During WWII, North Dakota kids traded in their Valentines to help the war effort, while adults sent Camels

On Valentine's Day 1942, the war was less than three months old, but children were already in the fight.

With World War II just beginning around Valentine's Day 1942, the U.S. Treasury sent training materials about war bonds and defense stamps to teachers so students could learn about math while helping the war effort.
John Vachon / Library of Congress

FARGO — As great as history books are, some of the best lessons about a particular period of time can be found in the newspaper - not just from the headlines of the day, but from what movies were playing, what styles people were wearing and how advertisers were shaming women into believing their husbands wouldn’t stray if they just bought the right deodorant.

This rings true for newspapers I recently discovered from the first Valentine's Day of World War II. "The Hope Pioneer" was a weekly paper published from 1883 to 1964 serving residents of Griggs and Steele County, North Dakota. The two issues I found surrounding Valentine’s Day 1942 showed something kind of interesting.

It was evident from the words and photos on these newspaper pages that despite the war having begun, for the most part, life was carrying on much like it always had, but there were hints that that was starting to change.

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Butter and sugar anyone?

Keep in mind, the United States was only 69 days into World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor happening a little more than two months earlier. It’s pretty clear rationing was not yet in effect when you look at the recipes in the “Valentine Day Supper Party,” by columnist Lynn Chambers. The dishes including St. Valentine’s Day Cake with 7-minute frosting and meringues with strawberry ice cream include both butter and sugar, which would be rationed by the U.S. government just three months later in May of 1942.


Here is the suggested Valentine's Day meal from 1942 columnist Lynn Chambers. In just three months some of these recipes might not have been practical as rationing of butter and sugar went into effect in May of 1942.
The Hope Pioneer/via

Children helping the cause

While the war might not quite have reached our kitchens in February 1942, it had hit the classroom.

Elementary school students in Hope chose not to spend money on valentines that year. Instead, they took up a collection to purchase defense stamps.

The Hope Pioneer applauded elementary students in Feb, 1942 for foregoing Valentines in favor of supporting the war effort.
The Hope Pioneer/via

“Friday afternoon under the guidance of Miss A. Sandness they (the fifth and sixth graders)  went to the post office to buy the stamps.”

At the time the U.S. Treasury Department was encouraging teachers like Miss Sandness to use defense stamps as a way to teach math skills and aid in the war effort.

In early 1942, photographer John Vachon took photos of how schools across America, including in North Dakota, were getting into the spirit, even turning Valentine's Day as an opportunity to raise money for America's WWII effort.
John Vachon/Library of Congress

All of the stamps collected would then be put in collection booklets. The filled collection booklets could later be used to purchase Series E War Bonds.

Despite the war being just weeks old, the students were on board, even if it meant no valentines for them.

“Without valentines, but with the happy feeling of owning defense stamps, thus far totaling $87.75, these children are proving their American spirit.” 


Sending Camels to war

Some of the most enlightening content found in old newspapers are advertisements. The ads can be disgustingly sexist, laugh-out-loud funny, and wildly outlandish (sometimes all at the same time). Don’t take my word for it, just try Googling “Vintage Ads” sometime and you’ll be in for a laugh.

The Valentine's issues of "The Hope Pioneer" from 1942 didn't disappoint. While school children were buying defense stamps, adults were being encouraged by Wall Street to send cigarettes to their soldiers.

This ad for Camels declares that sales records prove that military men prefer Camels over other cigarettes. The company even gave customers already-wrapped cigarettes with instructions for mailing during the war.

Advertisers were busy in the early days of the World War II trying to convince loved ones to send cigarettes to their soldiers.
The Hope Pioneer/via

A story in the February 19th edition summarizes Valentine's Day in that first full year of World War II, a time when Valentine's greetings serve to “boost people’s courage and help them keep going." But the story noted showing love on red paper cupids or in heart-shaped cakes isn’t the only way to do it.

“This year, people think it best not to give so many valentines and valentine gifts as in years before; however there is plenty of room in the world today for the gift of love and kindness.” 

That still rings true 81 years later.

Take a closer look at the newspaper pages:

Check out the 1942 Valentine's Day Recipes here:


Tracy Briggs Back Then with Tracy Briggs online column sig.jpg
Tracy Briggs, "Back Then with Tracy Briggs" columnist.
The Forum

Hi, I'm Tracy Briggs. Thanks for reading my column! I love going "Back Then" every week with stories about interesting people, places and things from our past. Check out a few below. If you have an idea for a story, email me at

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Tracy Briggs is an Emmy-nominated News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 35 years of experience, in broadcast, print and digital journalism.
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