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Clipping of a newpaper caricature of four individuals jumping over a calendar with visible text leap year.
The Waterbury Evening Democrat (Waterbury, CT), Feb. 28, 1936.

Leap Day in the Press

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Celebrating Leap Year in Chronicling America

Why is an extra day added to the calendar every 4 years? And why does that day happen to be added to the end of February? Well, you can ask our Science Reference Services for a more detailed response to those questions, but a simple explanation is that it takes the Earth a bit longer than exactly 365 days to orbit the Sun. The fact that the day was added to February, which has only 28 days every year other than a leap year, has to do with Pope Gregory XIII, the maker of the Gregorian calendar, the one we follow.  Read more in these two newspaper articles: “The Twenty-Ninth and How it Happened” and “Earth Dividend Given Earth-Dwellers in ‘40.” 

Clipping of a newspaper page with illustration of february 1908 calendar and visible text: the twenty-ninth and how it happened
The Topeka State Journal (Topeka, KS), Feb. 29, 1908.

Birthdays

If February 29 happens to be your birthday, you might be called a leaper, leapling, or simply a leap day baby. Here are some examples of newspaper articles we found in Chronicling America* about celebrating a birthday that only comes around every 4 years.

Sometimes leap birthdays are shared with other family members. For instance, Deborah and Barbara are two first cousins with the same exact birthday of February 29, 1952.

Newspaper clipping of two young girls looking at each other and holding up a page from a calendar with visible text February 29.
Evening Star (Washington, DC), Feb. 28, 1960.

 

And sometimes birthdays are celebrated in the immediate family. James and Marjorie share the same birthdate– just four years apart.

Newspaper clipping with photograph of two adolescents holding up puppets on strings with visible text two in one family mark leap day as birthday.
The Wilmington Morning Star (Wilmington, NC), Feb. 28, 1940.

 

Although it is not related to newspapers, we certainly couldn’t help but mention that a famous superhero in our comic book collection also has a leap year birthday. Can you guess who it is? Read to the end for the answer!  

Marriage Proposals
According to an Irish tradition, a leap year opened the door for women to propose marriage to men, either only on February 29 or anytime during that year

Newspaper clipping with visible text mothers, watch your sons it is leap year you know.
Martinsburg W Va Evening Journal (Martinsburg, WV), Jan. 3, 1920.

The press helped promote this idea by offering awards to the year’s “leap-year couple.”

Suffragist, activist, and lawyer Inez Milholland famously proposed to Dutch businessman, Eugen Jan Boissevain and they wed in London in July 1913. See her advice for a successful proposal in the newspaper article below and if you need more counsel, check out this blog post featuring an 1880 book called How to Get a Husband!: Leap Year Manual.

Newspaper clipping of a woman with outstretched arms and visible text famous woman who proposed tells how it should be done.
The Tacoma Times (Takoma, WA), Jan. 1, 1916.

Sales
Many retailers took advantage of the extra day of the year to offer deals to customers that only come around every 4 years, as seen in numerous newspaper advertisements over the years. 

What will you do with your “extra” day? Let us know in the comments!

* The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Follow Chronicling America on X @ChronAmLOC and click here to subscribe to Headlines & Heroes and never miss a post.

(**If you guessed Superman, you were right!)

 

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