There was time, in the olden days, when only boys were allowed to wear pants in school.
I remember it was 1958, and we’d come back to the states from Japan to a small Air Base outside of Lincoln, Nebraska.
The winters there, while not as cold as Japan’s, brought plenty of sleet. Please understand that sleet does not fall – it stabs. It is driven into bare skin by horizontal winds that invariably blow from the direction you are walking into.
For a little girl in a dress, sleet is excruciating. Mercifully, the principal of our elementary school decreed that on wintry days, for the walk to and from school, girls might wear pants under their dresses.
And I remember those coldest days when Mom would have me slip on corduroy pants. Up under my skirt and tucked into my boots, they kept me snug and warm.
For most girls, this was enough. They walked to school, gathered close, by the doors, and talked till the bell rang. And then, along with their earmuffs, mittens, and coats, they dutifully removed their pants, and draped them over the radiators to dry.
Not me. It didn’t take long before I figured out that if I tucked my dress into my pants, I could climb onto the jungle gym, race little boys on the gravel, and even play chicken on the monkey bars.
Eventually, it got so that with just a hint of cold in the air, I’d slip on a pair of pants, and as soon as I was out of Mom’s sight, I’d tuck my dress in, and run to school. I got away with it for a while, until one day a teacher recognized me, and sent me to the principal’s. He sent me home with a note, reminding my mother that girls were only allowed to wear pants when the temperatures were below freezing or if the sky was actually falling.
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By 1969, we were living in northern California. (If anyone ever tells you these are a liberal people, he is lying.)
I was in high school, and it was still illegal for a girl to wear pants in school. This was such utter bullshit to me, and I was about fed up. I got together with two other girls, and we decided to say something about it. We organized a protest. We convinced 100 or so girls to bring a pair of slacks to school. And during the break between 2nd and 3rd period, we all met in the girl’s room just east of C-wing, and changed.
Quietly, we lined up outside the wing, in pairs, and waited till ten minutes into the classes we were all now missing. We opened up the double-doors, and marched in singing:
We marched down the hall, and out through the double-doors at the other end, did a once-around the administration building, and then stopped once we had completely circled. We started clapping while we sang.
♪ All we are say-ying is, ‘give pants a chance.’ ♪
Several of the office ladies looked out to see what the commotion was. I remember two who smiled, but most of them were shocked, and the principal - he was outraged. He called the Wheatland Police(man), who showed up within minutes. Together, they threatened us all with arrest if we - didn’t - shut - up.
The cop took all our names, and one by one, we were lead into the vice-principal’s, principal’s, and nurse’s offices for questioning. “Who instigated this?” “Who convinced you to break the law?”
It didn’t take long for someone to spill the beans, and give up the names of the 3 bad seeds who’d evilly influenced these otherwise innocent girls.
All participants were sent home for the day. This was no small feat, by the way. The high school was a good twenty-minute drive from Beale Air Force Base, and while busses were provided to bring us there, the school wasn’t about to waste good money to taxi a bunch of juvenile delinquents home. The parking lot only had enough spaces for employees, so our parents were forced to park their cars all along the narrow lane that led to our school from the highway. 100+ students meant 100+ cars and 100+ very angry parents.
The other protestors were allowed back to school the following day, but my two cohorts and I were suspended for 3 days, and the entire disgraceful incident was documented on our transcripts – our permanent records.
The slacks I wore that day were of thin-waled corduroy. A fine black and white hound’s-tooth. I kept them for years as a reminder.