The Brooklyn high school pants protest of 1942

“Should high school girls, particularly students of Abraham Lincoln High School on Ocean Parkway . . . be permitted to wear slacks to class?”

The question was asked by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in March 1942, in an article about 16-year-old Beverly Bernstein (below). Bernstein was suspended from Lincoln for showing up to class wearing blue gabardine slacks.

“She wore them to school, along with a lipstick-red sweater,” the Eagle wrote, explaining that she was then sent to the office of the dean of girls, who apparently issued the suspension.

Outraged classmates showed their support by coming to school the next day in pants.

“Girls show up in slacks at Abraham Lincoln High School, in Brooklyn,in protest because a classmate, Beverly Bernstein, was suspended the day before for wearing slacks,” reads the caption on this Daily News/Getty Images photo.

These rule-breaking wartime students also circulated a petition, stating that girls should be allowed to wear pants because “they are better than skirts in the event of an air raid” and to “conserve silk stockings.”

Boys signed the petition as well, according to the Eagle.

The next day, the Eagle reported that Lincoln’s longtime principal decided that although he disapproved of slacks on girls, “if the girls wear them, we won’t get excited about it.”

This wasn’t the only Brooklyn high school student protest. In 1950, thousands of students across the borough walked out of class to support teacher pay raises.

Like Midwood and Madison, Lincoln is one of those legendary Brooklyn high schools with an impressive roster of graduates since opening in 1930—including Arthur Miller, Joseph Heller, Mel Brooks, and Neil Diamond.

[Second photo: New York Daily News]

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18 Responses to “The Brooklyn high school pants protest of 1942”

  1. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    Chicest bunch of pants I have ever seen! I will try to have them copied!!! Yikes!!!

  2. Lady G. Says:

    Very interesting, yet in Hollywood actresses like Katherine Hepburn were wearing slacks for the better part of the 1930’s too. I guess because they were elegant slacks. Those girls looked like they raided their fathers’ and brothers’ closets to make a statement. It’s a cute picture.

    Now teen girls are wearing minis, low cut blouses, and go braless in schools and they’re causing Social media fusses about it when the schools reject it. I just read one yesterday. But for what cause? It all comes off as whiney and entitled and more for a ‘Look at me!’ statement.

    And while I’m sure it felt super comfortable anyway, these ladies of the 40’s were doing it to potentially save their lives and conserve resources like silk.

  3. Peter Bennett Says:

    Very cool story, I never knew about it. My mom graduated Abraham Lincoln in 1940, I’ll have to ask her what she remembers (she turns 96 in a week and still pretty damn sharp)

    • Anne Woerner Says:

      Peter, any chance your mom would remember the name of the girl in the dark vest just left of center? We are trying to locate a lost family member and this girl fits a lot of the criteria. I would appreciate any help she could offer.

      • Peter Bennett Says:

        Hi Anne, unfortunately my mom is 96 and practically blind. She cant read anymore so the chance of identifying anyone in the photo is very slim. I will give it a shot next time I see her. Also she graduated in 1940 two years before this was taken. Funny as the woman in the vest resembles my mom, but the styles of the time will do that.

      • Hoh Family Says:

        Getty Images has this info. The girls left of centre is Roslyn Goldberg.
        UNITED STATES – MARCH 26: Girls show up in slacks at Abraham Lincoln High School, Brooklyn, in protest because a classmate, Beverly Bernstein, was suspended the day before for wearing slacks. Left to right: Roslyn Goldberg, Esther Cohen, Marian Hartman, Maryln Bodkin, Eleanor Groper. (Photo by Ben Sandhaus/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

  4. VirginiaB Says:

    Slightly OT, sorry, but I do wish the list of ‘legendary Brooklyn high schools’ included the tens of thousands of Brooklynites who attended Catholic high schools. I’ve seen this omission in other places and it’s a bit odd. Otherwise an interesting post.

  5. David H Lippman Says:

    I had a male teacher in my middle school in 1974 who denounced girls for wearing jeans and slacks to class. Seriously.

    • Zoé Says:

      Lol. When I worked briefly in a Lord & Taylor shop in 1994 a woman who asked me for help told me they were not allowed to wear trousers to work. This was just outside NYC. She worked in an office of a large company. I was astonished. 1994. I have photos of my mom in Berlin – beginning around 1935 wearing trousers. Very cool wide leg 30s styles made by my grandmother. (A custom dressmaker). My mother was 14 that year so it would have been high school age also. (German equivalent of prep school: Gymnasium). I have another photo of her a few years later on a beach there in dark trousers w/ a white nautical rope belt. 1994… 😂

    • Zoé Says:

      My brother had a great dress code pamphlet from Middle School (Junior High) in the late 60s. It was a riot. I wish I kept it. By the time I read it in the mid 70s it was already funny!

      Banned were mini skirts & long dangly earrings. (I can’t remember the rest). Basically anything Edie Sedgwick ever wore.

      For boys: hair over the collar. (Which gave birth to Beatle bangs & short back. See Springsteen’s HS photos).

      They banned clogs when I was in 5th or 6th grade in the early 70s. Our ancient school had massive stone staircases that they thought we would tumble down. Despite nobody had. Wooden shoe phobia.

      • Zoé Says:

        *Last response was to David’s 1974 teacher banning jeans etc. comment. (Tapped reply under post but got sent as new comment… ?).

      • David H Lippman Says:

        We had a school where parents were often highly litigious and well-connected lawyers, so SHS was reluctant to crack down on clothing — one time the captain of the swim team showed up in class wearing only his swim trunks and face goggles (and shoes. In the middle of January. The guys were awestruck by his rippling muscles. The girls were drooling over his rippling muscles. McCourt came in, stared at the student, and muttered, “Jesus,” and studiously ignored him.

      • Zoé Says:

        David re. Frank McCourt class/swimmer in goggles:

        I once spent an entire English class suppressing compulsive laughter because a classmate was curled up reading our paperback Shakespeare book w/ his head UNDER the desk (doubled over).

        After class I was given a stern talking to by the furious teacher. He was virulently anti-marijuana & must have assumed I was high. (I was not).

        I could not get my head round this (no pun intended). Why reading in a *bizarre* position at one’s desk was seen as *normal*. But my having great difficulty not laughing at that was not.

    • CoraBelle Says:

      I believe you. The girls in my sister’s graduating class (class of 1974) was not permitted to wear slacks , never mind jeans, to school. In winter, they were allowed to wear snowsuits to school, but they were required to take them off and leave them in lockers during class-and the school board thought they were being so kind to allow girls that much leeway. Granted, this was Missouri not New York (state or city), but even so…By the time I attended that same HS (class of 1983), girls mostly wore jeans and slacks every day.

      • Zoé Says:

        Wow. In 1974 in my middle school an hour outside NY girls either dressed like they were practicing to date The Rolling Stones; or there was a uniform of straight leg Levi’s (jeans or cords) worn loose & slightly oversize Shetland pullovers/cardies.

        Even our female teachers wore trousers.

        Our dresses & skirts were probably scarier for the administration; as we wore them short & with those three inch 1930s/40s style wedge platforms (Korkease).

  6. Vintage Miscellany – June 3, 2018 | The Vintage Traveler Says:

    […]   Long before the dress code protests of the 1960s, a school in Brooklyn protested the suspension of a female student who wore pants to […]

  7. David H Lippman Says:

    I had a 7th grade teacher who complained about girls wearin gjeans to class in 1974.

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