Leanne Italie

Leap Year is more than just a quirky thing that happens to newborns on the occasional 29th of February.

The extra day that rolls around every four years, including 2016, includes a world of lore related to women — gasp! — popping the marriage question to men.

In 1904, syndicated columnist Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, aka Dorothy Dix, summed up the Leap Day proposal tradition this way: “Of course people will say … that a woman’s leap year prerogative, like most of her liberties, is merely a glittering mockery.”

Monmouth University historian Katherine Parkin said this pre-Sadie Hawkins tradition, however serious or tongue-in-cheek, could have empowered women but merely perpetuated stereotypes. The proposals were to happen via postcard, but many such cards turned the tables and poked mean fun at women instead.

The end result? Leap year, according to Parkin, served to reinforce traditional gender roles.

Advertising perpetuated the marriage games in Leap Years. A 1916 ad by the American Industrial Bank and Trust Co. read: “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 took to running articles showing off bachelor players during some Leap Years in the 1950s and ’60s, listing them by hair and eye color, religion and whether they batted left or right.

There’s a distant European past. One story places it in fifth century Ireland, with St. Bridget appealing to St. Patrick to offer women the chance to ask men to marry them, Parkin wrote.

Another tale is focused on Queen Margaret of Scotland and a law she supposedly passed in 1228 ordering a man reluctant to accept a woman’s proposal to pay a fine or present her with a silk gown to make up for his bad attitude.

“I think that’s all pretend,” Parker said. Nobody really knows where it all began.

“We know that (cartoonist) Al Capp started Sadie Hawkins. We can see that history unfold. This is more anomalous than that,” she said.

By the 1780s, there were leap year parties that allowed girls to ask boys for a dance — but on just the one night.

Penny postcard makers produced Leap Year cards 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, depicting women using them and other weapons such as bows and arrows, lassos and nets to snare men. The other tool depicted on the cards was money, with women holding bags of it to set their marriage traps.

Dix returned often to Leap Year issues throughout her nearly 50-year career, urging women to give up the idea of proposing by letter or postcard. She told them to come right out with it in person.