Why Pants Are Legal in Kansas

While writing Leviathan, I did a fair amount of research on women who passed as men to serve in the armed forces. I also checked out the laws about women wearing men’s clothing, to find out what would happen if Deryn were ever caught in her deception. Armed with this knowledge, I can inform you that this is a very important day . . .

It’s the hundredth anniversary of the Explicit Legalization of Pants in Kansas! (Otherwise known as ELPK Day.)


As you can see, the word “Explicit” is very important in Explicit Legalization of Pants in Kansas Day. Pants were already legal for women to wear, after all. But note that last clause: “there was no law prohibiting a woman from wearing men’s trousers, especially if she were the head of the house.”

In other words, it’s legal to dress like a man, but really only acceptable if you’re already an honorary man—i.e., a widow and a breadwinner. (Seriously, since when is something especially legal? Either it’s legal or it’s not, dude.) ELPK Day comes with certain restrictions, it seems.

Research gems like this one are what makes writing historicals so strange and wonderful. Every detail of this article reveals a bit more about the tenor of the times, and about how actions may be strictly legal, and yet still cause a stir.

I mean, clearly this woman wasn’t writing the governor of her state for fun, or for fashion advice. Was she getting hassled by her neighbors, or even the local cops, for wearing pants? And note that she wasn’t wearing pants for jury duty, say, but to work in her own damn garden.

Even more intriguing, this little story from Kansas gets a mention in the New York Times. So these sorts of conversations about the proper role and place of women must have been happening everywhere. So ELPK Day isn’t just in Kansas anymore, it’s going national!

Of course, it’s easy to laugh at this, and reassuring to think that we no longer live in a world where women have to get legal advice for something so simple as wearing men’s clothes, right?

Well, um, wrong.

Because just a few days ago, on almost exactly the 100th anniversary of ELPK Day, a student named Ceara Sturgis has found herself erased from her school yearbook. Why? For wearing a tuxedo in her senior photograph. And when I say erased, it’s not just that the school administration wouldn’t print the photograph. No, they actually deleted every mentioned of Ceara from the yearbook, even though she’s an honor student, the goalie of the soccer team, and plays trumpet in the band. (See update below.)

By the way, she’s also a lesbian. So wearing this tuxedo wasn’t about flouting some imaginary dress code, but about who she is. That’s what clothing means in all these conflicts.

After all, it’s the trousers that our unnamed widow wore while gardening that said, “Hey, I’m the head of this family. My labor is what keeps us fed. Deal with it.” And the uniform that Deryn wears that says, “I’m as good an airman as any boy, so you can all get stuffed.” And it’s the tuxedo you wear in your yearbook photo that says, “I am who I am, and twelve years in your school hasn’t changed me. So I win.”

So, yes, these Explicitly Legal Pants are very important. Because even now, a hundred years after ELPK Day, we still have small-minded people around to tell us what we have to wear, and trying to tell us who we can and cannot be.

I hope she sues the pants off them.

In the day since I posted this, the Jackson Free Press article linked to above has been updated. It seems that Ceara was included in some sections of the yearbook, including a page she paid for, but not the senior pages. Less Orwellian, to be sure, but still despicable.

And a note on dress codes: This isn’t really a dress code issue. As Fox News explains:

“[Ceara’s mother] said she met with assistant Superintendent Ronald Holloway who told her he didn’t see regulations about the issue in the student handbook.”

This was an ad hoc decision made after Ceara turned in her photo. It’s not about school administrators blindly following silly regulations, it’s about them making up silly regulations after the fact. In other words, it’s about a sustained and personal attack on one particular student in their care.

These people should get different jobs.

51 thoughts on “Why Pants Are Legal in Kansas

  1. That’s ridiculous about the yearbook! That’s absolutely crazy! And absolutely true. I know people whom have to wear skirts all the time because they’re woman. (It’s because of their religion and their husbands) I think it’s okay to wear a skirt, but not mandatory. I think that I’d be like Deryn, If I lived in older times. Thanks for sharing this Scott, and yes, when you are researching facts for your historical fiction, it’s interesting to see what you can find.

