Photography

Sadie Hawkins

LIBBY SIMON

Sadie Hawkins Day is the Saturday following November 9.

This simple photograph of an ordinary teenage couple in a bygone era was taken in November of about 1952, on Sadie Hawkins Day at the elegant Royal Alexandra Hotel in Winnipeg, and Harold was my date.

I didn’t know this picture existed until it popped up in my inbox. My old friend Marlene, with whom Harold and I double-dated back then, found it and sent it to me. It was her yet-to-be-husband Gordy who had taken the picture with a box camera, then developed it at home in his darkroom, and they have saved it all these years.

For me, Sadie Hawkins Day was a fun, liberating event because I grew up at a time when the social mores were quite different from today. In the 1950s, young ladies waited to be asked out by young gentle­men and could not imagine a fate worse than the humiliation of becoming an “old maid.” Perhaps Sadie Hawkins Day was a harbinger of things to come, but back then it offered girls the rare opportunity to ask boys out without feeling that they were being too forward.

Sadie Hawkins was a comic strip character created by Al Capp in his satirical cartoon strip, Li’l Abner. According to the story, Sadie was the homely daughter of the wealthiest and most powerful man in Dogpatch, USA. Her father worried that she would end up an old maid, so, in the month of November, he decreed a day he called Sadie Hawkins Day. He lined up all the bachelors and when he fired his gun in the air, they ran and the unmarried females chased after them. Any man who was caught was forced to marry the girl who captured him.

And a tradition was born. The event—a dance party—first appeared in November 1937 and soon became popular among teens and college crowds across the country. One of the rituals was for the girl to buy her date a corsage, which in Winnipeg in the ’50s became the focal point of the event. This was not the traditional boutonniere. Many a corsage featured a teddy bear at the centre, like the one in the photo. Some girls who were artistically inclined created their own corsages. Others, like me, took all the paraphernalia to the florist, who assembled them into a creative “work of art,” like a floral bouquet. They attached many multicoloured streamers that trailed from the teddy bear down to the ground. Little knick-knacks and trinkets like toy cars, trucks or tools were clipped to the long ribbons. Some girls added soothers or miniature baby bottles. Imagination was the only limit. The girl walked down the street dressed in her finest, beaming as she clasped the hand of her captive, who proudly wore his weighty corsage on the sagging lapel of his jacket.

Sadie Hawkins Day celebrations have declined in popularity and have transformed over the years, perhaps because its creator, Al Capp, who had featured the event in his strip every November, died in 1977. Or it may be that with the advent of the feminist movement and changing mores, there was no longer a need for Sadie Hawkins Day. Nonetheless, it is still celebrated across parts of Canada and the U.S., sporting new names such as Women Pay All (WPA) or Ladies’ Choice. Wearing matching clothes is a popular ritual that identifies the young pair as belonging to each other.

The stylish loveseat dwarfing the young couple in this photo reflects the splendour and grace of the “Royal Alex,” as it was affectionately called, which was one of the Canadian Pacific Railway hotels built across Canada. Bedecked like Cinderella in my gold taffeta dress and shoes, I took my prince out to swing to the music of a Big Band in the grand ballroom of the palatial structure that was the social hub for Winnipeggers from all walks of life. The building is now defunct, but the charm of this special event in a historic place and time is captured in the picture to save the memory for posterity.

And by the way, the teens in the picture have been married for fifty-two years.

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LIBBY SIMON

Libby Simon’s work has appeard in Homemaker’s magazine, Canadian Living Online, the Winnipeg Free Press, and Canadian and US anthologies, as well as on CBC radio and at imfcanada.org (Institute of Marriage and Family Canada).


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