Los Angeles, CA

This Los Angeles Kindergarten Teacher was Jailed for Wearing Pants To Court in 1938

Jhemmylrut Teng

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Helen Louise Hulick in downtown Los Angeles court, 1938(Source: Los Angeles Times Archive)

Women may now attend a court hearing wearing pants, slacks, or denim jeans. You may want to thank a Los Angeles kindergarten teacher for that. Her name was Helen Louise Hulick.

In 1938, Helen made headlines when she became a witness to a burglary incident. She was invited to downtown Los Angeles court to testify against two burglary suspects.

However, instead of stating her accounts, she became the star of the courtroom drama as she arrived in court wearing slacks.

Judge Arthur S. Guerin rescheduled her testimony and ordered her to wear a dress next time.

Jailed for wearing pants

Despite the court order, Hulick didn't back down. She was even reported by the Los Angeles Times on November 10, 1938, 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.”

After five days, Hulick stayed true to her words and appeared in court wearing slacks. Judge Guerin was infuriated by Hulick's action. He once again forbade the kindergarten teacher to testify in court because of her wardrobe.

Based on the report, Judge Guerin lecture Helen:

“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 and its duties to conduct judicial proceedings in an orderly manner. It’s time a decision was reached on this matter and on the power the court has to maintain what it considers orderly conduct.
“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.”

By that time, Hulick was accompanied by her lawyer, Attorney William Katz. He defended his client by carrying volumes of citations relative to Hulick's right to appear in court in whatever dress she chose.

Hulick, on the other hand, argued that she had been wearing pants since she was 15-years-old. And she doesn't own a dress; what she owned are formals formal gowns. She even asked the judge if he wanted her to appear in court wearing one.

"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.” -- Helen Hulick

The next day in Los Angeles court, Hulick showed up in slacks again. By that time, Guerin held her in contempt. She was sentenced to five-day imprisonment.

Hulick was later released on her own recognizance after her lawyer obtained a writ of habeas corpus and declared he would bring the matter to the Appellate Court.

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Hulick’s attorney William Katz and notary Jeanette Dennis work on getting her released. She was forced to wear a denim dress in prison.(Source: Los Angeles Times Archive)

Hundreds of people sent letters of protest to the courthouse. Guerin’s contempt citation was overturned by the Appellate Division during a habeas corpus hearing. And the ruling was in favor of Hulick. She was free to wear slacks to court as well as all the women.

Hulick was still invited to the court to testify for the crime she witnessed. But because she already made her point that women are free to wear clothes they are comfortable with, she decided to appear in the courtroom wearing a dress finally.

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Helen Hulick arrived in downtown Los Angeles court wearing a dress(Source: Los Angeles Times Archive)

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Article about Hulick appearing in Los Angeles court wearing a dress, Jan. 18, 1939(Source: Newspapers.com)

Living a life with purpose after the court drama

In 1942 she moved to New York where she studied with the Viennese speech therapist and psychologist Emil Fröschels and got to know the "unisensory method." Hulick later developed Fröschels technique, currently known as the auditory-verbal approach.

She later founded her speech and hearing center in 1944 and served as its director for forty years. In 1950 she presented her philosophy at the congress of the International Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics (IALP) in Amsterdam.

In 1972, a group of parents established the Larry Jarret Memorial Foundation. They promoted Hulick's method of unisensory training to the public to make it available to all deaf children.

Hulick had been active in various specialist groups and was an honorary member of the American Speech and Hearing Association. She was the co-founder and first president of Auditory-Verbal International (AVI) ( AG Bell Academy for Listening and Spoken Language since 2005 ). This group promoted the auditory-verbal approach to listening and speaking as well as trained teachers worldwide.

She was a director of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and the Foundation for Children's Hearing, Education, and Research.

With the application and further development of her mentor Emil Fröschels with deaf children, Hulick became a pioneer of the auditory-verbal approach.

In 1985, Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, awarded her an honorary doctorate in human sciences for her life as a teacher, scientist, and pioneer of auditory-verbal therapy.

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I am a PR officer and a professional journalist with a master's degree in international development. I write history, geopolitics, food, and culture. Since I am a member of the API community, I make sure to highlight our stories to promote diversity and create awareness for cultural understanding.

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