Sexist, Suggestive and Politically Incorrect Vintage Valentines From Days Gone By

Nothing Like a Valentine Threat

nothing like a Valentine threat to warm a girl's heart.
nothing like a Valentine threat to warm a girl's heart. | Source

Who knew that back in the day, valentines were so full of veiled sexual innuendo and oddly violent entreaties? I had no idea until recently that it was commonplace to send valentines featuring guns in the 1930s, or that black-face valentines were considered cute?

Today, it's kind of the other way around. Valentines can very explicit and really funny when it comes to sex, but the overt racism, sexism and violence have been considerably toned down. Not sure what that says about society, but the valentines don't lie. They are full of bad puns and silly jokes,not to mention racism, sexism and some downright odd fetishes.

Back then, people traveled less, had no email or online dating services or chat rooms, and were lucky if they got to finish high school let alone go to college. People entered the workforce earlier and often took on adult responsibility by the age of 18, Finding a mate or just a romance was more difficult. There were restrictive rules and a limited pool of potential partners and Valentines reflected the social conditions of the time.

While "Bohemians" in Greenwich Village were indulging in what was referred to as " free love" at the turn of the 20th century, for ordinary folks out of wedlock sex was a scandal. Girls were expected to marry young and well, and men were expected to provide for their wives and families and whatever anybody did on the side was fine as along as they kept it quiet. An unmarried man with no prospects definitely did not get the girl. The idea of a couple living together without being married, let alone having casual sexual encounters, was unthinkable -- ditto same sex relationships. Women were in the kitchen and gays were in the closet. Minorities, particularly African Americans, were treated as figures of ridicule and nobody turned a hair at what today would be considered very offensive. Times were very different. As these vintage valentines show, the good old days were not always so good for everybody. .

What Is Up With All The Love Guns?

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Loaded with love? hmmmmmm
Loaded with love? hmmmmmm | Source

Nothing Like a Bulging Thermometer to Make a Girl Swoon

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Very Odd Valentines

Some guys like to be kicked around
Some guys like to be kicked around | Source
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not sure what the message is here
not sure what the message is here | Source

Racist and Sexist Valentines

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Most of these old fashioned valentines run to bad puns and even worse euphemisms.They at first seem rather silly and charmingly "dated" today, but some of them are down right shocking and there is a hidden thread of sadistic violence running through some of them as well.

The outright racism is also breath-taking. It's hard to imagine how hard life was for minorities back then. They seem to be invisible in valentines except as caricatures. One can hardly believe that a Chinese man bending over an ironing board is meant to be a funny image and that Valentine messages delivered in minstrel-show black dialect could be anything but offensive.

Valentines make a rather interesting social comment on how things were and I, for one, would say that, for the most part, things were not better back in what many consider to be " the good old days" Happy Valentine's Day everybody. Let's be glad that humanity is moving( albeit at at a snail's pace) towards more equality and more compassion and more of what the day is supposed to be about -- LOVE.

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Comments 53 comments

Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 4 years ago from United States

I was astounded. But if you read short stories from the 1890's through the 1920s you run into the same kind of stuff. Sure does seem offensive by today's standards. Thank you. I like to be astounded. :)


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

I was surprised too, Tom--amazing how quickly each generation forgets what went before. Thanks for reading and commenting.


Rosie2010 profile image

Rosie2010 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Hiya robie2, very interesting Valentine hub. Those old Valentine cards are very silly, to say the least, and a few are downright offensive. I'm glad that things have been improving, albeit slowly. Great job! Voted up and very interesting indeed. Cheers!

