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An American folk event, Sadie Hawkins Day is a pseudo-holiday that originated in Al Capp's classic hillbilly comic strip, Li'l Abner (1934 to 1977). The event is still observed in the form of dances at which girls approach (or chase after) boys.

Original story

The 1st Sadie Hawkins Day

In Li'l Abner, Sadie Hawkins was the daughter of one of Dogpatch's earliest settlers, Hekzebiah Hawkins. The "homeliest gal in all them hills", she grew frantic waiting for suitors to come a-courtin'. When she reached the age of 35, still a spinster, her father was even more frantic - about Sadie living at home for the rest of his life. In desperation, he called together all the unmarried men of Dogpatch and declared it "Sadie Hawkins Day". Specifically, a foot race was decreed, with Sadie in hot pursuit of the town's eligible bachelors - and matrimony as the consequence.

"When ah fires [my gun], all o' yo' kin start a-runnin! When ah fires agin - after givin' yo' a fair start - Sadie starts a runnin'. Th' one she ketches'll be her husbin." The town spinsters decided that this was such a good idea, they made Sadie Hawkins Day a mandatory yearly event, much to the chagrin of Dogpatch bachelors. In the satirical spirit that drove the strip, many sequences revolved around the dreaded Sadie Hawkins Day race. If a woman caught a bachelor and dragged him, kicking and screaming, across the finish line before sundown - he had to marry her!

Sadie Hawkins Day was first mentioned in the November 13, 1937 Li'l Abner daily strip, with the race actually taking place between November 19th and November 30th in the continuity. It would prove to be a popular annual feature in Li'l Abner, and a cultural phenomenon outside the strip. (see Schreiner, Dave; "Sadie's First Run", Li'l Abner Dailies Volume 3: 1937, Kitchen Sink Press, Princeton, WI, pg. 8.)

(See also: Leap year for discussion of a similar tradition of "allowing" women to propose marriage on February 29, which has also become unofficially known as Sadie Hawkins Day.)

In popular culture

Capp's creation captured the imagination of young people, particularly in high schools and on college campuses. In 1939, only two years after its inauguration, a double-page spread in Life magazine proclaimed, "On Sadie Hawkins Day, Girls Chase Boys in 201 Colleges" and printed pictures from Texas Wesleyan. Capp originally created it as a comic plot device, but by the early 1940s the comic strip event had swept the nation and acquired a life of its own. By 1952, Sadie Hawkins Day was reportedly celebrated at 40,000 known venues. It was a female-empowering rite long before the modern feminist movement gained prominence. It became a day-long event observed in Canada and in the United States on the Saturday that follows November 9th.

Outside the comic strip, the practical basis of Sadie Hawkins Day is one of simple gender role-reversal. Women and girls take the bold initiative by inviting the man or boy of their choice out on a date - almost unheard of before 1937 - typically to a dance attended by other bachelors and their assertive dates. When Capp created the event, it wasn't his intention to have it occur annually on a specific date, because it inhibited his freewheeling plotting. However, due to its enormous popularity and the numerous fan letters he received, Capp obligingly made it a tradition in the strip every November, lasting four decades.

In many localities the tradition continues. Many U.S. high schools, especially in the south and midwest, hold Sadie Hawkins dances, as do some Canadian high schools. The dances are characterized by girls taking the initiative, and in some cases couples wearing matching "farmer" clothes and rural attire to the dance. The dance is also occasionally called "WPA" (Women Pay All) or "Turnabout," in which girls invite boys, pay for dinner, dance tickets, etc.

References

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