The Ladies' Privilege: Encouraging Women to Propose on Leap Day

Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Women have made great strides toward equality over the past century. But when it comes to marriage proposals, it’s still typically the men doing the asking. According to The Atlantic, in 97 percent of heterosexual marriages, the groom proposed to the bride.

Unless, of course, it’s February 29.

The idea that women could propose on this particular day during leap year became known as The Ladies’ Privilege, but it’s not quite clear how this supposed tradition got started or how far back it goes.

The disputed stories behind Ladies’ Privilege

One story goes that Saint Brigid of Ireland was frustrated by the fact that women in 5th century Ireland had to sit around waiting for marriage proposals that might never come. She complained about it to Saint Patrick who finally proclaimed that women could have the chance to propose themselves once every four years on leap day. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, St. Brigid would have been a child when St. Patrick died, so the likelihood that this actually happed is pretty slim.

Another tale claims that in 1288, Queen Margaret of Scotland had a law instated that said any man who dared turn down a proposal on February 29 must pay the woman a fine in the form of a kiss, a silk gown, expensive gloves, or simply cold hard cash. As fun as this story is, according to Snopes, it’s not true.

The same Snopes article goes on to say that while there are many folktales and superstitions surrounding Ladies’ Privilege, it’s more likely the tradition started because February 29 isn’t perceived as a "real" day. Therefore, normal societal rules do not apply, making this odd calendar occurrence an acceptable one for women to propose.

Ladies’ Privilege in Pop Culture

While the folklore surrounding this custom dates back hundreds of years, the idea of Ladies’ Privilege didn’t really come around until the early 20th century according to Slate. Slate also said that Ladies’ Privilege became a way for women to have some power in a time when they didn’t have much, however it was more of a false sense of empowerment. It also was not without criticism. There were even postcards that circulated poking fun at the tradition, often depicting the women doing the proposing as domineering and sometimes even violent. While the men being proposed to were depicted as weak and submissive.

Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

In 1937, Al Capp, author of the Li’l Abner comic strip, took the idea of women proposing on leap day and turned it into a running gag. But instead of occurring on February 29, he placed it on the November birthday of the comic’s resident spinster, Sadie Hawkins. Because Hawkins was unable to get a date, her father set up a race of all the eligible bachelors in town and if a woman caught them, they had to get married.

However, Sadie Hawkins Day started to become reality. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, in November 1938, the first recorded “girls-ask-boys” Sadie Hawkins Day dance occurred. The next year, Life reported that 200 colleges hosted Sadie Hawkins Day events.

The times they are a-changin'

A handful of famous women have proposed to their husbands, although sadly none that we can find on a leap day.

In 1839, Queen Victoria proposed to Prince Albert—a situation necessitated by the fact that, because she was queen, she must do the asking. Victoria recorded in her diary,

“At about half past 12 I sent for Albert; he came to the [room] where I was alone, and after a few minutes I said to him, that I thought he must be aware of why I wished [him] to come here, and that it would make me too happy if he would consent to what I wished (to marry me); we embraced each other over and over again, and he was so kind, so affectionate ... I told him I was quite unworthy of him and kissed his dear hand.”

Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor reportedly claimed that she proposed to all nine of her husbands—the first one when she was just 15 years old, and proposed to her 35-year-old boyfriend, a Turkish politician named Burhan Asaf Belge.

More recently, celebrities such as Halle Berry, Jennifer Hudson, Heather Mills, and the singer Pink have proposed to their husbands (or ex-husbands).

It’s still commonplace for men to propose but that status quo is starting to change. A Pinterest study in 2018 showed that women proposals were up 336 percent.

In 2018, The Knot changed the name of its sister site from How He Asked to How They Asked. “We believe proposals are founded in love and that love comes in all shapes and forms," How They Asked, site director Meghan Brown told Refinery 29 of the name change. "Men proposing to women, women proposing to men, same-sex couples proposing to each other, and everyone in between.”

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar


Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The Surprising History of Apple Cider Doughnuts

Apple cider doughnuts have a surprisingly modern history.
Apple cider doughnuts have a surprisingly modern history.
bhofack2/Getty Images

Apple cider doughnuts are synonymous with fall, particularly in New England, where apple orchards from Maine to Connecticut use their own cider to flavor the fluffy, golden rings. Both sweet and savory, and often dusted in finger-licking cinnamon sugar, apple cider doughnuts may seem like a quaint tradition inherited from Colonial times—but the tasty treats have a more modern history that may surprise you.

It all started with Russian immigrant and entrepreneur Adolf Levitt. According to Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut, Levitt bought a chain of New York bakeries in 1916. He was impressed by American soldiers’ fondness for the fried loops of flavored dough and began developing a doughnut-making machine to take advantage of troops’ appetites. In one of his early marketing coups, he installed a prototype in the window of his Harlem bakery in 1920. The machine caught the eye—and the cravings—of passersby. Levitt went on to sell his doughnut-making machines and a standardized flour mix to other bakeries.

He spun his marketing prowess into founding the Doughnut Corporation of America. The corporation evangelized doughnuts in marketing campaigns across print media, radio, and TV. A World War II-era party manual the DCA produced noted, “no other food is so heartwarming, so heartily welcomed as the doughnut.” Levitt’s granddaughter Sally L. Steinberg wrote that Levitt, “made doughnuts America's snack, part of office breaks for coffee and doughnuts, of Halloween parties with doughnuts on strings, of doughnut-laden political rallies.”

The DCA launched the first National Doughnut Month in October 1928. In its zeal, the DCA sometimes made dubious recommendations. In 1941, along with surgeon J. Howard Crum, it advocated for the single source “doughnut diet.” Later it marketed “Vitamin Doughnuts” based on an enhanced flour mix it claimed provided more protein and nutrients than made-at-home creations. (The federal government required them to use the name “Enriched Flour Doughnuts,” according to Glazed America.) A skeptical public didn’t gobble up the sales pitch—or the doughnuts.

In 1951, however, the DCA introduced a flavor with staying power. A New York Times article from August 19 of that year observed, “A new type of product, the Sweet Cider Doughnut will be introduced by the Doughnut Corporation of America in its twenty-third annual campaign this fall to increase doughnut sales. The new item is a spicy round cake that is expected to have a natural fall appeal.”

The cider doughnut recipe gives a fall spin to the basic buttermilk doughnut by adding apple cider to the batter, with cinnamon and nutmeg boosting the autumnal flavor. Each orchard typically has its own family recipe and usually serves them paired with mulled apple cider. The doughnuts have caught on well beyond pastoral landscapes and are now seasonal favorites in national chains and home kitchens. Dunkin’ has taken up the mantle, and Smitten Kitchen and The New York Times have recipes for a make-at-home version.

Although the apple cider doughnut has stood the test of time, the DCA didn’t. J. Lyons & Co. bought out Levitt’s DCA in the 1970s, and the entrepreneurs behind Seattle’s Top Pot Doughnuts later bought the DCA trademark. The company distributes its doughnuts nationwide; however, its offerings don’t include a cider doughnut.