November 13, 2108
Catch and Release?
The origin of Sadie Hawkins Day is, no doubt, an anachronism to the young people of today who would be simultaneously surprised and offended by it. But on November 13, 1937, the event was introduced in a popular comic strip and soon, in the vernacular of today, went viral.
For those who have never heard the term, it was cartoonist Al Capp who, in his syndicated comic Lil’ Abner, wrote it as a plot-line device.
According to the Infallible Wikipedia:
“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. When she reached the age of 35, still a spinster, her father was worried about Sadie living at home for the rest of her life. In desperation, he called together all the unmarried men of Dogpatch and declared it ‘Sadie Hawkins Day’. A foot race was decreed, with Sadie pursuing the town’s eligible bachelors. She was specifically interested in a handsome boy named Adam who was already in a courtship with a cute girl, Theresa, whose father was the area’s largest potato farmer, Bill Richmand, and, unlike Sadie, had a number of courtship offers. Adam was invited to the race because Miss Theresa and Adam weren’t actually engaged. With matrimony as the consequence of losing the foot race, the bachelors of the town were running for their freedom. Adam scored fourth place out of 10, leaving John Jonston as Sadie’s prize. It is possible that the concept’s origins are in an inversion of the myth of Atalanta, who, reluctant to marry, agreed to wed whoever could outrun her in a footrace.
‘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 a good idea, so they made Sadie Hawkins Day a mandatory yearly event, much to the chagrin of Dogpatch’s bachelors. If a woman caught a bachelor and dragged him, kicking and screaming, across the finish line before sundown, by law he had to marry her.”
The idea caught on and, just two years later, an article in Time magazine claimed over 200 Sadie Hawkins dances were being held that year at colleges throughout the United States. By 1952 it was estimated that the annual November event was celebrated in 40,000 venues!
Even today, Sadie Hawkins festivities remain popular in the mid-west and south and women – perhaps still shy about asking a boy out – can feel free to pursue the guy of their dreams on November 13.
When I was a teenager, Tolo was our high school version of Sadie Hawkins Day. Apparently a Tolo Dance is unique to the Pacific Northwest. It was started at the University of Washington by Mortar Board, an all women’s honorary society, known there as the Tolo Club. The first dance held by the Tolo Club was conceived as a fundraiser. Like a Sadie Hawkins Day dance, it was the girls who asked the boys.
But back to high school. There was something frightening about the concept of asking a guy to go out. What if he said ‘no’? What if he told his friends and laughed about you behind your back? What if, what if, what if…
And yet somehow I screwed up the courage to ask one my junior year. His name was Mel, he was a senior, and he was an assistant editor on the yearbook staff. We had worked together on the annual since the beginning of school. I thought he was cute, had a good sense of humor, and would be fun to ask to Tolo.
In those days people didn’t do crazy things to ask someone, you just waited until the person was alone and then swoop in. Perhaps I asked him during class one day. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried to block the incident from my memory because I don’t recall exactly how or when I asked him. All I know is that I did and that he said he would.
When the day of the big event arrived I was a wreck, obsessing over what I had chosen to wear (Don’t judge – all I can say is that double knit was a thing in 1973). And obsessing over what we would talk about all evening and if he really wanted to even go with me.
So we went to Tolo, danced, hung out with Mort (editor of the annual that year) and his date a bit, made small talk, and then Mel took me home. The evening ended with a polite ‘thanks for asking me, I had a good time’ verbal handshake and then he left.
Afterwards I was determined to not let the less than stellar date affect our friendship in class and things went back to normal. Mel’s most famous moment in high school occurred a few months later in the spring of 1974 when he became the one and only student at Eisenhower High School to – at an after school track meet – participate in the nationwide phenomenon of … streaking! He graduated that June – in cap and gown – and I have never seen him again.
The next year there was no way I going to put myself through another awkward evening. I stayed on the sidelines and have never regretted that decision.
What the experience of asking Mel to Tolo did for me was two things:
- First, it made me totally appreciate the challenge for men – at least in my day – of having to read the tea leaves of a woman’s interest levels. It’s darn intimidating to figure out if she’ll say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
- Second, from experiences such as that, I gained valuable insight which has made it easier to penetrate the heads of the fictional characters I write. If I can conjure up the way I felt when I asked someone out or endured an awkward date, then I can imagine a character – male or female – having similar trepidation’s.
So here’s to Sadie Hawkins day… hope you ladies out there looking to ask that perfect guy out on a date find a keeper. Otherwise, there’s always catch and release.
A couple of links for you: