Ladies Privilege Day

Leap Year is celebrated every 4 years on February 29. This extra day was added to the calendar in 46 BCE when Julius Caesar’s astrologers measured the solar year at 365 days and 6 hours. To eliminate the odd 6 hours each year, the Julian calendar added an extra day to February every 4 years. 

The term Leap Year originated because English courts did not legally recognise February 29 and, as in the game of leapfrog, the day was simply ‘leapt’ over. Hence, whatever occurred on this extra day every four years was dated February 28. 

Because Leap Year has always been seen as an unusual occurrence, disturbing the orderly progression of the year, various beliefs and superstitions have been attached to this out-of-the-ordinary event. Often termed as ‘Ladies Privilege Day’, February 29 is the day when a young woman may propose to her reluctant young lover who has not yet popped the question. The most likely explanation for this custom’s beginning has to do with the fact that February 29 was perceived as a day that did not properly belong in the calendar. Therefore, this was a day when the ordinary rules of conduct did not apply. However, according to popular belief in the British Isles, this tradition was started in fifth-century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait so long for a man to propose. So, the kindly saint granted that yearning females could propose on this one day in February during a Leap Year. 

Formerly, when courtship rules were much stricter than in today’s permissive society, and men customarily did the asking and women the accepting or declining, this was the only day of the year when women were allowed to pop the question. However, there is general disagreement about The Ladies Privilege – some see it appropriate only to the extra day; others consider it applicable throughout that Leap year.

To succeed in her proposal, it was apparently customary for the lady in question to wear a scarlet petticoat, clearly visible to all from under her dress, hence leaving no doubt about her intentions. Several sources claim this is the origin of the expression ‘scarlet woman’ to describe someone brazen or forward. 

In America, Sadie Hawkins Day, which is not a set holiday, but celebrated by some on the Saturday closest to November 9, is the equivalent of ‘woman-can-pursue-man day’. Named after the man-chasing female character in the cartoon strip Li’l Abner, Sadie Hawkins Day officially gives women permission either to propose or to ask their beau out on a date.


This is a web preview of the "Strange but True: A Historical Background to Popular Beliefs and Traditions" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App