This post was written by Tyron Bey, the 2023-2024 Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.
During my time as Teacher in Residence, I’ve found many items throughout the Library that help to make towering figures of history a little more human. No emotion is more human than that of love. In honor of Valentine’s Day, venture through the Library’s collection and get a dose of dopamine through the annals of love. Then, complete fun family activities to explore love in your family and community.
George Washington’s Love Poems
Did you know that the first 23 Presidents’ papers are housed here at the Library of Congress? In addition to history-changing documents such as the handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence, the Library collections contain items like an acrostic poem in George Washington’s personal papers. An acrostic poem is a poem you write by spelling a word down the margin of a page. Each letter serves as the first letter of a line of the poem. This is transcribed as written by young George himself.
From your bright sparkling Eyes, I was undone;
Rays, you have, more transparent than the sun,
Amidst its glory in the rising Day,
None can you equal in your bright array;
Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind;
Equal to all, but will to none Prove kind,
So knowing, seldom one so Young, you’l Find
Ah! woe’s me that I should Love and conceal,
Long have I wish’d, but never dare reveal,
Even though severely Loves Pains I feel;
Xerxes that great, was’t free from Cupids Dart,
And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart.
The poem is evidence that the love bug bites everyone, even the Father of the Nation. These activities take a cue from George Washington and might engage your young readers.
- Finish the poem by adding the letters NDER. Some examples could include:
- Nice is your hair with its lavender smell
- Regal is your pose from your feet to your nose
- Write your own acrostic poem that focuses on a loved one in your family
- Think of characteristics you admire in this person
- Think about what activities they like to do and some of their favorite places
- Consider explaining how this person makes you feel
- Try to make these words connect with the letters in your loved one’s name to start each line of a poem
- If you’re having a hard time thinking of a poem, take a picture with a loved one doing an activity, then write a description of the picture. Do any of the descriptive words you used start with the same letters as their name? This brainstorming could fuel your creativity.
Sumner Grant Collection, Veterans History Project
The Library of Congress’s interest in love letters isn’t just limited to famous people. While as a private in the U.S. Army, Private Sumner Grant would write his fiancée letters and illustrate the envelopes. The illustrations showed his daily life as a soldier, as well as several showing his love for his fiancée. After Grant died, his fiancée — now his widow —donated his letters to the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress, which collects, preserves, and makes accessible recollections of U.S. military veterans.
Using the envelopes for inspiration, families can:
- Write letters to loved ones far away and draw a picture of the topic on your envelope
- Write your address in the top left corner of the envelope. This way if your letter is lost, it can be returned.
- In the middle of the envelope, write the address of the person receiving the letter. Be sure to include:
- Street Address
- City, State, and zip code. (Without the zip code, your letter will not be delivered.)
- In the top right corner, place a postage stamp.
- Look at Grant’s entire collection of envelopes, available at this link.
- Create a story with your family about what the contents of the letter say based on the pictures on the outside of the envelope.
James Madison’s and Catherine “Kitty” Ford Lockets
A final example is from the Rare Books and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress. There you may find a pair of lockets with pictures of James Madison and his then fiancée Catherine Floyd. The painter of the pictures was Charles Willson Peale, a popular artist of the day. People would convert his pictures into frames or lockets that could become keepsakes. Madison attached a braid of his hair to his locket, a sign of devotion at the time.
Since sending someone a piece of hair might not have the same effect today, here are some activities you can do with a loved one that are less creepy in a modern context.
- Using the three pictures above as inspiration, paint or draw a keepsake picture of a loved one
- Learn more about the lockets at this blog post Hair at the Library? Yes, and Lots of It and share with your loved one
- You can also follow instructions below to create your own homemade locket.
Create Your Own Locket
I would recommend this activity for ages eight and up, but the craft can be modified using tape for younger kids.
Equipment: Spoons, acrylic, keepsake, picture/ drawing, scissors. Replace acrylic with packing tape for the modified version.
Trace your spoon on top of your sheet that you will draw your picture on. Or trace your spoon over the picture so you can identify what will be in the “window” of your locket.
Step One: Trace your spoon on top of your sheet that you will draw your picture on to create a “window” of your locket.
Step Two: Cut out your traced template.
Step Three: Draw your picture on to the template. Use Charles Wilson Peale’s examples as inspiration!
Step Four: Use a glue stick and glue your picture to the outside of the bowl of the spoon.
Step Five: Tape or glue a small keepsake in the bowl of your spoon. For example, I took a small piece of chalk that my three-year old used, as a memory of our time making art together. Now it’s time to “seal” the locket.
For older kids, cover all of the spoon in acrylic and let sit for 45 minutes. Caution— this part can get a little messy and smelly. If you’re working on acrylic art with your kids, you might want to go outside! You may also prop the spoon on top of another spoon or other makeshift drying rack to allow excess acrylic to drip off.
If your children are younger or if you can’t get your hands on acrylic, you can use packing tape for this step—it won’t be as glossy as the acrylic, but it will still work.
Step Six: When dry, break the stem of your spoon. Your young person now have a locket that you can give as a charm or a pendant to a loved one in their life!
We hope you have a happy Valentine’s Day! Have you gifted your loved ones any crafts based on Library of Congress collections for Valentine’s Day, or another holiday? Share in the comments!