  2. We had girls who would choose the tuxedo over the drape (very) occasionally for our senior pictures, in *1997*, and it didn’t cause a problem. I can’t believe these people raised such a big stink over it. I think of our town as being pretty conservative but I guess we’re more open-minded than I thought.

  3. As a pants-wearing Kansas woman, I am very happy that it is totally legal for me to be wearing pants.

    As for Ceara – I have long suspected that there are teachers and administrators whose main reasons for working in middle schools or high schools is because they enjoy the pettiness and bitchiness of that environment. Not the majority, of course, but there are some. Cases like this and Constance McMillen prove that point. This goes beyond disapproval of a person’s sexual identity (and everyone is entitled to their own moral opinion, even if we totally and completely disagree with their bigotry) to outright pettiness and nastiness. They are doing everything they can to make these girls’ lives miserable. They literally have tried to remove Ceara from existence! The small mindedness of these people is depressing and heart breaking, but, like Scott said, hopefully she’ll sue the pants off of them.

  4. I remember seeing an article recently (I think it was over a lesbian couple at a prom) and it mentioned one of the girls wearing/going to wear a tux and it struck me then as something I would consider insignificant yet someone thinks it’s important. Don’t see the reason myself, a girl can wear a tux and a guy can wear a wedding dress for all I care, don’t we have, I dunno, more serious issues in the world to worry about?

  5. I totally agree. No one shoould be judged by what they wear, and everyone should be able to wear what they want. I hope that someday people will be more tolerant of anyone’s sexuality. I bet Ceara is an amazing girl, and this is not a great way to end Senior year. It is terrible that they would erase her from her yearbook. No one should be able to treat others that way. They deserve to lose everything for treating that poor girl that way.

  6. In the mid 90s I did a stint of work down in Dallas, TX for the management consulting firm I was working for at the time. My college, female, also came with me for a week. She was not exceptionally “progressive” for Cleveland, but the second day there she wore a pantsuit to work. People came up four floors and from the other side of the building (12 story building) to see a woman wear pants to work.

    So, yeah, surreal moment.

    My guess Ceara wearing a tux was just the excuse they could use to do what they wanted to do anyway.

  7. Wore pants all day in honor of ELPK Day without realizing that! Now logging this away into my depository of random facts…!

    And yes, Ceara had better wear sue the pants off them! What the school did was just too cruel and unfair. Besides, tuxes are cool.

    Girls are ‘dudes’ too, and yes, we *can* wear ties! Yeah! Also, I’m one of those girls that would have joined the Women’s Air Service during WWII.

    At least, we don’t live in a world where lying really did set pants on fire. Then this whole pants argument would be moot. (Plus, people would care more about the consequences of lying! Imagine the kinds of activity you’d see on Wall Street!)

  8. I read about that and was so angry. Beyond the issue of sexuality, people should be able to have gender identity without feeling like they have to insert themselves completely into gender roles. A girl should be able to wear something because she thinks it’s cool or because it’s more comfortable or practical than something else….and not get flack about it being a “boy’s” outfit. Same goes the other way around. People are people and none to very few of them will fit all of the stereotypes they’re branded with. Live and let live.

    I hope she sues the pants off of them, too.

  9. I didn’t get it at all when I read about that girl when all that went down, its horrible. There are more problems in the whole world, I don’t get why wearing a tux is a problem, I wear ties & pretty sure other girls do too.
    I hope she sues as well, its messed up that in a world of global probs, they get all worked up over nothing.

  10. Though I don’t agree with everything, I do agree that this is just backwards. The one thing I don’t get is that some of you seem to say that this shouldn’t be focused on, that there are much worse things in the world. Then turn around and encourage her to sue them. I’d understand a recall and redistribution at their expense of new yearbooks. Or even if that isn’t an option, stickers with the name and picture of the person who was accidentally left out (this has happened at our school once or twice. You learn to live with mistakes, not claim hatred). Lastly, dress codes do have a purpose; the only reason this is getting press is because of a twist they put on it and the media.

