Leap Year Role Reversal

According to a 1606 tome Courtship, Love, and Marriage quoted in 1884 leap year articles across the country, the leap day was once reserved as a time for women to propose to men. Imagine that! Furthermore, some sources claimed a man couldn’t refuse such a proposal without paying a hefty fine to the spurned lover, variously described as a large sum of cash, enough fabric for a silk dress, or 12 pairs of gloves. With that background, the following is a collection of leap year stories from the pages of the Post:


Civil War Personal Ad

March 12, 1864

A Chicago girl, tired of waiting for the young men who don’t “propose” — probably on account of the expense, or the preponderance of the girls since the war broke out — takes advantage of the season, and speaks out boldly in her own name in the “Wants” column of the Chicago Tribune, as follows: “This is leap year. I’ll wait no longer. So here I am, twenty-one years of age, prepossessing, medium size, healthy, educated, prudent, large sparkling eyes, long black flowing hair, and as full of fun as a chestnut is full of meat, born to make some man happy, and want a home. Does anybody want me?”


Nowhere to Hide, April 12, 1864

A man, in order to avoid the annoyances of leap year, wore a card on the breast of his coat, with this inscription: “I am engaged.” Despite this, a woman tackled him and married him inside of two weeks.


Mother Knows Best, July 2, 1892

Here is the story of a servant girl, who has not found leap year a failure. She lives in Portland, Me.

A Boston paper says the girl told her mistress that she was going to get married, and showed her some wedding clothes and a hat that she had bought. “What does the young man do?” asked the mistress. “Shure, an’ I aint seen him yit,” was the reply, “but me mother says I must git married this year, anyway.” The two had actually arranged everything before the man was even thought of.

Soon after the girl told her mistress that she met a young man and was going to make him marry her. She began to send him various little presents, boxes of candy, etc. She couldn’t read or write and got the children of the household to direct the parcels for her. So well did the girl and her mother manage that, contrary to the wishes of the young man’s family, he was courted and married and settled down in less than three months from the time he first met his bride.


Ladies’ Night Etiquette, March 2, 1872

The following are the leap-year ballroom regulations established by the ladies of St. Louis: “Gentlemen are expected to be as lady-like as possible, therefore, no gentleman will be allowed to enter the ball-room except on the arm of his escort or one of the managers; no gentleman can dance unless invited to do so by a lady; no gentleman can enter the supper-room unless escorted by a lady; the lady managers will see that no gentleman is neglected.”


St. Valentine’s Day in Leap Year — A Solemn Warning to Single Men
leap year valentine
February 12, 1876

Bachelors all, of St. Valentine’s Day beware!
This year is Leap Year: the ladies may choose!
How then you get in the fair sex’s way beware,
Or both your hearts and your freedom you’ll lose.
Curly or straight tresses,
Fond hearts or traitresses,
Short ones or tall;
Deceitful or truthful,
Unfeeling or ruthful,
Beware of them all!
Theirs is the question this year; and for popping it,
No opportunity will they omit.
They may propose; and you’ve no chance of stopping it;
“Please ask mamma” does not answer a bit.
They’ll grant no truces,
Delays or excuses;
Resistance no use is
To Leap Year’s mad freak,
That one chance of Hymen.
For nervous and shy men,
(The girls can’t think why men
Are frightened to speak.)
As for myself; I am terrified awfully—
“No” to a woman ne’er yet have I said,
So run a great risk of behaving unlawfully
Marrying all who may ask me to wed.
In fear, dash my wig, am I
Standing of bigamy,
Not to say trigamy;
Oh, what a fix!
There is no hope escape of;
I’m in for the scrape of
My fate, in the shape of
The year seventy six.
Then bachelors all, be advised-take warning,
There’s a great deal more danger than many suppose
Who are treating my sad admonition with scorning,
And make bosom friends of their poor bosom’s foes.
Of their dreams they will wake out,
And find the mistake out.
When the fair ones they break out
On Valentine’s day.
And kneeling before us,
Declare they adore us,
And sing in a chorus-
“Be mine, love, I pray!”