Friday, February 29, 2008

The Privilege of Ladies

Because leap years are seen as unusual events that disturb the otherwise orderly progression of days/months/years, certain beliefs have been attached to them. (One constant in the realm of folklore and superstition is that out-of-the-ordinary events are deemed to have out-of-the-ordinary consequences or properties.) Leap years, according to folk tradition, were the only times when women could propose marriage to men, with this belief often termed "The Ladies' Privilege." Yet even within this hypothesis there was disagreement as to how far it went -- a great many of those who encountered this custom did not see it as applicable throughout the length of a leap year, but only to the extra day itself; that is, only to February 29.

Another school of thought held that a man so entreated either had to accept the proposal or pay the refused woman a substantial forfeit for turning her down, such as a silk gown or £100…

I have two sets of grandparents who were married during a leap year -- though neither on LeapDay. The same leap year even - 1936. 18 leap years ago. My maternal grandparents managed it by the skin of their teeth on December 31. It's not clear who proposed to whom, or whether Leap Year figured into their plans at all.

Coincidentally, both marriages were conducted by a Justice of the Peace, with only the required witnesses. While all four participants lived in St. Louis, MO at the time, both marriages occurred in Illinois. No family members were in attendance at either one; primarily because family hadn't been informed. Both sets of my grandparents were married on a spur of the moment. A leap of love.

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