The Ugly Truth Behind Sadie Hawkins Day

Andy Capp's Li'l Abner featuring Sadie Hawkins
EducationHoliday 32 Comments

It’s Sadie Hawkins Day. You know, the day when the girls are supposed to ask out the boys. Like us, you may have vivid memories of those dreadful Sadie Hawkins Day school dances, where the pressure was on and the gossip was flying about who would ask whom to the dance. Although it may have seemed like a fun novelty then, knowing what we know now, we think… not so much.

The legend that we’ve always been fed about Sadie Hawkins Day is that it’s supposed to make girls and women feel a sense of empowerment. But knowing the ugly truth behind its origin, we’re not sure how this atrocious “holiday” is still being observed today.

So how did this day become so engrained in our American folklore? Here’s what you should know…

Sadie Hawkins was not an actual person. She made her public debut in cartoon artist Al Capp’s November 15, 1937 comic strip Li’l Abner, which was set in the fictional mountain village of DogpatchKentucky. Sadie, “the homeliest gal in all them hills,” was the daughter of Hezekiah, the town’s most wealthy and powerful man. Because Sadie was so ugly, she couldn’t land herself a husband. It terrified Hezekiah to think that his “ancient” 35-year-old daughter would suffer the worst humiliation a woman could ever experience – being an old maid – so he took the matter into his own hands.

Al Capp's original Sadie HawkinsCalling all the bachelors in town, Hezekiah declared it “Sadie Hawkins Day” and ordered a race of eligible bachelors with Sadie chasing after them… when a man was caught, he would be legally bound to marry her. The other town spinsters loved this idea so much that they declared Sadie Hawkins Day a mandatory annual event, which was recreated in the comic strip by Capp every November… for FORTY years!

Sadie Hawkins Day wasn’t just a hit with the fictional spinsters of Dogpatch, it was also a hit with Capp’s real life readers. In 1939, two years after Sadie’s introduction, Life magazine reported over 200 colleges holding Sadie Hawkins Day events. It became a rite for girls at high schools and college campuses across the country.

Understanding that Sadie Hawkins was a craze during a very different time in history helps to put its popularity into perspective, at least a little bit. But now, 76 years later, you don’t need a Women’s Studies degree to know that the sexist foundation on which it’s based is outdated, to say the least.

As for the man who dreamed up this idea, Al Capp was apparently a known womanizer and misogynist, as well as an accused rapist. His reputation for “seducing and even sexually assaulting aspiring actresses, including a young Goldie Hawn and a distraught and disheveled Grace Kelly,” along with sleeping with the college girls he met on his Sadie Hawkins Day tours preceded him.

So today, on her “special” day, let’s liberate Sadie from her tragic life and discontinue these celebrations. By shifting the focus to teaching the significance of her story in American history and what it represents, we can better appreciate how far we’ve come.

NOTE: Although Sadie was first introduced in the cartoon on November 15, Sadie Hawkins Day is “observed” on November 13.

  • Jean B.

    Definitely an antiquated ritual. Having been around for quite a number of years, I can remember actually being scared to ask a guy out. It just wasn’t the correct thing to do – girls and women just did not do that. So Sadie Hawkins Day gave us the gumption to put aside our fears and go for it. But today’s world is definitely different. So, yes, let’s put this ritual away for good.

  • Carol

    This is the craziest thing! It’s mind-boggling that I ever participated in these type of events as a young girl. Parents must band together and speak up against this continuing. With our more PC society today, I can’t believe this still goes on.

  • Chuck Z.

    Humble Thought:
    It’s how we live it that matters.. Are you trashing S.H. day just because A.C. was a JERK?
    Got a replacement? We could use more non-Hallmark festivities. Eidas Sinkwah Day anyone?

    P.S. I don’t think asking/being asked, has changed all that much over the years.. Our daughter’s high school has one dance a year, the senior prom. Apparently they do limos and $200 dresses – now there’s something to rail against. No Sadie Hawkins here.