Happy Valentine's Day to you too,

Rosie


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi Rosie- thanks for your comment. Yup, nothing very loving about some of those valentines eh? The old days weren't so good it seems and I too am glad that things have been improving and glad you liked the hub


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

What an interesting look at a time not so far in the past. I'd like to say, "We've come a long way, baby," but I'm not so sure. I think a lot of the prejudices are still there, they just no longer have a socially acceptable outlet. Outstanding hub, Robie. As usual. And a Happy Valentine's Day to you. :)


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thanks ST and Happy V day to you too. A cogent and thoughtful comment as always. Thanks for stopping by and taking time to comment.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon

Now I must say that I was indeed LOL (laughing out loud) at some of these sexually suggestive Valentines - that thermometer and the "hammer it in" one. Oh wow. The racist ones are offensive indeed and sad, but such an interesting sign of the times, as you point out. Fascinating, interesting hub - rated up!


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

glad you liked it Steph-- yup at first I thought it was just my dirty mind, but the double meanings are really a hoot... odd that back then sex was taboo but racism and sexism were right out there on the table for all to see. Thanks for voting and commenting. Much appreciated


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 4 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

Hilarious...Thanks for a good laugh/


cr00059n 4 years ago

Sexist is the new Lilly Go Daisy for both Men and Woman. Its taken too a whole new level in those pictures posted. Some valentine day spirit is going towards the wrongly labeled sexuality messages. Thanks for sharing.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi Alek and cr00059-- thanks to you both for stopping by and commenting. crooo59-- not sure what Lilly Go Daisy means, but thanks for the comment anyway:-)


Tara 4 years ago

Holy cow - you definitely don't see cards like that these days.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

No you don't -- thank goodness :-)


Cheeky Girl profile image

Cheeky Girl 4 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

Very enlightening and informative! Not much changes in 100 years! Great hub!


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Yup, cheeky girl-- like they say... " the more things change etc. etc. etc" Glad you liked it and thanks for stopping by and commenting.


ElizaDoole profile image

ElizaDoole 4 years ago from London

Thanks for posting links to the cards. When I need to "hammer it in" I know where to go! Seriously though, they were shocking, sadistic and often racist, most certainly sexist. Entertaining hub.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Glad you enjoyed the Hub, Eliza-- so much for cupid and romance on Valentines Day-- it is rather shocking, isn't it?


livelonger profile image

livelonger 4 years ago from San Francisco

Wow, I found myself chuckling and gasping at each of these. All I can say is thank goodness for progress! What's clear is that back then people were happily ignorant about being offensive.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

Oh my goodness, I snorted my tea through my nose at some of these! The Valentines threats are rather strange - especially the gun with "you" coming out of the barrel. "Hi honey, I got a hitman for Valentine's Day! Surprise!"

And then the racist cards - wow. You read about how racist life was back then, but to see the cards so blatantly portraying racist stereotypes is shocking. Great hub!


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 4 years ago from Southeast Michigan

Racism was astonishingly prevalent in the popular culture of the 20th century. Just watch a few episodes of Gilligan's Island and you'll see how true this is.

I have to wonder what the people of 2050 will see when they look back on the popular culture of the 2000s and 2010s.

Voted up and interesting.


peepingtomb profile image

peepingtomb 4 years ago

A very interesting, entertaining and thought provoking article.

As a country, most of us have come a long way as far as racism and sexism is concerned. Most of those that haven't have at least learned the modern rule of political correctness.


Camille Harris profile image

Camille Harris 4 years ago from SF Bay Area

+1 Peepingtomb

Quite thought-provoking. I typically shy (okay, eschew) away from all things Valentine's, but this Hub was an exception. What a statement about those "good old days." Whenever someone claims things were better back then, I take a look at who I'm speaking with and do a quick re-evaluation of our relationship ;) Things may have been simpler, but they certainly weren't better, especially not for my relatives. Voting up!


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Ohmygosh look at all these comments! Yup Livelonger-- chuckling and gasping kind of sums it up doesn't it? and leahleflier, I agree the guns are kind of odd and phallic as Valentines symbols. Peerpingtomb(great name btw) I'm not sure how far we really have come if you consider that actions speak louder than words--at least I would say we still have a long way to go. Camille Harris-- we are totally on the same page about people who carry on about the good old days-- looking at the past with rose colored glasses is not productive IMHO.

