First of all – HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! I hope you and yours are celebrating in style. I’ll be curled up all day at home with my wife, snug and warm, safe from the arctic winds howling around our house. We will feast on fresh strawberries, cake, and a bottle of Vin Verde, the green wine of Portugal.
Now on to the topic of the day. If you have ever read the comic strip by Al Capp called L’il Abner (1934–1978), you’ll have heard of Sadie Hawkins. Known as the ‘homeliest gal in all them hills’ Sadie’s father, Hekzebiah Hawkins, knew he had to do something to get her hitched, because (gasp) heaven forbid a woman should not be married. He gathered up all the eligible bachelors in the area, gave them a head start and then let loose his daughter. Whichever man she caught would be her husband. There’s no real mention as to why, exactly, the caught bachelor had to marry Sadie, but that’s the way the tradition started. In 1937, according to the cartoonist, the other unmarried women thought this wasn’t such a bad idea, because (gasp) heaven help them if they didn’t catch themselves a husband. Every November, all the eligible young men from Dogpatch and the surrounding hills would be chased by all the unmarried young women. Any gal that could catch her man and drag him across the finish line by sundown was guaranteed to be a bride. Presented in the satirical voice of Al Capp, the unheard of role reversal released some deeply held desire of the repressed women of the time to take charge of their own lives, to make decisions concerning who they would spend time with, and to be unashamedly interested in beginning a relationship with the man of her choosing. Daring thoughts for the time.
By 1939, only two years after the ladies of Dogpatch declared their independence (if only for one day a year), the idea had caught fire in the imagination of America’s youth. Al Capp had intended it as a plot device, but the ideas popularity had brought him an abundance of fan letters asking that he make it a yearly event. By the early 1940s the November event in his comic became a phenomenon, eventually taking on a life of its own. Colleges and high schools began holding campus Sadie Hawkins races, which eventually became more sedate dances. At the height of its popularity in the mid 1950’s, Sadie Hawkins Day was celebrated at forty thousand known locations.
After tasting the forbidden fruits of freedom, it’s no wonder the women’s liberation front of the 1960’s and ’70’s centered around women’s demand for self-sovereignty. Women who had grown up with the yearly celebration of bucking convention were eager to take the dating reins in their own hands. Of course, the advent of the birth control pill started an entire sexual revolution, but don’t discount Sadie Hawkins’ contribution.
Comic strips have led the way to social change since the ink first dried. Although L’il Abner’s Sadie Hawkins race was framed in the language of women desperate to marry to avoid a life of spinsterhood and shame, and equally desperate men racing to avoid marriage to a strong minded woman, a fate worse than death, Al Capp accidentally fueled the idea that the sexual repression of women during the ’30’s and 40’s was as unfair as say, a footrace to determine a spouse.
I will confess to inviting a boy to one in the mid 1970’s myself, but I don’t think Sadie Hawkin’s Day dances are held anymore. At least, I never hear of them. Girls and women are free to ask boys and men out on dates these days, or even, as our editor-in-chief Lindsey demonstrated earlier this year, to propose marriage.
We’ve come a long way, baby, and Sadie Hawkins helped lead the charge.
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