrated holidays of the year and an occasion, specifically, for buying and exchanging manufactured sentiments.;New media and businesses helped to popularize February 14th, in the process taking a novel form of urban youth culture and rapidly dispersing it throughout the region. as it spread, Valentine's Day helped to define a new social category, youth, by working to guide young men and women through premarital sexual temptations and to accustom them to the emotional expressiveness that would soon define the Victorian marriage. The new holiday tradition of exchanging numerous missives riveted antebellum youthful interest for two basic reasons. By intentionally obscuring their mass-produced qualities in order to accentuate individual distinctiveness and convey a personal aura, ready-made cards provided young men and women with a way to use commercial goods to convey authentic, individual sentiments. Furthermore, so-called comic valentines, which soon rivaled sentimental notes in sales, vented youthful exasperation with middle-class sentimentalism, while simultaneously familiarizing individuals with certain middle-class values. Much of this unique, early-industrial February 14th commercial culture did not survive past the Civil War. But for more than a decade it remained an important product of and force in an increasingly industrial, market-oriented, and mobile Northern society.



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