Glad you all liked the hub and thanks for leaving such great comments.


chelseacharleston profile image

chelseacharleston 4 years ago

Interesting!! LOL


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Glad you liked it :-)


TheListLady profile image

TheListLady 4 years ago from New York City

What a super hub Robie2- thanks so much for putting this collection together. We tend to forget that violence, racism and sexism were so totally institutionalized in this society that it permeated absolutely everything including these cards. I went to movies as a child where Europeans regularly slaughtered the First People and the audience cheered. OMG! Talk about brainwashing.

I remember being taught by the Red Cross that African Americans could not swim and every athletic department taught us that running long distances was not possible for African Americans. Of course women could not drive, or do any job held by a man. Let's not forget that in many states, if not all, a husband had a right to beat his wife senseless.

A neighbor knew my young daughter was a reader and gave her a whole collection of the Bobsey Twins books. How often have you heard people rave about these books. The first one my daughter read and showed me included how the Bobsey Twins loved to go see the enslaved get beaten. This in a children's book.

The problem is those not affected by the recent horrors (if it occurred in my lifetime it is recent and I am still here) tend to dismiss it but inequities still remain and are far-reaching. For example, women still have to take a vow of abject poverty when becoming pregnant because the US does not believe in child benefits, paid maternity leave or even the right to free health care for a pregnant woman. She is rendered totally dependent. How empowering.

Many today will scream and rant that they had nothing to do with that era - yet they continue to reap all the benefits. Hmmmmmm.

Rated up! And thanks again.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thank you listlady. What an interesting comment. Ahhh yes, I remember being seriously told in 4th grade that the slaves were happy and better off working their asses off in cotton fields than they would have been in Africa-- even at that age, I knew that was a load of crap LOL.

I would also observe that when my grandmother graduated from college in 1909, she couldn't vote because she was a woman and that I have always taken my right to vote for granted. We really do stand on the shoulders of those who went before us and so often we don't even know it.

Was it Mark Twain who said " History doesn't repeat itself, it rhymes" Whoever said it, I agree.


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

These are pretty funny. Thanks for the laugh :)


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

glad I made you laugh Susan. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


mega1 profile image

mega1 4 years ago

I like valentine's day - in grade school! but since then, it just seems like a Hallmark holiday for people to flaunt and brag about their s.o. to people who don't have one! OK, I'm a bit dour. But I remember how in second grade I learned about "popularity" when I went home complaining to my mom that some of the kids got way more valentines than others! She said some kids were more "popular" and I should get used to it. But my friends mother when faced with the same dilemma marched down to the principal and insisted that all the kids from now on HAD to bring a valentine for everyone in the class or none at all! It was a big deal. I love the way the 50s and 60s were so "innocent" - more like "challenged", seems like.


TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

TIMETRAVELER2 4 years ago

Where in the world did you ever find valentine's like these! I couldn't believe what I was seeing, and I'm old also. Great hub!


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hello Mega1 and TIMETRAVELLER2-- nice to see you both and thanks for reading and commenting. I've always rather liked Valentines Day as it seems a rather gentle holiday, but when I kept coming across all these bizarre and quite violent valentines from the past I kinda changed my mind and a Hub was born LOL


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 4 years ago from Texas

I think I'd have to change my address if I received one of these for Valentine's day! ;D Voted up and interesting!


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Some of them are pretty scary, dontchathink?


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 4 years ago from Texas

Indeed! And they celebrate a "jealous" sort of "love" that used to be thought of as romantic. As far as I'm concerned, jealousy is a bigger deal-breaker than any other quality in a man.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Absolutely agree with you Suzanne-- actually I don't like jealousy or envy in anybody--even children:-)


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

Goodness, who'd have thought it! Great hub, very funny, voted up etc!


