Boomers, Gen-Xers, and younger generations are likely familiar with the premise for National Sadie Hawkins Day, celebrated on November 13 each year. It’s a day for a bit of gender role reversal — and we acknowledge the antiquity of ‘traditional’ roles — where women become the pursuers of their crushes and ask men out on dates or for a dance.
History of Sadie Hawkins Day
The tradition stems from a plot line in American cartoonist Al Capp’s (1909-1979) comic strip, “Li’l Abner,” which, unlike most comic strips of the time, was set in the American South and not Northeastern cities and suburbs. The story — one reviled by modern feminists — involved a rich man’s daughter named Sadie Hawkins in the fictional town of Dogpatch, Kentucky, who was so ‘homely’ that she was still unmarried at 35. Her worried father then gathered all the town’s bachelors together and set up a sort of race, with the men running ahead of Sadie. The one she finally caught would have to marry her.
The original Sadie Hawkins “Li’l Abner” comic strips were printed in 1937 in many American and foreign newspapers. The readership was wide and varied in demographics. Al Capp did not intend for his plot device to gain so much social momentum. Still, after he revisited the storyline in November of 1938, American college students started to honor the idea of gender role reversal by holding Sadie Hawkins dances and other events. By the winter of 1939, “Life” magazine had published a two-page spread with the headline, ‘On Sadie Hawkins Day Girls Chase Boys in 201 Colleges.’ Thus, tradition was born.
Under a barrage of fan mail, Capp regularly went back to the Sadie Hawkins theme every November, going against his regular loose storytelling timetable, and put a new spin on it each year. In one instance, there was a ‘Sadie Hawkins Eve Dance,’ where the women wore hobnail boots and stomped on the men’s feet to make them run slower in the next day’s race so they’d be easier to catch and marry.
As the years went on, Sadie Hawkins dances became commonplace, not only at colleges and universities but at high and junior high schools, with many — or most — young participants not even aware of the old comic-strip storyline. However, we concede to those expressing a feminist distaste for a woman’s ‘needing’ to be married at any age. Looking at it now, it is quite an old-fashioned point of view, well into the 21st century. National Sadie Hawkins Day is not for everyone. But it is one of the holidays for November 13, and everyone is free to celebrate or denigrate as they see fit.
Sadie Hawkins Day Timeline
A Star is Born
Alfred Gerald Caplin — who would later adopt the pen name Al Capp — was born in New Haven, Connecticut, to Otto Philip Caplin and Matilda (Davidson) Caplin.
The Start of a Long Career
The first “Li’l Abner” comic strip is published in daily American, Canadian, and European newspapers, with the color Sunday version appearing six months later.
A Radical Idea
The first Sadie Hawkins story appears in Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner” comic strip.
Any Press is Good Press
“Life” magazine brings Sadie Hawkins into the national limelight with a two-page spread.
Sadie Hawkins Day Faqs
Why do they call it a Sadie Hawkins dance?
The Sadie Hawkins dance is named after the “Li’l Abner” comic strip character Sadie Hawkins, created by cartoonist Al Capp. In the strip, Sadie Hawkins Day fell on a given day in November (Capp never specified an exact date).
Was Sadie Hawkins a real person?
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 Dogpatch, Kentucky.
Why was Capp so sardonic?
Aside from a natural irreverence, it’s been said that Capp’s loss of his left leg in a trolley accident contributed to the darkness of his humor. He says, “I was indignant as hell about that leg.”
How To Celebrate National Sadie Hawkins Day
Become the pursuer
National Sadie Hawkins Day is the perfect time to work up your courage and ask that person you’ve always wanted to be asked out by, no matter what your respective gender identifications are. The worst that can happen is they say no; if they say yes, you’ve got a brand-new relationship!
Write up some criticism.
You’d be celebrating the day, conversely, but that’s okay. Change only comes when we work toward it. Bang out a letter to the editor, a social media post, or even a short story to explain why “traditional” roles are passé.
Go to a dance
Are swing dance classes and contra dances still a thing? Go online and look up the venues in your town or city and find out. Grab a partner or go it alone, and hit the parquet to be asked to dance and ask someone to dance—no need for politics or self-imposed strictures when the rhythm hits you.
5 Amazing Facts About "li’l Abner."
Do you like musicals?
In 1956, “Li’l Abner” was adapted into a Broadway musical that included a dance number called ‘The Sadie Hawkins Ballet.’
On the silver screen
“Li’l Abner” was made into a movie twice — once in 1940 and again in 1959 — the latter starred names like Julie Newmar, Carmen Alvarez, and Jerry Lewis.
All in good fun
There were many parodies of the “Abner” strip, like “Fearless Fosdick” — a strip within the strip — and “Jack Jawbreaker,” many of which are believed to have influenced Harvey Kurtzman when he created “Mad” in 1952.
Ahead of the curve
At its peak readership, “Li’l Abner” reached 70 million Americans every day — and that’s when the U.S. population was only 180 million!
Going out with a bang
Al Capp’s retirement was an event in itself, with “People” magazine running a feature and the “New York Times” — which did not print comic strips — devoting a full page.
Why We Love National Sadie Hawkins Day
It tells us about how things used to be
The fact that the basic premise of the Sadie Hawkins storyline is that a woman should be married to a man by a certain age tells us how different things were 60 years ago. It would be outrageous today for a friend or family member to put that kind of pressure on a loved one. Today, we can recognize how far the fight for equality of all kinds has come while at the same time acknowledging how much work is yet to be done.
It’s a lark
There’s nothing wrong with mixing up the pot within limits. It’s fun to think about asking someone out you secretly admire and, even more fun to be approached by someone who nicely admires you. Sometimes when life throws you a curveball, you can still make a hit.
It’s a part of sequential art history.
Comic-book fans can look at “Li’l Abner” and see the underpinnings and origins of the superhero books they love today. Sequential art has a rich history — one that’s worth investigating.