Michigan State University

Howland, E. A (Esther Allen), 1801-1860

Esther Allen Howland was born in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, in 1801. She was married on September 30, 1823, to Southworth Allen Howland (11 September 1800 - 7 October 1882), a direct descendent of John Howland (1592 - 1673), one of the original Pilgrims who sailed to America on The Mayflower in 1620. S.A. Howland was a successful publisher of Sunday School literature, hymn books, and primers; he also ran the largest bookstore and stationer's shop in Worcester, Massachusetts. He first published his wife's cookbook in 1844; according to the "Advertisement" in the Second Edition, it sold 1500 copies in as many weeks. The American Economical Housekeeper is an eclectic blend of simple recipes, folk remedies, "scientific" health advice, accurate emergency instructions (i.e., an early technique for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR, as well as mostly sound advice for fire emergencies) and organizational techniques attributed to Eliza Leslie. Though authors Eliza Leslie and Catharine Beecher were writing more accomplished, thoughtful domestic manuals at the time, Esther Howland succeeded in creating a convenient guide for quick reference. Howland re-issued the book -- with revisions and interchangeable titles (i.e., The New England Economical Housekeeper) -- nearly every year until 1854, around the time he left publishing for a career in insurance.

Though Esther Howland remains relatively unknown, her daughter became famous for introducing Valentine's Day cards to the American public, and creating a regional greeting card industry in her home town of Worcester, Massachusetts. Esther Allen Howland (17 August 1828 - 15 March 1904), one of five children born to the Howlands, graduated from Mount Holyoke Seminary in 1847. Soon after, she began making innovative Valentine's Day cards based on European cards her father carried in his shop. Her parents encouraged her in her plans, and her brother, a salesman, circulated her samples and collected her first orders. The Howland family fitted up a production room in their home, and their daughter and a few hired girls began creating the cards. As demand grew quickly, the daughter started the New England Valentine Company and enjoyed a lucrative monopoly for years. Around 1880, when her father took ill, she sold her business to George C. Whitney, who expanded it into a greeting card empire.

Sources

  • Howland, Esther Allen. The American Economical Housekeeper, and Family Receipt Book. Cincinatti: H.W. Derby, 1845.

     

  • Lee, Ruth Webb. A History of Valentines. New York: The Studio Publications, Inc., in association with Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1952.

     

  • Lowenstein, Eleanor. Bibliography of American Cookery Books, 1741-1860. Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 1972.

     

  • Staff, Frank. The Valentine & Its Origins. London: Lutterworth Press, 1969.

     

  • website: http://ourancestry.com/ [BROKEN LINK], consulted on May 12, 2003.