Leap Year Once Viewed as Opportunity for Women

This Leap Year postcard from 1908 depicts a bachelor walking along a path with numerous women lying in wait.

This year is a leap year, which means that it has 366 days instead of the usual 365 days. The year 1896 was also a leap year and was widely observed in Nebraska with dances, picnics, and other social events sponsored by women for men in honor of an old leap year tradition allowing women to propose marriage to men. In some areas this privilege was restricted to leap day (February 29).

Frequently a leap year party was paired with Valentine’s Day observances. The McCook Tribune on February 7, 1896, reported that a “Leap Year and Valentine social” would be given at the local Congregational Church. “This being Leap year it is naturally expected that the ladies will act as escorts for the sterner sex, thus furnishing evidence that the new woman is with us.”

Later that month a ”swell leap year dancing party [was] tendered to the Thurston Rifles [military company] by their young female friends.” The Omaha Daily Bee of February 23, 1896, reported: “[T]he customs of leap year parties were well followed, the gentlemen not being allowed to leave their seats without being attended by a lady escort.”

The bachelors of Nebraska were the targets of good-natured jokes throughout the leap year of 1896. The McCook Tribune noted on February 14: “More than six weeks of the leap year have come and gone, and no engagements have yet been announced; so, . . . we have interviewed the village bachelors and herewith present their answers to the query, ‘Will You Accept a Proposal to Marry, This Year’? Answers included William Parrish’s ‘I am in the market; office hours from 7 till 6’; Professor Wymore’s ‘Have trouble enough now’; and J. R. Smith’s ‘Sealed bids will be received until June 1st.’”

– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor/Publications

(Updated on 2/16/2024)

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