Before texting and e-mail, there were penned messages of affection

"My Darling, Lovable hubby, Say, I am really getting good beginnings on my letters now, aren't I, or don't you like them? Who am I trying to kid?" Love letters. A lost art some say. Certainly now a piece of history. In the letter above that Betsy...

Sisters Lois, Irene Kay and Marion Randolph wrote hundreds of letters back and forth with their eventual husbands. Scattered among the letters are valentines from 1891. Below, while Charles Hamilton was away, he sent various leather postcards to his girlfriend Olive Sturtevant back home in Detroit Lakes. They later married in Nebraska in 1909. Photo courtesy of Becker County Historical Society

“My Darling, Lovable hubby, Say, I am really getting good beginnings on my letters now, aren’t I, or don’t you like them? Who am I trying to kid?”

Love letters. A lost art some say. Certainly now a piece of history.

In the letter above that Betsy “Slim” wrote to her husband, dated Oct. 3, 1945, she continues on to say, “Darling, I have reformed. I now go to bed every night between 8:30 and 10:00.

“You see, honey, I’m getting caught up with my sleep now, for I know that when you come home, I won’t get much sleep, or should I say, too much sleep. Of course, darling, you wouldn’t understand just what I mean now would you?”

At the end of her letter, Slim signs her letter with a lipstick kiss with the word “yummy” written next to it.


“This is a piece of history that is lost,” Becker County Historical Society Executive Director Amy Degerstrom said. “People don’t write letters anymore, well, not many people anyway.” Most communication in today’s society is in the form of text messages or e-mails.

Back when writing letters was popular though, there was no other means other than pen and paper, and sending them in the mail.

“These are a window into the daily life of these people. Today, we wouldn’t often see that because our communication is so disposable,” Degerstrom said.

The museum has several families’ love letters in the collection, not to mention some old Valentine’s Day cards. The love letters are mainly from wartimes when husbands and wives wrote back and forth, the only way to keep in touch.

Hildred “Shelley” Shelland and her husband, Frank Long, wrote letters back and forth while he served in World War II. But before all those letters, there was a Dear John letter as well, a favorite of museum staff to read.

“Dear Arthur, I don’t know how to write this but I thought that you should be the first to know that I think I have fallen in love with a local school teacher whom I have known only a relatively short time. He has to go in the Army after school is out so I don’t know whether we will be married before then or not.

“My mother is going to be very disappointed because she had planned so much on you and I being married, maybe even this summer. Please don’t think too harshly of me because I still wish a lot of happiness for you.”



Hildred went on to marry Frank Long in March of 1942.

The love letters between the husband and wife were very playful and sweet, though not romantic.

The museum has the letters from both sides, both Hildred and Frank.

“Frank wasn’t particularly romantic. He just wrote about what he was doing,” Degerstrom said.

Frank was a photographer in the war and would tell his wife back home about his photography, as much as the government would allow anyway.

“If you read through them, they were very practical people,” Degerstrom said. “They obviously enjoyed each other’s company. They were very fun-loving people.”

When Hildred didn’t know Frank’s location during the war, she would send messages via victory mail, which was censored, of course, and then put on microfilm. When it was delivered to the recipient, it was then printed off to read. The museum also has a stack of those letters between the Longs.

The couple purchased the island on Cotton Lake, which they named Shelley Island, Shelley being Hildred’s nickname.


Another family’s love letters, these much more romantic and passionate, came from sisters Marion, Lois and Irene Kay Randolph and their three eventual husbands.

The letters are from 1933 to the ’40s, during the war.

“All of these are very much of an era,” Degerstrom said.

From her boyfriend, Tex, Irene Kay received this letter:

“Dearest Kay, The second mail just came and there was no letter from my Kay. Who’s my rival, honey? Am I losing my rating or something. I’m lonesome, aren’t you? Maybe I’ll get a letter later in the day.”

Degerstrom said that from the volume of the letters in both the Long and the Randolph families, the people wrote letters either daily or at least several times per week. She said it would have been difficult back then, when letters were the only means of communication and if it was heard on the radio back home that something bad had happened in the war, it could be a week or more before receiving a letter from a loved one saying they were unharmed.

“We don’t have a concept of that anymore, because everything is so instant now,” she said.

Letters weren’t the only things showing love, either. Valentines were much more artful and beautiful, made of cut paper and lithograph. Valentines are still not out of place today, though; people still customarily give out valentines on Feb. 14.


It’s a way of showing affection, one that was probably considered publicly appropriate 100 years ago. Things could be said in a valentine that maybe couldn’t be face-to-face. It also gave secret admirers a chance to profess their love.

“It’s an interesting reflection on culture and what was appropriate,” Degerstrom said.

For more of a look at historic love letters and valentines, contact the Becker County Historical Society at 847-2938.

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