I wrote about school dress codes the other day, tied to a petition by young women at an Atlanta high school who felt they were the victims of heavy-handed and sexist enforcement of the rules.
That led me to spend some time reading about dress code challenges, including a wonderful Los Angeles Times story about a spunky 28-year-old who pioneered women wearing slacks to court.
Helen Hulick was a kindergarten teacher in 1938. She was also a witness in a trial against two burglaries, but ended going to jail herself for showing up twice in pants, which infuriated the judge.
Here is an except from a 2014 story by the LA Times about this improbable rebel:
Kindergarten teacher Helen Hulick made Los Angeles court history — and struck a blow for women’s fashion — in 1938.
Hulick arrived in downtown L.A. court to testify against two burglary suspects. But the courtroom drama immediately shifted to the slacks she was wearing. Judge Arthur S. Guerin rescheduled her testimony and ordered her to wear a dress next time.
Hulick was quoted in the Nov. 10, 1938, Los Angeles Times saying, “You tell the judge I will stand on my rights. If he orders me to change into a dress I won’t do it. I like slacks. They’re comfortable.”
She returned to court five days later still in her slacks. The Times reported the angry judge told her:
“The last time you were in this court dressed as you are now and reclining on your neck on the back of your chair, you drew more attention from spectators, prisoners and court attaches than the legal business at hand…Today you come back dressed in pants and openly defying the court and its duties to conduct judicial proceedings in an orderly manner…The court hereby orders and directs you to return tomorrow in accepted dress. If you insist on wearing slacks again you will be prevented from testifying because that would hinder the administration of justice. But be prepared to be punished according to law for contempt of court.”
“Listen,” said the young woman, “I’ve worn slacks since I was 15. I don’t own a dress except a formal. If he wants me to appear in a formal gown that’s okay with me. I’ll come back in slacks and if he puts me in jail I hope it will help to free women forever of anti-slackism.”
Held in contempt when she came back in slacks, Hulick was given a five-day jail sentence. A higher court overturned the contempt citation, clearing the way for women’s slacks in courts of law.
And that, is the rest of the story, or at least part of it. I am sure there are many other unsung heroines, including kindergarten and pre-k teachers right here in Georgia who have told me about fending off “no athletic shoe” policies, noting their jobs require a lot of running after kids, kneeling down and physical play.