    Scott, you might want to edit your post to include the fact that she was included in the yearbook. Just not the senior portrait section. The photo of her in a tux even got in because of a paid page.

  11. I believe you mean “unnamed” widow — I’m sure she had a name, things weren’t THAT oppressive for women back then. 🙂

  12. CJ- Dress codes are usually in place to discourage indecent clothing. The high school I work at does not allow students to wearing revealing clothing including low-cut tops, short skirts, pants below the waist or ripped up jeans. There is nothing in their dress code that bans a female wearing male clothes. I don’t see how Ceara’s choice to wear a tux in her photo violates any possible dress her school might have.

    So maybe she was actually in the yearbook. But why should she have to PAY to have her senior photo included? In my experience, senior photos are an exciting privilege for the senior class in the yearbook and no one should have to pay to have their senior photo included or even merely their presence in the yearbook at all! My high school’s yearbook often included a small inserted booklet to include photos from the Spring semester that were taken after the main yearbook was submitted to the publisher. This included things like spring plays, spring sports, and people who missed photo day. There is no reason why someone who had their picture taken with everyone else should be forced to be included in any sort of insert or add-on.

    What really bothers me is that Ceara’s school, Wesson Attendance Center, is a public school. If this were a private school, I’d still be upset, but we could say that all this was possibly within the rights of a private institution. But a public school? This blows me away. I live in Georgia and can understand how some school districts that are staffed with conservative administrators might be apt to do such a thing, but I always hold out hope that someone with half a brain in the office will make everyone stop and think about the consequences. Unfortunately, there are many educators who don’t care about their patrons, the students, as individuals, but rather about their own issues and fears. I wholly believe that no matter a teacher’s personal beliefs, the students must come first. As an educator who is likely more liberal than many of my colleagues, even I must accept that some of my students are much more conservative than I am, and I have to respect their values.

    As an educator, this event astounds me and saddens me.

  13. The linked article has been updated with a correction. Ceara was not deleted from the whole yearbook, just from the senior portrait pages.

  14. This is an important question.

    In France – where I am writing from – as well as in other European countries, the ‘banning’ of veils and other forms of covering, be it just the head, or full-body, is being banded about as a political argument.

    While I don’t think women being veiled and hidden thorugh no free choice of their own is a positive move, the opposition should clearly take place through education, respect, and economic enablement for the women, not through legislation that excludes, points the finger, encourages the basest instincts, and flatters the racists.

    in Europe, this is all part of a larger issue [that I don’t want to call racist or religious, as it is more ‘fear of the other’] that I don’t think people really want to face.

    Scott’s post should be a reminder that all forms of discrimination, even something as subtle, or ‘innocuous on the surface’ as no women in pants [or no men in dresses] should be questioned, and then firmly opposed. Here in Europe first it will be veils, then what? proper hair colour and length? tattoos? trousers and dresses? beliefs? sexuality?

    Sue the pants and socks off them Ceara!

  15. I could understand it being an issue if pants were thought to somehow be immodest (which is stupid). But just because she’s a girl? Sometimes people amaze me.

  16. I just thought people might be interested to hear this factoid: in the mid-nineteenth century, French painter Rosa Bonheur wore trousers while tramping through fields to paint. She had to get a special license from the police to do it, otherwise she could have been jailed, just for wearing pants.

