A Leap Year Proposal I Send by Mail

Florence and Herbert Stanton of North Danville
By Mark R. Moore

We tend to think of people whose writings date from the early 1900s as “old” folks–ossified citizens of Danville who were “set in their ways” and as personable, humorous and emotional as a marble statue that we touched as a child. Frequently, in the course the course of classifying family documents for the Danville Historical Society, I come across one that offers insight that shows that they were not much different that teenagers are today.  Had I read only Florence Johnson’s 1907  letters to Herbert Stanton (her husband only a year later) I would been confirmed in a straitlaced controlling stereotype of an all-knowing spouse-to-be. In the following letter, Herbert was confined to home with mumps.

March 14, ‘07
My dear Herbert:
I have just been down street and sent a diet card and sent you a diet card just  to remind you that you were dieting…Now don’t eat too much or the wrong things.
With Love- Florence

Of course, I found that I was wrong. The letter entitled “Leap Year Proposal 1904” had no envelope and bore no address or name of sender. Only handwriting comparison revealed the writer. Definitely Florence. Reproduced below, it shows a fun-loving, teasing woman, full of life and spirit, which no man could lightly refuse.


All the bows are attached with two stitches except the last, which is gone. It is not torn but is missing, obviously carefully removed.

The historian in me fades. Though I have no proof, the romantic in me speculates young Herbert removed the rope and told Florence that his love wasn’t dead as the red bow’s return would have signified. Instead, his love would grow and flourish in Danville, his home with his beloved Florence.

A Leap Year Proposal 1904, transcribed

A Leap Year Proposal I send by mail
And hope you will guess from whom it hails [sic]
And send back the bow you think is accepted
And know with best wishes that it is accepted
If you want to be my fellow
Send me back my bow of Yellow
If for me your love is true
Send me back my bow of Blue
If you want me for your wife
Send me back my bow of white
If of me you sometimes think
Send me back me bow of Pink
If of me you sometimes dream
Send me back my bow of Green
If you wish me to elope
Send me back my Hellitrope
If for me your love is dead
Send me back my bow of Red
If for me there is no hope
Send me back my bow of Rope
If the writers name you guess
Send the bow to her Address

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