by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Today is that extra day in February that allows for the adjustment of our calendar with the solar year—that is, the actual time of 365 and a quarter days that it takes for the Earth to revolve around the sun—this obviously taking place every four years, neatly aligned both with the summer Olympic games and our fall presidential elections.
For nearly two centuries, the Leap Year day was also the sole socially acceptable opportunity for women to exercise the privilege of asking a man to marry them. By the early 20th century, it became a commercialized phenomenon, with postcards, greeting cards and other objects manufactured and sold to capitalize on the Leap Year privilege.
Most of this was done with varying forms and effectiveness of humor, usually with images of aggressive females and aggrieved males engaged in the Leap Year proposal ritual. In real life, however, such marriage proposals were carried out with a great outpouring of emotion from the woman and today’s highlighted artifact is a particularly powerful example.
Francis W. Temple, the second child of Antonia Margarita Workman, daughter of Homestead founders William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste, and her husband, F.P.F. Temple, was born in August 1848 in the Workman House. Educated in a private school in his grandparents’ house and then at Santa Clara College (now the University of Santa Clara) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, located in his father’s home state, Francis, commonly known as Frank or Pancho, was particularly adept at agriculture.
More specifically, he became a winemaker for his grandfather, overseeing the operations at the winery situated south of the Workman House in a trio of brick warehouses built by William Workman in the mid-1860s including the manufacturing of wine and brandy (essentially fortified wine).
Francis’ relationship with his grandfather was such that, when the Temple and Workman bank, owned by Workman and F.P.F. Temple, collapsed in early 1876, the elderly Workman changed his power of attorney from his son-in-law to his grandson. A few months later, Workman, despondent over what had transpired, took his life, and Francis was left to inform his mother concerning the terrible tragedy—we have the original letter on display in the Workman House, courtesy of a loan from descendant Josette Temple.
While Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who loaned the stricken bank nearly $350,000 so it could reopen, waited over three years before foreclosing to allow for the interest to accumulate to the point that no one would want to or be able to redeem the loan, Francis continued to live at what became known as the Workman Homestead, raising grapes and making wine and brandy. By 1880, after Baldwin foreclosed, Francis worked out an arrangement by which he could buy the Workman House, winery buildings and other structures, El Campo Santo Cemetery, and the vineyard and orchards on 75 acres, with the sale price being $5,000.
Although the regional economy was in the doldrums after the bank collapse and the end of greater Los Angeles’ first sustained and significant period of growth, Francis pressed (!) on and appears to have made good money, especially as the Boom of the 1880s burst forth after the completion of the Santa Fe’s direct transcontinental railroad line to the region in late 1885.
The prior year, on 29 February 1884, Francis, who was nearing his 36th birthday and remained a bachelor at that fairly advanced age, received a Leap Year marriage proposal for an unnamed but unabashedly ardent suitor. The letter is definitely worth having transcribed here in full because of the unburdening the young woman expresses, which is remarkable because this was done during the prim and proper Victorian era:
My Dear loveing [sic] Panchito Templay [sic],
You may think it a presumption in me to address you this letter, but I feel that the time has come when my future happiness—and, I trust, your own– depends upon a frank and honest declaration of my love towards you. I have long cherished for you a deep and faithful love, and have only refrained from telling you so in words that you might have time to see it in my conduct towards you, and so be enabled to examine your own heart, and judge whether you could return that love I have not tried to conceal my feeling. Your beauty, your sweetness of disposition, your strong good sense, and the many amiable qualities that endear you to your friends, have made you dearer to me than to any or all of them. I love you as a woman should love the man she wishes to make her husband, and I am bold enough to hope that this avowal will cause you pleasure, rather than pain. I as[k?] you to be my husband, and I assure you, that should you consent to confer such a happiness upon me, the best efforts of my life shall be devoted to your happiness and comfort. I am not, as you know, a woman of wealth, I can promise a faithful and enduring love, and a home in which your happiness and comfort will be my chief aim. Will you not consent to make me the happiest of woman [sic] by letting me know that my hopes are not in vain, and by promising to be at some future, and I hope not distant, time my husband? I shall await your answer with anxiety, and beg that you will send it at your earliest convenience.
I remain, dear Franck [sic]
Your most sincerely,
It is hard to read this impassioned missive and not be moved by the intensity of the feelings of the woman who bared her soul and wishes to Temple. Unfortunately, for this intrepid Leap Year suitor, Francis declined to accept her proposal. He remained unmarried for the remaining four years of life and died of complications from tuberculosis on 2 August 1888, three days before his 40th birthday and in the same room of the Workman House in which he was born.
Finally, it is always a great pleasure to highlight the achievements and accomplishments of my talented colleagues, including those who worked on a Leap Year exhibit that is in the foyer of the Homestead Museum Gallery.
Designer extraordinaire Jennifer Scerra, our Programs Coordinator, again displayed her acuity for aesthetically pleasing design elements. Gennie Truelock, the museum’s Programs Manager, developed the text and utilized her excellent skills of getting to the core of the story of Leap Year, female marriage proposals, and the particular example of Temple’s unsuccessful suitor. Collections Coordinator Michelle Muro, worked on the display of Leap Year artifacts from the museum’s collection. Like our other Gallery exhibits, it is another excellent team effort.
The display will remain up for the rest of the year, so, whether you visit for a public tour, a lecture or workshop, or one of our festival events, including the late April Victorian Fair, take a moment to check out the “Leap Year Proposals” exhibit and learn something about a tradition that has long gone by the wayside, but is of great interest for so many reasons.