    In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1934 novel, “Tender is the Night”, a pair of women dressed as sailors are arrested in France, and threatened with jail and deportation. It’s unclear from the book exactly what the law was, since it was apparently so obvious to readers at the time that Fitzgerald didn’t feel the need to clarify. But masquerading as a male was apparently still illegal–not a huge surprise when you consider the following:

    In the early 1960’s, in San Francisco, cabaret performer Jose Sarria led a fight against laws that prevented men from dressing as women. Sarria read the law carefully, and saw that the underlying justification for it was to prevent “deception”, so he gave his drag-queen customers buttons to wear that prominently stated “I am a boy!” Using this method, they were able to avoid conviction. I’m not sure when the law was finally changed, but what a silly thing to waste police time on.

  17. See above for my two updates:

    1) As commenters have pointing out, the Jackson Free Press has updated their reporting. Ceara does appear in selected sections of the yearbook.

    2) This isn’t really a dress code issue, because the school district has no regulations in this regard.

  18. CJ @ comment 15:
    this has happened at our school once or twice. You learn to live with mistakes, not claim hatred.

    This wasn’t a mistake, it was deliberate. From the Fox News article sited above, way back in 2009 when she turned in the photo: “But when [Ceara’s mother] talked with [Principal] Greer, she said he told her it was his ‘conviction’ that Sturgis wouldn’t appear in the yearbook in a tuxedo.”

    Seriously, why must people always make excuses for bigots?

    The one thing I don’t get is that some of you seem to say that this shouldn’t be focused on, that there are much worse things in the world. Then turn around and encourage her to sue them.

    Here’s why this matters: Silence in the face of inconvenience is fortitude. Silence in the face of bigotry is cowardice.

    Or to put it another way, doing something here and now makes this less likely to happen in the future.

  19. I just saw that article about Cera today, and thought it was terrible. How can this country be so proud of its democratic status if it goes around and doesn’t practice what it preaches? The hippocracy is disgusting. The good news on this front is that I don’t know anyone who has a problem with homosexuality who is under the age of 20. I’m sure that there are still plenty out there, but I can only hope that our generation will put an end to this kind of high-horsed biggotry. (Seriously, if you don’t agree with homosexuality, don’t date someone of the opposite story, and DON’T tell other people what they can and can’t do. End of story.)

    And in general on the pants front, I can only say THANK GOODNESS! I can’t imagine HAVING to wear skirts all the time.

  20. Cassie – I know she shouldn’t be having to pay to get in. I’m saying that the picture did get in, and this wasn’t a straight run through of the book to remove homosexuality.

    Cassie and Scott – “We have had our legal counsel research the validity of the position of the School District on this matter,” Copiah County Superintendent Ricky Clopton said in the statement. “We are informed by counsel that this exact issue has been litigated in federal court. The decisions of the federal courts completely support the policy of the district in this regard”

    If I understand this correctly, then the article was saying that they had legal reasoning for this. It is my fault for not researching this more.
    That isn’t news then if it isn’t policy, merely injustice, where one individual wrongs another. The big question I see is how public does the wronging have to be before peopel care? It happens everywhere. Putting one case on a pedestal is pointless when we know there are many more happening daily, of similar or of more importance (well, at least I assume things like places to work and live are more important, but I hope I’m not the only one).

    And no, I’m not supporting the people who did this, only the rules that I assumed were in place. I may not understand legal things either, but if she knows who did this and why, going after the school itself doesn’t serve a purpose except to put more rules in place. If the principal who did this isn’t being targeted and he does in fact keep his job, nothing more changes except for how he does things and how people view him. If he does lose his job for this and take his penance, glad to see she ruined his life like he ruined her life – oh wait.

    “Silence in the face of bigotry is cowardice.”
    There is a rational point for everything. Most likely they will be attempting to sue for damages way past what is fair. And taking them to court is hardly a vocal issue. Most people won’t know about it, and it will drag on for a while til the point where no one cares. That is because so many cases get taken to court that don’t need to be, which is why I’m trying to stress importance of a case as well.

    Name-la – I’m 17, a senior in high school, and I’m against homosexuality. It isn’t who a person is, it’s simply a life style choice. A choice is a choice because it can be changed, compared to someone, say someone crippled, who couldn’t change if they wanted to. Am I a bigot? Well, I’m tolerant as far as my faith allows me to be. Any more than that and you’re saying that one is better than the other. (And yes, I understand about what they can and can’t do. What they should and shouldn’t do is my issue.)

