Not man know thhe name of Helen Hulick (1908-1989), American teacher who applied innovative and, for the time, revolutionary therapies. In the education of hearing impaired children and language impairment. However the American newspapers talked extensively about her for another aspect of her life, an event which, although nonconformist, had nothing to do with her job as a teacher.
On the 9th of November 1938, Helen Hulick had been called to the court on LA as a witness of a burglary, occurred right inside her property. She came in front of the court by wearing a pair of trousers, piece of clothing that back to 80 years ago wasn’t very common to see on a female body. The judge Arthur S. Guerin dismissed the court asking to Helen to come back, the following time, with a more feminine type of garments.
The young woman, that at the time was 28, declared bluntly to the Los Angeles Times:
“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”.
On the 14th of November Helen Hulick, came back to the court wearing trousers. This triggered the wrath of the judge, perhaps irritated by the bright colours of her look, green and orange, carried with proud of the flag of “nursery teacher”.
One more time the judge stopped the court and addressing to her, irritated, said:
“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. You were requested to return in garb acceptable to courtroom procedure. Today you come back dressed in pants and openly defying the court (…)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 (…) But be prepared to be punished according to law for contempt of court.”
Helen did not let that threaten her and declared:
“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”.
Loyal to herself, but helped by the lawyer William Katz, who had carried along 4 big volumes of quotations on the right to wear whatever someone wanted to even in court, Helen came back with her trousers. According to her version, she had no dresses if not a formal one, since she was wearing slacks since she turned 15.
Helen Hulick, her lawyer and the notary with the prison
The judge looked at the girl with disdain and condemned her to 5 days of prison, where she was forced to wear a dress, made out of denim, or the prisoners, The lawyer, who had obtained her immediate release, brought the question in the Court of Appeal, which sanctioned the right of Helen, like any other woman, to wear trousers even in a court.
On the 17th of January 1939, Helen Hulick was once again called to the court as a witness of the burglary in her house, After her victory to the judge Guerin, and especially on the close minded attitude of the time, the girl showed up in court wearing female garments.
Despite the stubborn rigidity of the judge, the trousers were worn by many women already in the US, even thanks to the teaching of Mary Walker, the only woman who had received an American medal of honour, who was a well known doctor.
Walker used to wear trousers because she could recognise the hygienic benefits of it
Perhaps the judge didn’t know her story?
Image source: Los Angeles Times archives/UCLA