Here’s an interesting piece of history,
direct from the Muscleheaded Post Card collection.
If you grew up in the United States before 1990,
— you probably remember the junior high school tradition of the ‘Sadie Hawkins Day’ Dance.
Girls are encouraged to invite guys to dance with them —
instead of the usual arrangement —
—- and I do remember it produced some surprising matches.
Females, as we all know,
— tend to use different attraction/selection criteria for mating than males,
which makes the dynamic all the more interesting.
I remembered reading that the Sadie Hawkins dance was named after a cartoon character in the Lil Abner comics,
— starting in the late 1930’s.
Apparently, in the comic strip,
single women had the option of pursuing and marrying a single man of their choice, on a single day in November each year.
Here’s the original strip from 1937 explaining how it all started.
Of course, this isn’t really where the idea originated.
It’s actually drawn from several much older Celtic traditions, from at least 800 years ago–
which gave women the prerogative to propose marriage–
— but only during leap years, which only occur every four years.
( 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020, etc)
In some places, this was narrowed down further
to only one day in those years —
the ‘extra day’ —
the Leap Day.
A totally accurate picture of how and where this tradition, “The Ladies Privilege”, developed is clouded by time and mythology —
Oral tradition has it that it was invented by Ireland’s Saint Patrick,
as a way of marrying off nuns who had tired of their cloister,
…….. or single women who had no desire to become a nun.
Several writers refer to a 13th century Scottish Law,
written by the guardians of Queen Margaret,
(who was only 5 years old at the time)
providing specific penalties for turning such a proposal down —
It would cost the man a fine of:
one pound, a rose, a kiss, and a pair of leather gloves.
In the 16th century, single women were encouraged to wear pants during leap year,
—- at least according to a play popular during the time.
And in the 19th, it’s said that red petticoats became de rigueur attire for ladies wishing to celebrate the Leap Year with a conquest.
All we know for sure is that it’s an old tradition,
—- and underwent a renewal of popularity around the turn of the 20th century.
Interesting postcards from that era,
on the Leap Year theme, abound —
Usually they are done in a tongue in cheek style indicating that while the tradition still existed,
— it was not practiced in any serious way.
No longer did a man have to pay a fine–
but it was still considered to be a bringer of bad luck,
and not to mention,
very bad form,
to turn down a lady’s proposal during leap year.
The best a man could hope for,
is to keep a very low profile,
in order to keep his bachelorhood intact for the entire 366 days.
Overall, it’s a pretty interesting and amusing theme…
Everybody seems rather desperate,
to either ensnare,
But there’s also a whispered nuance of sexuality to some of the cards,
and even a secret thrill of implied female dominance, perhaps.
And looking back,
I can’t help but wonder……
Did the tradition of the Leap Year Ladies Privilege itself had any real effect on society at large ?
I doubt it.
The revival of interest in the tradition died off around the time women received the right to vote in the US,
—- and it’s little remembered today,
except in the Sadie Hawkins tradition.
But it could be argued that a few of these postcards had an undertone that served the purposes of the anti-suffrage movement —
— in projecting a society that would be out of kilter, full of obstreperous females and weak, emasculated males.
There were certainly cards issued during that era that were much less subtle in expressing that very fallacious, but prevalent idea —
— that granting women suffrage would lead to social disintegration.
But as far as these Leap Year cards were concerned, their main function was entertainment, and not social propaganda.
I do know that many famous couples started out with the lady proposing —
Including Queen Victoria of England, who described the scene in her dairy:
“At about half past 12 I sent for Albert; he came to where I was alone, and after a few minutes I said to him, that I thought he must be aware of why I wished him to come here, and that it would make me too happy if he would consent to what I wished (to marry) ; we embraced each other over and over again, and he was so kind, so affectionate… I told him I was quite unworthy of him and kissed his dear hand.”
Zsa Zsa Gabor claimed that she had proposed to every one of her nine husbands, stating:
” A woman has to make up a man’s mind “.
and Jennifer Hudson are other women who have taken the lead in proposing marriage —-
It’s just no big deal, anymore.
Why should it be?
Men lose nothing by letting women do what makes them happy —
Hell, along the way,
they might end up making us happy, too.
Ya never know.
And it is certainly fun to see
these old cards and understand
the context in which they were a part.