Where did the idea of the Sadie Hawkins Dance—the one in which the girls ask the boys, rather than vice versa—come from? The phenomenon, huge in the mid-20th century, gets its name from a fictional character, Today I Found Out explains. The comic strip Lil' Abner, by Al Capp, launched in 1934, and it featured one Sadie Hawkins: the "homeliest gal in all them hills." In order to find her a husband, her father organized a race that had her chasing all the local bachelors. "Th’ one she ketches’ll be her husbin," her father said.
The race took place yearly, and it was preceded by a Sadie Hawkins Dance, to which ladies wore hob-nailed boots and stepped on the gents' feet in order to slow them down the next day. Five years after the strip launched, some 200 colleges were holding a Sadie Hawkins Day, presumably without the threat of boot-induced injury. The idea appealed to people in the repressed 1930s, Kathy Padden writes: It provided a rare opportunity for women to be open about love interests. Though today its popularity has waned, some 40,000 places marked the day in 1952.