Many traditions made their way to America with the immigrants that brought them. One of these is a leap day tradition where women proposed to men, rather than the traditional other way around. There are many theories in the origin of this tradition. One is that Queen Margaret of Scotland created a law in 1288 allowing women to propose on leap day, though there is no evidence to support this. Another comes from the 5th century where the Irish St. Brigid of Kildare asked St. Patrick to allow women to propose on this day because many of the men were too shy to ask the question. St. Brigid immediately proposed to St. Patrick. He refused and gave her a silk gown as a consolation. This is where another part of the tradition comes from. If the man refused the proposal, he was to buy his suitress a gown or gloves. Gloves were apparently given to cover the woman’s hands, this way people wouldn’t be able to see she wasn’t wearing an engagement ring.[i]
Mansfield was no stranger to this tradition. In the February 4, 1880 edition of the Ohio Liberal, nearly two full columns were given showcasing the eligible men in the city. The paper reads: “The following named gentleman have been residents or our city from three to forty years and if anyone desires reference as to their eligibility let them drop a line to this office, and we will satisfy their doubt.”[ii]
Below is a selection of the most prominent of the 37 bachelors listed:
Hon. Manuel May
May was a judge of “national reputation” and according to the paper was “possessed of ample means to make any of our lady friends comfortable for life.” May died a bachelor and never married and, in the 1900 U. S. Census, he is living with his cousin Rachel Rawson. His obituary states that “the deceased, though a bachelor, was a great lover of amusement and has been identified with several social and dancing clubs in his day.”[iii]
John C. Burns
Burns, the son of Col. Barnabas Burns, was Prosecuting Attorney in 1880 and said he was unable to get married until Manuel May did. Burns couldn’t hold out that long and, on August 29, 1883, the 43-year-old Burns married 30-year-old May L. Barbour. Around 1906, the couple moved to Chicago where Burns was associated with the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway Company. Burns died in Chicago on February 11, 1931.
The paper said no one had the courage to propose to Carpenter, but not to “be afraid of him … he was never known to say no to the fair sex when they asked a favor.” Reid was the brother of the nationally known travel writer, Frank G. Carpenter, and was a prominent figure the Mansfield’s industrial development, being one of the organizers of the Ohio Brass Company. Reid married Miss Clara P. Cornell in Mahoning County, Ohio on October 23, 1889.
McBride was a law student at the time and it was reported he wrote “poetry beautifully and, quotes Tennyson from beginning to end. Won’t someone console this youth and snatch him from an early grave?” McBride would go onto become a prominent lawyer and state legislator. The Ohio Liberal must not have received the news because McBride would first marry Minnie Rhodes on August 26, 1879, in Ashland County, Ohio. Minnie would die on December 11, 1900, of Bright’s disease. McBride would then marry Frances Clark in Monroe, Michigan on January 2, 1910.
Brown was referred to as “the catch of the season” by the paper. At the age of 21, Brown toured Europe and, upon his return, began working for the Aultman and Taylor Company. In 1889 he began managing the Hicks-Brown Company. He would go on to serve four terms as Mayor of Mansfield, being first elected in 1899. Brown never married and died of Influenza on February 8, 1914, in Massillon, Ohio at the home of his sister-in-law.
[ii] For the Young Ladies and Widows. The Ohio Liberal, 04 FEB 1880, pp. 6. (Mansfield, Ohio).
[iii] The Mansfield News, June 22, 1903, pp. 3 (Mansfield, Ohio).