Every October, we indulge in a month-long horrorfest at our house. Zombieland was the movie of choice a few nights ago, and the scene came up where Columbus explains how one of his worst moments of 1997 was when his school held a Sadie Hawkins dance. “No one asked you?” “It was girls’ choice,” he says by way of explanation. So who is this Sadie Hawkins and why is she so cruel?
Let us go back to a time that was not so politically correct – specifically, 1937. If you’re a comics-reading person, then you were probably reading Al Capp’s Li’l Abner, which was only about three years old at the time. Li’l Abner was set in Dogpatch, and one of Dogpatch’s residents, Hekzebiah Hawkins, had a daughter referred to as “the homeliest gal in all them hills.” When Miss Sadie Hawkins reached the age of 35 and still had not found a man to marry her (oh, the horror!!), her father put his foot down and declared it Sadie Hawkins Day. Shotgun in hand, the bumpkin declared, "When ah fires, 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." See for yourself:
Sadie Hawkins’ mad dash for marriage was a hit with readers, and by 1939, Sadie Hawkins Day was a teenage trend. That year, Life magazine reported that girls at more than 200 universities across the United States had embraced Miss Hawkins and declared a day where they could be just like her. They didn’t exactly recruit dads with shotguns, but they did declare it OK to buck traditional gender roles by asking a guy on a date instead of waiting to be asked.
The Sadie Hawkins tradition continued in Li’l Abner for 40 years, though Capp wasn’t thrilled about it. "It's become my responsibility,” he wrote in 1952. “It doesn't happen on any set day in November; it happens on the day I say it happens. I get tens of thousands of letters from colleges, communities, and church groups, starting around July, asking me what day, so they can make plans."