A 1932 Leap Year Party Dinner at the Carlton Hotel. (Getty Images)
A 1932 Leap Year Party Dinner at the Carlton Hotel. (Getty Images)

Did you know that Leap Day was once treated as a Sadie Hawkins-style opportunity for a madcap rearranging of the social order? Please use this knowledge as an excuse to march down to your local city hall and tell any male officials to take a hike.


Atlas Obscura recounts the long history of February 29 as a holiday when—in a shocking reversal of fortune!—women were handed some power. Turns out the concept for the movie Leap Year wasn’t a total Hollywood invention, and historically, there really has been a sense that Leap Day was open season for the single ladies. In 1916, for instance, the Seattle Star offered an all-expenses wedding to any woman bold enough to act on the folk tradition; Miss Vesta Ludington stepped forward with her beau Alpha Omega Ward.

Of course, in turn-of-the-twentieth-century America, the idea of the Leap Year proposal was generally wrapped in ridicule, the whole tradition used to reinforce the idea it was just absurd for a woman to do the asking:

American newspapers recounted these legends throughout the 20th century, but recorded instances of leap year proposals in the country date back as early as the 1780s. By the start of the 20th century, a focus on leap year courtship had emerged, and the custom became a commercial enterprise. It was around this time that various leap day postcards began to appear, that used humor to dissuade women from proposing.

“From 1904 into the 1960s, shame and ridicule made it difficult for women to take advantage of the opportunity to propose to men,” Katherine Parkin explains in “Glittering Mockery”: Twentieth-Century Leap Year Marriage Proposals.


Perhaps the best use of this tradition, then, was made by the women of Aurora, Illinois. Their shenanigans were captured by a team from Life, in a photo essay highlighted today by Time. (Read the original for yourself at Google Books, via Vox.)

“SPINSTERS’ HOLIDAY,” declares the magazine. It only gets better from there, announcing that “The she-wolves of Aurora, Ill. celebrate Leap Year by running officials out and bachelors in.” What does that even mean?

Every Leap Year since 1932 as many bachelor residents of Aurora, Ill as could arrange it have left town on Feb. 28. The reason is that on Feb. 29, Leap Year day, the administration of Aurora is turned over to the unmarried girls, who promptly fine and jail every bachelor they can hunt down. This year a few men delayed their getaway until daybreak on the 29th. Two made it, one in the men’s room of the train, another under two train seats. The rest, like Bob Smith (above), were trapped.

Control of the town was turned over to single women for the day. The temporary “mayoress” suggested “outlawing corncob pipes, denying citizenship to baldheads, putting lipstick in cabs.” There’s also a photo of several young women piled onto a fire truck.

Now, I have no evidence that these women were not sober as a passel of judges. Just seems like a flask would be the perfect accompaniment to throwing a bunch of single men in jail, slapping them with a fine, then careening around town in a firefighter’s uniform. Happy Lear Year, ladies!


Contact the author at kelly@jezebel.com.

Photo via Getty Images.

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