Leap Year Once Viewed as Opportunity for Women

The year 2012 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. This privilege was restricted to leap day (February 29) in some areas.

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 men conducted themselves much better than was at first expected, although it was very trying to have to sit still and see a woman brush by a couple of times before she could locate her partner for the dance. But before the evening was half gone the mists of embarrassment had been dispelled and the boys had assumed a modest yet somewhat cheerful air, and did the best they knew how, while their fair friends were much more at home in their new dignity.”

The girls of Valentine waited until the arrival of summer before they celebrated leap year with a picnic. The Valentine Democrat, on July 2, 1896, reported: “The picnic was to be held at Thacher’s grove west of town and the first problem for the girls to solve was transportation. The grounds are only a mile and a quarter from town so of course it would be ridiculous to hire carriages and besides­well, there were other reasons, too, so they secured a great big hay wagon and loaded the boys into that and there all were, just as comfortable as could be. The commissary wagon (a double carriage) followed after. . . . The girls kept the boys out until eight o’clock but nobody seemed to care about that.”

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.'”

A Kearney jewelry store used leap year in 1912 to promote the sale of wedding rings. From the Kearney Daily Hub, February 28, 1912.

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