SanneL profile image

SanneL 4 years ago from Sweden

Don't know whether to laugh or cry!!

I can't believe these actually existed. However, these cards are an image of the society during which they were created.

Thanks for the research. This was an interesting hub indeed.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hello Judi and Sanne-- yes it is a bit of a shock to see how different the world looked to previous generations, isn't it? Thank you both for stopping by and I don't know whether to laugh or cry either, but I usually think it is better to laugh, if one can.


mizjo profile image

mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

Oh, Robie, what a great eye-opener! I had had a vague idea of racism in this country in the last few decades, but didn't know it was so thunder-and-lightning loud. (I'm an Asian immigrant).

Have you ever read Agatha Christie? I'm sure if she lived in these times she would be horrified by the overt racism in her mystery novels. A pink and white English complexion was the ultimate beauty, and darker complexions were disparagingly described. Even white Europeans were second class. I remember how resentful I was for her descriptions of Eastern and Middle Eastern people : chink, slant-eyed, sinister, underhand, sly, though they did not stop me from enjoying her novels. Of course, they were based in the early to mid part of the twentieth century, before air travel opened up people's minds and hearts and before the era of political correctness.


kittythedreamer profile image

kittythedreamer 4 years ago from the Ether

Wow! The racist ones at the end are the most shocking...though typical for that period in time, unfortunately. Sure gives us something to marvel at now, doesn't it? Voted up and interesting.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

mizjo and kitty-- amazing isn't it that a holiday that is about love can be remembered with such unpleasant tokens. The dark side of human nature is always there I guess. Thanks to both of you for reading and commenting. Glad you found this interestinfg


prasadjain profile image

prasadjain 4 years ago from Tumkur

It's funny. I didn't find them much sexy compared to online e-cards now a days being exchanged.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

you are right prasadjain, there is much more overt sex these days-- back then sex wasn't even talked about much less pictured-- but these old cards contain more veiled violence and some appalling racism and sexism under the surface


Happyboomernurse profile image

Happyboomernurse 4 years ago from South Carolina

This was a real eye opener for all the reasons you've stated.

We're prone to think of bygone eras as wholesome yet the reality is often far from the way we think things were.

Thanks for sharing this interesting hub about sexism, racism and what would now be considered politically incorrect valentines.

Voted up, useful and interesting.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thanks for stopping by Happyboomernurse-- totally agree that the good old days definitely had their downside. Always good to see you and glad you enjoyed this one.


ar.colton profile image

ar.colton 4 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

Holy phallic symbolism Batman (speaking of which...)

Thanks for sharing. It's always interesting to take a look at the past and how far we've come, and how far we have left to go. I was reading an article about old ads the other day. It was similarly shocking. Are you allowed to leave links in the comments?


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi ar. haha yeah dontcha just love that " hammer it in" valentine? sooooo romantic. I'd love to see your article about old ads and you can definitely leave a link here in the comments, but why don't you write a hub on the subject and come back and leave a link to your hub here instead:-)


Curiad profile image

Curiad 4 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

Laughs, I never looked at old Valentines. This is very interesting! Thank you robie:)

Voted Up!


Virginia Allain profile image

Virginia Allain 21 months ago from Central Florida

I have a collection of vintage valentines and some I hesitate to display for the reasons you mention here.


robie2 profile image

robie2 21 months ago from Central New Jersey Author

It's kind of amazing, isn't it? Thanks for stopping by Virginia, and taking the time to leave a comment. Much appreciated.


Hooks and Needles profile image

Hooks and Needles 19 months ago

The racist one is hard to believe. I guess the world has gotten better in some ways.


robie2 profile image

robie2 19 months ago from Central New Jersey Author

yup, pretty bad, but absolutely genuine, I assure you. The one with the Chinese guy slaving away at the ironing board Is pretty bad too. The good old days sure were not so good for everybody.

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