Hidden History of Valentine’s Day

On February 14th, we buy flowers, chocolates and gifts for our loved ones. Why do we do it? Some might do it out of fear of the wrath of their significant other, but I was curious to know the deeper history behind these traditions.

Why is it called “Valentine’s Day?”

The history of Valentine’s day started during the third century in Ancient Rome. The Roman Emperor Claudius II thought that single men made better soldiers, so he made a law that made it illegal for soldiers to get married.

A priest named Valentine was outraged at this injustice. Valentine continued to marry soldiers in secret out of defiance. The Emperor eventually learned about Valentine was doing and sentenced him to execution. Legend has it that while in jail, Valentine left a letter for the jailor’s blind daughter and signed it “From your Valentine” – a phrase that we still use today. (Don’t worry priests were allowed to get married back then. It wasn’t until 1193 A.D. that the Catholic church took a stand in favor of celibacy)

Why do we celebrate it on February 14th? The disturbing history of February 14th.

Valentine was executed on February 14th, 270 A.D. A few centuries later, in 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared February 14th to honor “Saint Valentine”.

Historians suggest that the Pope sought to replace the brutal Roman holiday of Lupercalia with a day to honor St. Valentine.

But why do we send each other flowers?

In 18th and 19th Century England and America, bathing was not yet a common practice. In order to mask their odor, women would carry around bouquets of flowers.

The practice of giving women flowers was made popular by “floriography” a cryptic “language of flowers” in which each flower has a specific meaning. In Victorian England, it would be possible to have an entire unspoken conversation based on the arrangement of flowers in a bouquet. These flowers would often be used to express desires that were not acceptable to be spoken aloud.

Language of Flowers
(image via Feri Tradition)
(Image via Amino Apps)


There is a lot of fun history tied up in this day of love and affection. If you are wondering something about Valentine’s day, or anything else, post it in the “I wonder…” section.

Hidden History of Dating at BC

We hear a lot about “hookup culture”, at BC and beyond. A lot of the blame falls on millennials who don’t know how to date.
This made me wonder about the history of dating at BC and when the hookup culture emerged, or if it has always existed on campus. I took a look into the archives of The Heights, the school newspaper, to find out. (Please note: This article draws upon mostly anecdotal evidence based on what I found in school newspapers and on the web.) 
Early 1900s
The introduction of new technology, such as the automobile, gave young people more independence from their parents. The modern concept of “dating” was born in the early 1900s and slowly replaced the previous method of “courtship” – which was basically a long audition for marriage, controlled by the couple’s parents. With dating, couples could meet up on their own, without the supervision of their parents. The man would often buy dinner and sometimes gifts for his romantic interest. During this time, BC was only for male students.
A student writes to The Heights to suggest that BC have two proms for people who are dating “two special girls”.
The first full-time undergraduate female students enroll in the Connell School of Nursing. Until this point, BC has been a completely male-only school.
A common complaint is that millennials don’t know how to talk face-to-face, and they text instead. This 1955 advertisement suggests that this behavior may have started before the cell phone was even invented. Looking to date a “cool chick”? Don’t ask her in person! The best way to do it is to telegram her!
Cool Chick
1960s – 70s
During the 60s and 70s, attitudes towards dating changed once again – just as they had changed from courtship to dating in the early 1900s. This was likely influenced by the empowerment of women during the Women’s Movement and the introduction of the birth control pill. During this period, young people started to move away from the traditional dating model and toward a more liberal approach to love. For some college students, physical pleasure took precedent over emotional intimacy and the “hookup culture” was born. In the decades to come, BC students would participate in this culture, although there was a growing frustration among many students about a lack of good old-fashioned dating.
Boston College becomes fully co-educational. Women may enroll in any of the College’s schools.
In the 1980s, students suggest that dating culture is severely lacking on campus.
Dust Bowl




In 1985, a BC student named Suzanne is frustrated that “guys at BC don’t date”. She hasn’t dated anyone at BC during her four years, despite the fact that she is “attractive” and doesn’t “scam” or “scrog” guys at Mary Ann’s Bar (weird brag, Suzzanne).
Much like today, John tells her that “bars are not the place to find sincerity.” But where can one find love if not at MA’s?
In an article around Valentine’s day in 1998, a senior student named Jennifer Blakeslee surveyed students about the dating scene. Most BC students replied that there is not a dating scene at BC. Blakeslee writes, “The problem is that a lot of college students just aren’t interested in the art of courtship anymore. A date on Friday night would mean giving up that BC party or going to that favorite bar.”
Jennifer makes the point that “Love is wonderful, but it is a sacrifice… the people who go on dates choose to make the sacrifice.” Jennifer suggests that if BC students want to go on dates, they should stop complaining about the lack of a dating culture and initiate a date themselves. This seems like good advice for us BC students in 2019 as well.
Screen Shot 2019-02-13 at 10.49.00 AM
The hookup culture is not a 21st century invention. At Boston College, hookup culture began before most of the current students were ever born. It has arguably existed for as long as BC has been a co-ed school. At one time, in the early 1900s, a more conventional form of dating was probably practiced, but that was not without its flaws either. Even back then, some people still telegrammed instead of talked!
This is not to say that the hook up culture should be dismissed or blindly accepted. Today, on campus, there are couples dating. We get to make a choice whether we accept the culture, or ask that cute girl/ guy out for milkshakes at Cafe Landwer (my personal recommendation for a first date). Other great date ideas can be found on thebostoncalendar.com and The Eagle’s Guide to Boston.
Perhaps what we are missing most is not necessarily dating, but quality time spent with one another. We live such busy lives that it is becoming increasingly difficult to block out time to deepen your connection with someone, especially someone who you don’t know yet.
Asking someone on a date might just be worth the shot. Now if only you had a telegram… then you would be completely irresistible.
*Disclaimer: I do not speak for Boston College’s views on hookup culture, etc. I am just having fun digging into history.*
1. The Heights Archives

What Hidden History is all about

Hidden History was an idea I had when I was daydreaming in my biology class.

The world around us is pretty interesting, and also pretty weird. On this blog, I am going to try to uncover some stories about how things got to be the way they are. I am going to ask questions like;

Why is Boston College called “the Eagles”?

When did chewing gum become a thing?

What is the story behind the word ‘hangover’?

This is an experiment in curiosity, and I hope that it will help you and me see the world around us with more clarity and wonder.

So welcome aboard! This is going to be fun. If you have something you are curious about, you can post it in the “I wonder…” tab. If you get that itch to know the answer, go ahead and do some research, and I will publish what you find on this website.

My friends in good stories… let’s do this.

“When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.” — Walt Disney