  • KW

    Huh. Never knew…thanks for sharing this! Until now I never particularly thought of my school as “Progressive” but maybe the little everyday acts like just not calling it a “Sadie Hawkins Day Dance”, but instead a “Turnaround Dance” or even just a “Dance” were their quiet way of empowering us!

  • In Part

    Oh my gosh take a walk, do some meditation. We celebrate Grimm’s Fairy Tales through Disney and they are alive and thriving. Most of all things that happened a century or more ago wouldn’t fly today as it was, so they evolve. We are a dynamic people. We are empowered because we believe we are empowered; man or woman. Your heart is dangling from your sleeve- so afraid fat or a nose or pair of legs aren’t good enough when in reality it is your own judgement that causes your lack. Your confidence and belief in yourself is what makes you appealing.

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  • Frank Talk

    Actually, “Sadie Hawkins Day” has always been linked to February 29th.

    • Katrina Petkovic


      • Ed Uber

        No, that’s not right. Sadie Hawkin’s Day was invented by Al Capp. He first came up with it in November, then was dismayed that people held him to that schedule every year, preferring to bring the holiday up whenever and only whenever he felt like it. However, there is a truly ancient tradition that women are allowed to propose to (bachelor) men on Leap Day (February 29th), and it was bad form for the man to refuse the proposal. That may be what you’re thinking of.

    • Cathrine Chartier

      Yes always a leap year…

    • Darcey Allen

      Yeah . . . that’s what I thought too. Can someone look this up?

      • Un Known

        Yes. Sadie Hawkins Day is observed of the Leap day, but also November 15th not the 13th

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  • Darcey Allen

    I found this article, but not one that could explain why two divergent dates could merge into one.

    • Ed Uber

      The article isn’t clear, but the much older Leap Day tradition got confused with Sadie Hawkins day because of the shared idea that women should take the more aggressive role on that day.

  • Capt Tee

    The college I went to had a historical movie that all Freshmen were required to attend, since we all took the same history class during the month of January. The young women in the upper classes would call the freshmen guys to make sure make sure all the freshmen women had a date for the movie. (over 40 years ago)

  • KansasWrangler

    Now, they are calling them “reverse proms”.

  • Ed Uber

    Bearing in mind that Al Capp’s main joke was that hillbillies are (lazy, drunken, physically aggressive and) stupid, it seems unlikely that readers took the criteria of Dogpatch men seriously, or even the problem of Sadie Hawkins’ spinsterhood, for that matter. As to his record with women, womanizing per se is not an anti-woman trait. However, allegations that he made pass at students while lecturing, and especially Goldie Hawn’s allegations of a casting couch proposition (which I see no reason to doubt) show a willingness to sexually exploit women that was and is unacceptable. His sexual behavior aside, though, his record for pro-woman standards is quite good. He fought the female exclusionist policies of the National Cartoonist Society, going so far as to resign for a while in 1949 in protest when they refused to admit Hilda Terry. His Dogpatch women were quite a bit smarter than the men, and this appears to have reflected his actual belief about the genders, rather than being a mere humorous role-reversal. He generally considered a misanthrope; to call him a misogynist may therefore be technically correct, but is misleading. Check out Wikipedia.

    • Christina Venegas

      Being a womanizer if an anti-woman trait!

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  • J Leland Kupferberg

    Of course, my prior comment was removed because it wasn’t deemed sufficiently politically correct. I will try again, and merely exercise my free speech right to express the thought [crime] that the writer of this article is perchance of the left and perchance a bit misguided in belief.

  • A Friend

    Why always looking to be a victim? This started from a cartoon that was entertaining and continues to this day as a fun theme for a party that girls love to be able to have an excuse to ask the guy they have a crush on to a dance. It is not at all demeaning to females.

  • Phil Asshomo

    Y’all pent-up bitches just need some BEEF.

  • Writer of this piece, how about just accepting something humorous in the spirit it was intended, and not being such a professional victim?

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