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A History Note: Love in the archives, or, 19th century valentines

Once more beneath the patronage of good St. Valentine,
Who ever cheers us with his day when we our hopes resign;
Again I come fair lady mine some tribute slight to bring,
And wish thee health and happiness for the ensuing spring.


The Wilkes Family Papers in the department of Special Collections at the J. Murrey Atkins Library include a single folder of valentines sent to Jane Smedberg before her marriage to John Wilkes in 1854. Though there is little indication of Smedberg's response to her suitors, one note dated February 14, 1852 makes clear that not all entreaties were well received:

Your note of the 14th has been received,
At least it's from you or I'm much deceived,
It's contents I note less in anger than sorrow,
But I hope that next time you'll some charity borrow.


After marrying John Wilkes, Jane Smedberg moved from her home in New York to St. Catherine's Mills outside of Charlotte. Today, Jane Wilkes is known as "the Godmother of North Carolina Hospitals." During the Civil War, she worked as a nurse in Confederate hospitals. As a member of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Charlotte, she served as an officer of the parish's Church Aid Society from its organization in 1875 until her death. In 1876, the society established the state's first civilian hospital, the Charlotte Home and Hospital, which was merged with the publicly-funded Charlotte Memorial Hospital in 1940. She also helped found the city's Good Samaritan Hospital, which opened in 1891 as one of the nation's first hospitals built for African-Americans.

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