Fun facts about leap year
Leap Year is the 29th of February. It's more than just a quirky thing that happens to newborns.
The extra day rolls around every four years. And 2016 is one. It includes a world of lore related to women -- gasp! -- popping the marriage question to men.
Here's a look at that magical mark on the calendar as it relates to love and marriage. The information is courtesy of Monmouth University historian Katherine Parkin. She has researched the topic.
The year was 1904 when syndicated columnist Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, aka Dorothy Dix, summed up the Leap Day proposal tradition.
"Of course people will say . . . that a woman's leap year prerogative, like most of her liberties, is merely a glittering mockery."
Parkin said however serious or tongue-in-cheek, it could have empowered women. Instead, she said it merely spread stereotypes. The proposals were to happen via postcard. But many such cards turned the tables. They poked mean fun at women instead.
The end result? Leap Year, according to Parkin, served to reinforce traditional gender roles.
Advertising also spread the marriage games in Leap Years. Parkin, in a 2012 paper in the Journal of Family History, offered one solid example.
A 1916 ad by the American Industrial Bank and Trust Co. read thusly: "This being Leap Year day, we suggest to every girl that she propose to her father to open a savings account in her name in our own bank."
That, Parkin said, further undercuts the idea that Leap Year somehow offered a breath of independence.
Baseball Digest got involved in the extra day, as well. It took to running articles showing off bachelor players during some Leap Years in the 1950s and '60s. It listed them by hair and eye color and religion. And, of course, whether they batted left or right.
"They were trying to persuade women they were a good catch," Parkin said. "They encouraged single women to window shop."
There's a distant European past for Leap Years.
One story places it in Ireland. It was the fifth century. St. Bridget appeals to St. Patrick. She wanted to offer women the chance to ask men to marry them, Parkin wrote.
Another tale is focused on Queen Margaret of Scotland. There was a law she supposedly passed in 1228. It ordered a man reluctant to accept a woman's proposal to pay a fine. Or he could present her with a silk gown. Perhaps that would make up for his bad attitude.
"I think that's all pretend," Parker said.
As for the existence of Leap Year itself, history has it that in 46 BCE, Julius Caesar came up with the adjustment. It was to ensure the seasons remain aligned with the calendar. Further adjustments were needed when the Gregorian calendar came along.
By the 1780s, there were Leap Year parties. They allowed girls to ask boys for a dance. But only on the one night. Ellen Tucker Emerson described the experience in an 1860 letter to her dad, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
She said a promenade was held after the dancing, with the boys leaning on the girls' arms and being fanned.
"It was very funny. And they all had a rousing time," she concluded.
One elite Leap Year party was held in New York City every four years. It started in 1924 and continued through 1968. It was held at times at the Ritz-Carlton. It was skipped just one time in that period. That was during World War II. The women outnumbered the men. There was a stag line. And women were allowed to cut in on dances.
"Women were in control and had charge of the night," Parkin said.
Based on a longstanding Valentine's Day tradition of "using the mail to court and shame," penny postcard makers produced Leap Year cards. This was in the early 20th century, Parkin said. Most used humor to "dissuade women from actually exercising their prerogative to propose."
Guns were common in the imagery as early as 1904. The cards depicted women using them and other weapons such as bows and arrows, lassos and nets. With them, men could be snared. The other tool depicted on the cards was money, with women holding bags of it. That was to set their marriage traps.
Dix returned often to Leap Year issues throughout her nearly 50-year career. She urged women to give up the idea of proposing by letter or postcard. She counseled them to come right out with it in person.
Though Leap Year was filled with biting humor, marriage was no joke to Dix. She had been pressured into marriage by her family. In 1928, she wrote:
"The right to pop the question is the only right that men have now that women do not possess. They have the same right that men have to vote, to own property, to attend institutions of higher learning, to follow any business or professional career for which they have the brains and a hankering."
Dix continued: "The only masculine right that is denied them is the right to choose their mates. And this is the greatest right of all. For the privilege of helping pick out the town dog-catcher or deciding on who is going to be President for the next four years is a poor thing compared with the privilege of picking out the father of your children and the man with whom you are going to have to live for the next forty years."