When Ladies Took the Lead: A Leap Year Extravaganza in Galveston

When Ladies Took the Lead: A Leap Year Extravaganza in Galveston

By Kathleen Maca
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The year 2024, like 1912, is a leap year - when a leap day, or 29th day, is added to the month of February to align the accuracy of the Gregorian calendar. 

 Why is it called a leap year? A common year is 52 weeks and one day long. That means if your birthday was on a Thursday last year, it would normally be on a Friday the following year. 

 During leap year, the same date will leap ahead to Saturday. This does not take into consideration the fact that a person who is born on February 29 will only have an official birthday every four years. Sadly, that does not result in the person’s right to claim to be a younger age. 

 A fun bit of trivia is that a leap year number is divisible by four, but an end-of-century year, such as 1800, 1900, or 2000, must be divisible by four hundred to qualify. Although 2000 was a leap year, the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not.

 But the real attraction of leap years past was the unusual set of social privileges offered to young ladies, allowing them to send Valentines, extend social invitations, and even propose marriage to young men - all of which would have been considered overly forward in a normal year.

 Female society columnists like Madame Merri confirmed the activities were appropriate under the circumstance as long as they were adequately chaperoned and carried out in delicate ways, and not “brutal, knock-down ones.” 

 Though the most popular days of the year were Valentine’s Day (February 14) and Leap Valentine’s Day (February 29), fun-spirited, Sadie Hawkins’ style picnics, dances, and other events were held throughout the year.

 Advice columnists were also consulted about cleverly themed party menus, favors, and games to offer guests during the events. 

 Of course, merchants, especially jewelers, took full advantage of the increase in dating and wedding activity during the special period and marketed their goods in inventive ways to link to the year’s novelty. 

Jean Lafitte 


 Robert Cohen's department store even advertised “Leap Year Hats” for women, which they described as the newest styles for ladies, being mannish, tailored, and priced from $2.50 to $20. 

 Mockery of the opened opportunities for young ladies elicited sarcastic comments from news reporters, such as: “Dear girls, don’t forget this is a leap year, and you can soon vote and make your dearies stay at home and do the housework.” 

 It seems that the feminine assertiveness of leap year customs and the fact that Women’s Suffrage was making strides at the time, may have caused the older generation of men to be a bit more nervous about their station in society. The younger males in town seemed to think it was all great fun. 

 Leap Year Social Events
One of the first social events in Galveston in 1912 was a dinner hosted on February 10 by Mr. and Mrs. Henry L. Ziegler at the Hotel Galvez, in honor of Libbie Moody. Young ladies who attended invited their escorts, and upon arrival the young men were presented with corsage bouquets and the females received boutonnieres. 

 Twenty-four guests enjoyed a progressive dinner in the private dining room, where tables were decorated in a variety of six flower-inspired hues. The place cards were tiny wreaths of flowers to coordinate with each table’s theme, including lavender, rose, violet, lilies, fern, yellow tulips, and blue blossoms. Centerpieces of Marie Antoinette baskets, filled with the same flower varieties, also adorned the tables. 

 After each course, the ladies progressed to the next table, allowing them to enjoy the company of all of the young male attendees. The gentlemen, assuming a demure posture, would remain seated unless invited to rise. 

 Though small events were undoubtedly enjoyed by guests, the official Leap Year Ball at the Hotel Galvez, attended by 200 people on the evening of Valentine’s Day, was the most anticipated event of the season. 

 It was organized by 17 young ladies who comprised the Debutante Club. The members held meetings for weeks, planning each detail. 

The young ladies and young matrons (married women who accompanied their husbands) were delighted that the gentlemen in town were instructed to be patient and wait to be invited, reversing the normal custom. The bachelors in town were said to have been as eager for an invitation to the dance as the young ladies were regarding the annual Military Ball. 

Jean Lafitte 


 Attendees, both male and female, traveled from Houston, Sherman, New York City, Washington, D. C., South Carolina, and Indianapolis to participate in the novel party. Every detail was designed to honor the custom of ladies taking the initiative, and men assuming a more traditionally feminine manner of being the ‘belles’ of the ball. 

 The ladies sent carriages for their escorts and provided them with flowers, some receiving long-stemmed roses and others wearing corsages. 

 Upon arrival, the gentlemen were escorted from their carriages to the ballroom, which was decorated in smilax, and the enclosed terraces were embellished with palms and flags. 

 The male guests were issued fans and dance cards, usually presented to the ladies, to record the names of the female attendees who requested to accompany them onto the dance floor. Conway R. Shaw’s orchestra performed popular tunes of the era including “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”.

 The leap year ‘belles’ could not leave the ballroom unless they were accompanied by their evening escort, per proper ballroom manners, and if they, purposely or otherwise, dropped a fan or dance card it was quickly retrieved and returned by a female. 

 Male ‘debutantes’ were even assigned feminine versions of their own names to use for the evening, such as Georgia (George) Sealy, Henrietta (Henry) Runge, Jr., Charlemay (Charles) Fowler, and the like. 

 Husbands of matrons who attended were listed by the woman’s name instead of the man’s as was traditional and included Mr. Mary Moody Hutchings, Mrs. and Mr. Waldine Zimpleman Kopperl, and Mrs. and Dr. Laura Ballinger Randall. 

 Shortly before midnight, the crowd moved into the dining room where tables were decorated with red poppies and surrounded by potted ferns. Red felt hearts and silhouettes of Cupid adorned the décor. Favors wrapped in multi-colored tissue greeted guests at each place setting.

 Dinner included salted almonds, hot bullion, broiled squab, jelly, macaroni salad, brick ice cream, angel food cake, and coffee. Punch, red of course, was served throughout the evening. 

 The experience was the talk of the town for weeks following the event. 

Jean Lafitte 


 Additional, smaller scale leap year parties were hosted throughout the city on February 29, including a grand leap year social given by the Knights and Ladies of Security (a fraternal beneficiary society) at Cathedral Hall, located at 2002 Winnie Street. Music for the dance was provided by Harpers Band, and admission was 25 cents. 

 That same night, the Pythian Sisters of the local Knights of Pythias Temple, hosted a similar social at Castle Hall on Mechanic Street between 23rd and 24th streets. A dance was held by Hive Number 31 of the Ladies of the Maccabees at Red Men’s Hall on 21st Street the following week. 

 When word was received that the gunboat USS Wheeling was in port in March, several young ladies took the opportunity to host a leap year oyster roast, inviting several of the dashing young officers on board to the festivities. 

 Today, the extent of leap year activities might only include watching Amy Adam’s movie Leap Year, but perhaps this year is Galveston’s chance to bring some traditional fun back into vogue. 

 The following leap year superstitions were printed in a local newspaper in 1912 as either warnings or amusements, depending on how seriously they were taken. 

• Both sexes are more susceptible to love during leap year than in any other year.
• Marriage during a leap year is sure to be lucky; the husband will not be fickle nor the wife extravagant.
• The man who refuses a leap year proposal will sustain a heavy business loss, which will grieve him sorely. His best friends will prove false to him.
• He who weds during a leap year will be sure to secure an amiable wife instead of a vixen.
• During a leap year, a man must not pay serious court to any one woman if he be not in a position to wed, lest he loses all power to charm womankind ever after.
• During a leap year, no man must judge a woman by her garments; silk may cover a heart of iron and calico may cover a heart of gold.
• During a leap year, do not participate in a double wedding.
• During a leap year, beware of chance acquaintances - the flirt, the prude, or the widow.
• During a leap year, it is unlucky for a man to leave a woman's letter unanswered between a new moon and its last quarter.
• During a leap year, the happiest months for marriages are September and December.