Today is Leap Year day, that extra calendar date that only comes around once every four years. This date has a long history with many traditions, one of which is that women were allowed to propose to men.
This was a flip of conventional roles, though it’s far more common at any time of year today. The tradition seems to stem from Irish legend, when St. Bridget struck a deal with St. Patrick to allow women to propose to men every four years. In some places, Leap Day is known as Bachelors’ Day for this reason.
Those single women looking to marry would have been inspired by a small town that formed during the early settlement of Grand Forks County: Bachelors Grove. Bachelors Grove was a stage stop along the Grand Forks to Fort Totten Trail. It received its name because it was settled by seven bachelors in the late 1870s. Iver Gunderson was one. He arrived there with 50 cents, a hammer and a bundle of clothes. Hans Hanson, John Crawford, John Anderson, Jim Christianson, Chris Bang, and P. L. Peterson all joined him.
Together, they built a log house where they lived that first winter with a dog named Pup. They selected claims so each would have a good amount of timber on his land. All the bachelors except P. L. Peterson, who was in Iowa at the time, went to Grand Forks to file their homestead claims. Afterwards, they went to the photo gallery and had their group photo taken—with Pup and a local friend, Grand Forks resident Swen Thompson, who filled in for P. L. Peterson.
Other bachelors also homesteaded near Bachelors Grove, such as Anton Rustebakke and his brother Amund; Anton later related that batching it wasn’t too bad, but bread baking was difficult—though he later realized he had used too much flour.
The bachelors did not stay bachelors for long, though; J. Dexter Peirce, another early settler there, wrote, “In a few years, the name Bachelors Grove ceased to have any significance. The bachelors married, raised families and established homes in the community.” They raised large families, and Peirce added, “They obeyed the Biblical injunction. ‘Bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.’”
Coincidentally, Agnes Township, in which Bachelors Grove was located, was named for Agnes Hanson, the first white child born in the area to what was at that time the only family there.
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
Grand Forks Herald, Sunday Morning, March 1, 1942
Grand Forks County Heritage Book