By JIM ZBICK

jzbick@tnonline.com

In his Valentine's Day message to readers a century ago, a writer for the Tamaqua Courier yearned for former days when men took pen to paper and crafted their own personal thoughts to the one close to their hearts.

"Years ago, if the lacey affairs they sold in the stores were not warm enough in their displays of ardor, the lover took pen and ink and drew his own hearts and cupids, and created his own selection of adjectives to set forth his torrid affection," he stated on the day before Valentine's Day in 1912.

He reminisced about an old German-made valentine he once saw in which the front showed a young man sitting dejectedly and looking forlorn and lonesome. When the recipient pulled a cleverly concealed string on the card, the same man appeared, this time "wreathed in smiles" after having experienced the bliss of marriage.

"Most of us grownups can remember when we too used to dispatch valentines expressing warm sentiment," he wrote. "With bashful and sheepish faces we looked over the stock at the stationery store. How we debated over the choice, wanting in our heart of hearts to send the most fervent of all, yet not quite daring."

After selecting the perfect card, and then mailing it out, the wait for a reply could be painful. It also took courage to walk the street, for fear of meeting the girl face to face.

In his article, the Courier writer contrasted the good old days with his early 20th century generation. He pointed out that many modern girls even looked on such "chivalrous acts" as composing a Valentine's day card to be somewhat humorous.

"Our young folks of today have too keen a sense of humor for that sort of thing," he explained. "Where her mother cherished the fond missive in her bosom, her daughter of 1912 would show it to all her mates and great would be the laughter for many a day."

He said it was unfortunate that, more and more, the young people of 1912 were choosing not to display their emotions or sentiments.

"Valentine's Day has descended to a smaller group of youngsters who swap picture post cards, expressing sentiments which their innocent little hearts do not recognize," he said.

A month earlier, in an editorial titled "Ladies' choice," a Courier writer said that since it was a leap year, the time had arrived for women to "take the initiative in love."

"Although women are said not to do the proposing, they are much like the spider who sits still while the fly enters the wide-spread web," he said.

To prove his point, the writer said a person needed to look no farther than the dance floor.

"Dancing is so charming an amusement that people ought to keep it up until rheumatism retires them," he mused.

Judging from the "unmannerly selfishness" he witnessed on the dance floor, however, he felt that "women should make the very most of their privileges to take the initiative in love."

The writer said the dance floor was a good barometer on the matchmaking-dating ritual of the day. He explained how looks, including the fashions, can be superfluous and deceiving when weighed against true love and romance.

"Frilly, fluffy, flower faced debutantes are surrounded with suitors knee deep," he observed. "Meanwhile, sager damsels, guilty of a few more years and discretion – often very rhythmic and graceful dancers – remain mere wall flowers."

He said that beneath the veneer of low bows and wide smirks, "mankind shows up as a selfish beast."

"He rarely looks about him to see which of his friends is begging for a few crumbs of notice from his table," he added, but instead he is drawn to "the favorites of fashion."

On the other hand, he said it seemed hardly worthwhile for a girl so "caught up in the coqetteries" to abase herself to a man with whom she has so little in common.

A few months earlier, the editorial writer for the Courier explained how the "growing aggressiveness of femineity" was becoming more noticeable every day in society.

"It once held that young unmarried women must take a very passive attitude in the matter of giving invitations to social pleasures," he stated. "They could give parties in their homes, but their general conduct toward the male sex was marked by an undignified aloofness. Their attitude toward friends and suitors alike was very like that of the old-time statesman that "the office must seek the man," and that "the girl who made herself too common must seem less desirable."

But, he explained, this was a new day. To illustrate, he said the businessman no longer sits in his store and waits for trade to come to him. He advertises and sends salesmen on the road.

This same concept in modern advertising has "penetrated even the heart of maidenhood," he said. "She hunts young masculinity down to his business lair, where the telephone is besieged with invitations to picnics, excursions and athletics."

Still, he said females have the ability to mask their actions "in a pretense of aloofness, so that the duller masculine man's mind really thinks he is making the advances."