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The Businesswoman Who Changed Valentine’s Day + Printable Valentines

The Businesswoman Who Changed Valentine’s Day + Printable Valentines


As you walk around the grocery store this week and see all the Valentine's Day cards for sale, you might be wondering "what's up with this love business?"

Did you know that it wasn’t always common to get a romantic card on February 14th? In the U.S., this all changed thanks to one savvy entrepreneur. Her name was Esther Howland. 

Born in 1828, Howland would transform the holiday card industry from her home in Worcester, Massachusetts. When she was 19 years old, her father returned from a trip to Europe and brought her a beautiful card decorated with lace and flower cut-outs. At that time, these elaborate cards could only be found in Europe and were expensive to purchase in the United States. This gave Howland an idea: why not make beautiful cards like these for cheaper so that more Americans could afford them?


Esther Howland
The American artist and businesswoman Esther Howland (1828–1904)


Now let’s be clear. Esther Howland did not invent the Valentine’s Day card. People had been sending valentine's messages for hundreds of years, dating back to at least the 15th century. But until the 1800s, giving out valentines to celebrate love had not been very popular in the United States. By the 1840s, times were changing, and there was a new interest in Valentine's Day. 

Excited by her idea, Howland set to work making the lace-decorated valentines. She hired a small team of friends to help. Together, the women worked out of a room in her Massachusetts home. As she hoped, Americans were drawn to their delicate and innovative cards. Sources state that, during the 1850s, Howland earned $100,000 annually (about $3 million in today’s money)! 


Esther Howland's House

Esther Howland and her team worked out of a room on the third floor of her home in Massachusetts.
Image credit: American Antiquarian Society, CC BY-SA 4.0.


As her business grew, Howland suffered a knee injury and began using a wheelchair. Just a few years later, her card-making business officially became the New England Valentine Company, and her decorative cards were famous throughout the United States. She later earned the title “Mother of the American Valentine” and was known as “New England’s first career woman.”

In order to care for her ailing father, Howland sold her company to the Whitney Company where her creations continued to sell until 1942. Although the company ended, the legacy of her Valentine’s Day cards would not be forgotten. 


Esther Howland Valentines
Valentines by Esther Howland, 1850-1860. Image credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


For better or for worse, Esther Howland’s cards transformed Valentine’s Day into a commercial phenomenon. In many ways, she helped create this business of love and paved the way for the greeting card industry as we know it today. So the next time you're in the grocery store and see the holiday cards for sale, you can think of Esther Howland the Mother of the American Valentine. 

This Valentine’s Day, we’re sharing some of our own Honest History cards to celebrate love and friendship. And the good news? They’re free! Print, cut out, and share your favorite messages with your friends, family, and admirers in your life.


Honest History Valentine's Day Cards 


Further Reading