Leap Year Proposals: A Silk Dress and a Kiss: 1904-8

leap year through the hoop

This is, of course, a Leap Year. Mrs Daffodil, who hastens to assure her readers that she has no intention of proposing to anyone, thought it would be pleasant to look at some of the topsy-turvey traditions of the Leap Year and its Proposals.

Here are some of the popular superstitions:

Nothing shall be built, planned, or planted in a leap-year; it does not prosper. Leap-years are unlucky because they have an even number of days in them, also because they can be divided by four, which is an unlucky number…Leap-year is a very unlucky year for babies. Those born in a leap year are hard to raise, and they are constantly subject to sickness. In some mysterious way it is said, the whole vegetable world is affected by the influences of leap-year. The peas and beans grow the wrong way in their pods and seeds are set in quite the contrary way to what they are in other years.

Go to an old deserted house at midnight on the last day of February in leap-year. Walk around the house scattering hemp seed. On the fourth round you will see your future husband or wife; but if you see a coffin, you are never to marry.

In America as well as in England leap-year is considered the one year when the maidens have the privilege to propose to young men; if a man refuses a leap-year proposal he must pay the penalty of a silk gown and a kiss. [This arises from the following legend:]

As St. Patrick was perambulating the shores of Lough N’eagh, after having driven the frogs out of the bogs and the snakes out of the grass, he was accosted by St . Bridget, who with many tears and lamentations informed him that dissension had arisen among the ladies in her nunnery over the fact that they were debarred the privilege of “popping the question…”

It will be remembered that in Bridget’s day celibacy, although approved by the Church as the proper life of a religious, and consequently made binding upon the individual by a private vow, was not enforced as a general and absolute rule for the clergy.

St. Patrick a sternly single man himself was yet so far moved that he offered to concede to the ladies the privilege of proposing one year in every seven. But at this St. Bridget demurred, and throwing her arms about his neck, exclaimed, “Arrah! Pathrick, jewel, I daurn’t go back to the gurls wid such a proposal. Mek it wan year in four.”

To which St. Patrick replied, “Biddy, acushla, squeeze me that way again, and I’ll give you leap year, the longest one of the lot.”

St. Bridget, thus encouraged, bethought herself of her own husbandless condition, and accordingly popped the question to St. Patrick herself. But he had taken the vows of celibacy; so he had to patch up the difficulty as best he could with a kiss and a silk gown.

And ever since then, “if a man refuses a leap-year proposal, he must pay the penalty of a silk gown and a kiss.”  Encyclopaedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences, edited by Cora Linn Morrison Daniels, Charles McClellan Stevens, 1903

It occurs to Mrs Daffodil that if one were careful to choose a number of truly reluctant gentlemen, one might very economically replenish one’s wardrobe….

A lady's proposal to a blushing gentleman. From Punch

A lady’s proposal to a blushing gentleman. From Punch

The notion of bloomer-clad ladies going down on one knee to their fluttering swains gave the gentlemen the vapours. Fortunately an Old Bachelor had some helpful suggestions:

How a Man Can Say No in Leap Year

By An Old Bachelor

Nerve-trying leap year again is here and it behooves all unmarried men to be on the alert as to where they go and what they do and say.

How to refuse the girl is a problem that has racked many a brain during leap year. Few men know the secret. The result has been that many have said yes when they meant no, simply because they did not have the nerve to say no. And disaster rampant has been the outcome.

There can be no doubt that leap year is the most trying of all years on the unmarried man. There is no task that man has to perform so very torturing to the nerves as to say no to a pretty girl when she has proposed. Therefore it behooves every man to learn how to say no or otherwise this year there will be a crop of marriages that man nor nature never intended, with all the resultant harvest of calamity and woe.

Courage and firmness are the first requisites. For the courageous man in full possession of all his faculties, it might do to hesitate and evade the question, and thus delay the matter until leap year is over. But for the timid man such a rule will never apply .he must come right out and say no without any hesitancy at all.

Don’t wait a second or your courage may fail. Don’t think at all. Just say no and then jump out of the window or by other means get away from the scene as quickly as possible and leave the town.

For the courageous man, the man who has nearly as much nerve as a woman, a different policy may be pursued. If the girl is not too persistent he may be able to avoid the marriage and at the same time not come right out and say no.

No better direction can be given to this man than to employ the tactics used by women. Say “I will be a brother,” or “this is so sudden,” or better still, tell the girl that you had intended proposing yourself, that you object to leap year proposals and ask her to wait until next year, when you will have another chance to propose.

Tell her anything. Don’t mind a little white lie; resort to any kind of scheme or device, but avoid the marriage.

Be very careful to word your utterances so as to not become involved in a breach of promise suit.

The best advice of all, however, is to keep out of the company of women during the year. Happy the man living in the wild west during the dangerous period.

For the man in the city it is almost impossible to keep away from women, especially from widows. He finds them at nearly all entertainments and in the offices and on the street galore. Therefore, the best he can do is not talk to woman during the year 1908 only when it is absolutely necessary. under no conditions should you engage in conversation with a widow. They are threatening enough during ordinary years; their presence is absolutely fatal to single blessedness during leap year.

Never answer the telephone yourself, and be careful to learn whether it is a woman or a man who wants to speak to you before you ever take the receiver in your hand.

If a man will carefully observe these rules there is a chance that he may get thru the year without anything serious happening to him. In a few weeks you will become accustomed to the way of acting and the task will be less difficult. Then you will gain nerve with your growing self-confidence.

You will not jump in nervous suspicion when your stenographer says: “Do you want me now?” or “I am ready to take your dictations.”

Stay at home as much as possible, keep your door locked, and beware of intoxicants, for when a man indulges he often rushes into dangers he would never dare when sober.

Never think of suicide until all other expedients have been resorted to. And remember, leap year is but one day longer than any other year. Fort Worth [TX] Star-Telegram 4 March 1908: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil hopes that your Leap Year Proposals, should you choose to make them, will bring you all the happiness you desire. Remember, in Leap Year, the gentleman….

leap year kissesleap year acceptleap year silk dress

 Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


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