Women Ask the Men – The History of Sadie Hawkins Day

(Last Updated On: June 1, 2018)

Sadie Hawkins Day
Maybe you’re familiar with the dread of the inevitable high school Sadie Hawkins dance. Or maybe you remember that breakthrough Christian-pop hit from the early 2000s. Either way, it’s likely you’re familiar with the idea of Sadie Hawkins.

In case you’re not, it’s the time-honored tradition of manufacturing an opportunity for girls to ask boys on a date.

Today, we consider the idea of Sadie Hawkins to be modern romance. After all, women no longer need an excuse to ask a man on a date.

But even if you’re intimately familiar with the nerves and palm sweat involved in asking someone on a date, you may not know where the tradition comes from.

We’ve got all you need to know about the history of Sadie Hawkins Day.

Sadie Hawkins – The Cartoon

Sadie Hawkins Day is based on the character Sadie Hawkins from Li’l Abner, a massively important (and now very outdated) comic strip during the Great Depression and for decades after.

Our heroine, Sadie Hawkins, was a homely young woman in the backwater town of Dogpatch, a fictional town located somewhere in the south.

Unfortunately for Sadie, her looks didn’t make her a particularly attractive marriage prospect. In an attempt to get her hitched and out of his hair, Sadie’s father set up a race for all the single men around Dogpatch. The men would start running, and Sadie would chase after them. She got to marry the slowest man, or whoever it was she caught.

It was, effectively, a forced marriage mixed with a bit of progressivism.

Still, the idea struck a chord with American women, who were probably tired of waiting around to be chosen by a man. The comic strip featuring Miss Hawkins first appeared in 1937 and by 1938, the University of Tennessee hosted the first Sadie Hawkins Day.

It was a joke probably taken too far, but it would soon explode.

Sadie Hawkins Day Goes National

Sadie Hawkins Day has its origin in a comic strip, but it quickly grew to be much more.

By 1939, only two years after Sadie Hawkins first chased down the men of Dogpatch, 201 colleges across America planned their own November dances inspired by the comic.

In 188 cities, women had an official reason to ask the man they’d been eyeing to dance.

The event began to expand beyond colleges. High schools and churches put on their own events, often adding a local twist.

Today, Sadie Hawkins lives on in the same format, often used as the theme for local dances and fundraisers, though sometimes under a different name depending on the region (It’s commonly called ‘Tolo’ in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, for example). 

What About Marriage?

Sadie Hawkins Day is a time for women to ask out men – or as Britta from NBC’s Community said, “So you’re saying there’s one day a year that women are free to choose their own mates?”

But there’s another tradition often confused with Sadie Hawkins Day – Leap Day.

According to Irish Catholic tradition, it’s permissible for women to propose marriage every four years on February 29th.

Sadie Hawkins and Leap Day have little to do with each other. First, Sadie Hawkins is the Depression-era accidental creation of Al Capp – the creator of Li’l Abner.

However, the Leap Year marriage tradition is believed to have started in the 5th century on the island of Ireland. According to myth, St. Bridget wasn’t happy that women had to wait forever and a day for men to propose to them. She complained about their plight to St. Patrick.

February 29th, also known as St. Bridget’s Complaint, was granted by the benevolent St. Patrick so that girls with guys who just wouldn’t commit could propose marriage on their own.

Like Sadie Hawkins, St. Bridget’s Complaint also took on a life of its own. Scotland picked up the idea in 1288 under the reign of the unmarried Queen Margaret. Allegedly a law was passed allowing women to propose to whoever they chose that year.

Men who declined a proposal during a leap year were required to pay their suitor a fine. Payment could be anything from a pair of gloves to a dress to a kiss.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad deal.

As you can see, while the history of Sadie Hawkins Day may only date back to the 1930s, the history of women patiently waiting for men to propose goes much further. In fact, we’ve had many expressions of the same idea for thousands of years.

Know any other marriage or dating related trivia? Share it with us in the comments below.