In the Valentine’s Day archives: Love from presidents

Valentine’s Day is an occasion when many Americans, including presidents, celebrate love and romance. ShareAmerica looks back at how presidents have shown their affection and how valentine cards have changed over the decades:

George Washington shows devotion to Martha

On June 23, 1775, during the Revolutionary War, General George Washington penned a letter from Philadelphia to his wife, Martha, telling her he couldn’t wait to see her. In one of only three surviving letters between George and Martha, the future president writes, “I retain an unalterable affection for you, which neither time, nor distance can change,” and signs the letter, “Your entire, George Washington.” (After her husband’s death in 1799, Martha destroyed almost all of their correspondence.)

Herbert Hoover can take a joke

While the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum has no valentine from Herbert Hoover to his wife, Lou, it archives Valentine’s Day cards from hundreds of Americans, including many children, to the 31st president.

During World War I, well before he would be elected president, Hoover headed what was then called the U.S. Food Administration, where he encouraged Americans to eat less so soldiers could eat more, a term known as “Hooverizing” in the day’s parlance. “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” helped the U.S. double its food shipments to Europe within a year, according to the library.

Valentine card mentioning eating less (Courtesy of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum)
A 1918 valentine card refers to austerity measures Herbert Hoover pushed during World War I. (Courtesy of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum)

The austerity campaign also inspired card makers to design valentines that say, “I can Hooverize on dinners, and on lights and fuel, too, but I’ll never learn to Hooverize, when it comes to loving you!”

Harry Truman sends double message to Bess

Harry Truman (the 33rd president) sent his wife, Bess, an ornate valentine with a love poem printed inside. But because she was born on February 13, he also writes “Happy Birthday” above the poem, getting double duty from the card.

Left: Cover of elaborate valentine/birthday card that Harry Truman gave to his wife Right: Harry and Bess Truman on their wedding day (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum/National Archives and Records Administration)
The elaborate valentine/birthday card that Harry S. Truman gave to his wife, Bess. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum/National Archives and Records Administration)

Ronald Reagan’s middleman woos Nancy

Ronald Reagan, the 40th president, sent a valentine to his wife, Nancy, that he cleverly addressed to St. Valentine, the patron saint of lovers.

Copy of handwritten letter (Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)
A valentine from Ronald Reagan to Nancy. (Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)

Reagan writes: “Could you on this day whisper in [Nancy’s] ear that someone loves her very much and more and more each day? Also tell her, this ‘Someone’ would run down like a dollar clock without her, so she must always stay where she is.”

Barack Obama includes daughters

Over time, presidents have added social media greetings to the letters and cards they might employ to communicate their love.

Former President Barack Obama, the 44th president, took to Twitter on Valentine’s Day last year to greet not just his wife, Michelle, but also their daughters, Sasha and Malia, who grew up in the White House.

The tweet features a family photo and says, “Happy Valentine’s Day to the three who never fail to make me smile. Your dazzling light makes everything brighter.”

President Biden uses term of affection for Jill

Also on Valentine’s Day 2021, President Biden (the 46th president) tweeted a photograph taken on Inauguration Day of him embracing the first lady, Jill. The tweet reads: “The love of my life and the life of my love. Happy Valentine’s Day, Jilly.”

As Americans of all ages celebrate their friendships and loves this February 14, they know their leaders are likely expressing their own sentimental feelings in their own way.