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Cold, Chilly Victorian Winter

February 18th, 2022

By Mel Oles, Visitor Services and Programs Manager At Rose Hill Mansion and Johnston House

a men and woman standing next to snowbanks on Seneca Street

Seneca Street

February is the shortest month of the year and hopefully warm weather is on its way. But it still begins to get dark at 4:00 pm and it tends to be windy, cold, and snowy for a couple more weeks. It is hard to move around Geneva or anywhere in the northeast with these past snowstorms. Especially when the snow turns to ice and the snow drifts.

Victorians like the Swan family at Rose Hill would have enjoyed activities in the snow like us. In 1882 The American Boy’s Handy Book: What to Do and How to Do gave instructions on how to make a sleigh, have a snowball fight and build iceboats.  These activities would help keep children active during the winter days.  After fun activities outside children and adults could warm themselves by the fire with hot cocoa.  At Rose Hill, we have a chocolate service set that belonged to the Swan family on display in the Upstairs Sitting Room (How is a chocolate pot different?  While teapots are short and squat, coffee pots are tall with long spouts and chocolate pots are tall with shorter pitcher like spouts).

Another inside activity was playing board games.  Board games were extremely popular during the Victorian period.  They were different from our board games today because they often had moral instruction and religious training.  During the Civil War some of the board games took on a military theme.  With the raise of the middle class in the 1880s the games contained a banking element as well.  One of the first American board game was the Mansion of Happiness in 1843.  The object of the game was to teach children the difference between good and bad behavior.  The Swan family enjoyed playing a Lotto, a bingo-like game.

Valentine postcard with two cupids posing with a large heart

Courtesy Beatrice Litzinger Postcard Collection, National Museum of American History

February is the month often associated with Valentine Day which warms the heart. During a time of strict social rules Valentines were tokens that could be exchanged between men and women.  Handmade with lace and full of little cupids, Victorian valentines were works of art.   The period between the 1840s and the 1860s is known as the “Golden Age of Valentines.”    Many valentines were kept in scrapbooks.  Currently on view at the Geneva History Museum are scrapbooks kept by Genevans.

To keep warm and busy make your own Victorian valentine for someone special.   For a homemade valentine all you need are materials like paper-lace, doilies, heart shape paper, Victorian imagery of flowers or birds, and a sweet message.

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