“Who Was Sadie Hawkins?” By Neal Murphy

May 22, 2023 - Back in the dark ages when I was in high school there was an unwritten rule that the young females lived by. I assume it was not written down as I never actually saw it in print. This rule was that the young girls never, under any circumstances, asked a boy for a date.

There was a second apparent unwritten rule that “nice” girls never used bad language in public, that is, no four-letter words. They might have used them among themselves, but I never heard a girl say any. In fact, I was so naïve that I thought that it was impossible for a female to say certain words. Had I heard a girl talk “naughty”, she would have shocked me into dropping her name to the bottom of my list of prospects.

Since the girls could not ask a guy for a date I assume that it resulted in many a lonely female sitting by the telephone waiting for it to ring. I always assumed that a cute girl never had any difficulty getting a date. However, there was one day each year when it was perfectly fine for a girl to chase after a boy, “Sadie Hawkins Day”. Here was an opportunity for a girl to approach that boy she had been dreaming about for months for a date to the Sadie Hawkins Dance that night.

I always thought that Sadie Hawkins was a real woman from years ago who chased after men, but found out that she was pure fiction from the mind of Al Capp, a cartoonist who created “Li’l Abner”, a cartoon strip which first appeared in 1937.

Sadie Hawkins was the daughter of one of the earliest settlers of Dogpatch, Hekzebiah Hawkins. She was the homeliest gal in all them hills. For fifteen years she had failed to catch a husband. Her pappy, in desperation, one day decided to call together all the eligible bachelors of Dogpatch. He declared “Sadie Hawkins Day”. A starting gun was fired, to give the boys a head start. Then a second gun was fired, and, as her father said, “When Sadie starts running, the one she ketches will be her husband”.

Well, Sadie did catch one of the boys. The other spinsters of Dogpatch reckoned it was such a good idea that Sadie Hawkins Day was made an annual affair.

For Al Capp, this was a plot device in the ongoing romance between Daisy Mae and Li’l Abner. Each year the Sadie Hawkins Day Race took the form of Abner hearing a prediction about the outcome. Eventually, of course, Capp did allow Abner and Daisy to marry in the cartoon strip.

The dance came about a bit later. The Sadie Hawkins Day Dance was on the night before the race. The girls wore hob-nailed boots to trample on the feet of the bachelors, to impede their running the next day.

The idea of Sadie Hawkins Day took college campuses by storm. By 1939 – only two years after the day first appeared in the comic strip – Life Magazine reported that over 200 colleges in 188 cities had a Sadie Hawkins Day event. The magazine called it an “epic pursuit” and featured pictures from Texas Wesleyan College. The event then spread like wildfire.

What made “Sadie Hawkins Day” so popular it its day? Some think it was the first glimmerings of relief from the Great Depression. It was a time of social ferment, as the labor movement strengthened. College students who could not afford to rent a tuxedo or buy a formal gown for dress-up dances could still have some fun by dressing in the rags these Dogpatchers wore in that new comic strip. And of course, girls could now invite the boys. It was such a safe activity, couched in fun and costumes, that even a Methodist college in Texas could approve it.

I don’t hear much about Sadie Hawkins Day in our schools any more. Could it be that the “unwritten rule” about girls chasing boys for dates is so passé that there is now no need for such an event? Girls do the asking all the time now days.

In 1969 Al Capp made the comment that “the Sadie Hawkins Days were just gangs of desperate girls struggling to meet men.” What do you think?