Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history.

Gift giving can be hard work. Things that were once thoughtful gifts might seem like bad ideas today. Here are some examples from our museum collection of what not to give your special someone this Valentine’s Day.

1. A Sexist Greeting Card. Nothing screams romance like asking your valentine to repair your clothing. It is hard to say what Ellen Olstad of Galesburg might have thought about this card when she received it in the 1930s, but I bet you can do better.

An old Valentine's Day card of a dark haired boy with big, blue eyes who's trying to sew a button onto his blue and black checkered pants for his red suspenders. The card reads Now is the time for some good girl to come to the aid of this party.

I would let him figure it out himself. SHSND 1993.19.22

2. Hairy Accessories. Gifts that fit your valentine’s interests are always a good idea. But maybe don’t make an arts and crafts project out of your own hair. I’ve touched on the strangeness of hair art in a previous blog. And here is another example. Peter Davidson lived in Hatton and later in Arnegard with his wife, Hilda. By wearing this watch chain, Davidson displayed both his membership in the Modern Woodmen of America organization and his devotion to whoever braided it.

A braided necklace made of dark hair hair with a leaf charm hanging from the middle.

It would be hard to forget (or forgive) any gift made of hair. SHSND 1990.280.1

3. Lethal Irons. Unless specifically requested, housekeeping items make terrible gifts. Especially ones that can kill you. Asbestos sad irons were all the rage before the rise of the electric iron. These featured a removable asbestos-lined cover that fit over the heated metal iron. The asbestos cover worked great to keep the iron hot and the handle cool. Too bad asbestos is the leading cause of mesothelioma commercials in the United States. Ah, but the ease of housework! Laundry room equipment contained asbestos for decades. So, while the women in Jessie Hunter Lorenz’s family in Pembina pressed their clothes with the asbestos iron in the early 1900s, the Weinrebe family in Minot cooled their irons on this asbestos iron pad in the 1950s.

A metal iron and cover are shown next to a sign advertising the asbestos iron cover that reads No-Lift Iron Pad: Fireproof, asbestos, protects board and ironing cover, non-skid surface. Saves Time. Saves Energy. Just Slide it On.

Best to avoid giving cancer-causing household items this Valentine’s Day. SHSND 1995.37.55, 1993.33.106

I’ll leave you with this parting advice when it comes to last-minute gifts for your sweetie:

Doing the ironing for your valentine. Good gift.
Giving your valentine an iron. Bad gift.
Giving your valentine a deadly iron. Really bad gift.