  21. As upsetting as the article was, it doesn’t surprise me in the least. I’m having a baby in about a month, and I’ve suddenly become very face to face with gender roles in our culture. Just walking into the baby section of Target makes my head spin. It’s either pink or blue. Stripes or dots. Baseball or Butterflies. The worse part is being told what I can and cannot buy for my unborn daughter because of her sex. All around us we’re being told what we can and cannot be as individuals. It’s disgusting! I’m glad Ceara stuck to her guns and took her senior picture in a way that made her happy. It’s her picture, afterall! I hope she fights for her rights, whether is suing, protesting, ect.

    The Kansas thing made me think of a Madonna song (it was on Glee recently).
    “Cause it’s okay to be a boy, but for a boy to look like a girl is degrading.”
    It’s great that woman are more free to dress in pants in this day and age (In Western culture, anyway) but when will we accept men dressing any way they chose?

  22. To Julie, re: 1997: When I was in high school during that time, girls would occasionally bring another girl to the prom as a “date;” we didn’t care if they were friends or actually dating. It was besides the point. Now, some schools forbid these kinds of things and will actually not allow someone to attend his/her prom with a same-sex companion.

    It amazes/appalls me that in the “age of acceptance,” when people are all over the place fighting for gay rights and all that, that a simple thing like that isn’t permitted when it was okay ten years ago.

  23. ping @ angela – was that aimed at me? for any particular reason? I’m confused.

    but anyway – that’s a good point. there are many things now that you can’t do with the same sex, whether you are just friends or you are lovers or dating or whatever, without being judged.

    it is a weird and horrid backfire. and simply angry-making.

  24. My dad once told me a story about his school. Once they made a rule that guys couldn’t wear shorts in school (even when it was hot) but the girls could wear skirts. He got most guys in his class to wear skirts for a day in protest. Even the football players. They then were able to wear shorts again.

    ALSO- I was in New York City yesterday and saw a desk in a musieum that made me think of the captain’s desk form Leviathan on the darwinist’s side. I had to take a picture of it. Just thought I’d let you know. 🙂

  25. it makes me angry that things like this are still happening in the world.
    Its always incredibly shocking.
    i read an article in seventeen about a school that’s still having segregated black and white proms. and when the students wanted to have one prom together, the school made up a bunch of crap rules for it, like they had to have a ridiculous dress code and be in the gym.
    things like these are like a wake up call. speak up for wat u believe in guys!

  26. why is it shocking or outrageous?? murder is shcoking. the over obsession of safety in schools is outrageous. one kid’s photo and profile being removed from the yearbook?? not really. for my graduation, we got envelopes with our diplomas in them. when me and half my grade opened the envelope, there was a list of books that we had not returned to the library. a girl with a 97 average got a bill for lost books instead of a diploma. did we make a huge big deal about it?? no. i dont have a problem with homosexuals. i have of problem with people makin a big friggin deal about homosexuality, and overreacting about relatively small things. my friend got murdered by his mother, who then commited suicide. it got 4 lines in the paper. this lesbian who wasnt in the yearbook?? think about it and tell me if you think there is something wrong with that fact.

  27. By the way, as strange as it may seems, wearing pants is still illegal for a woman in france, unless to ride a bicycle or a horse. It is possible that this law shall be abrogated soon.

  28. Scott-sama, I finally got and finished Leviathan, and it was AMAZING. I can’t believe you left it there, though… I don’t wanna wait until October to continue it! Ugh!

    I’m not really going to join this conversation, because it’s not exactly happy.
    But I didn’t know about that France thing, necroslayer. That’s odd.

  29. C J – And you believing that it’s wrong as part of your religion is *your* life style choice. You are physically capable of being part of another religion, but that doesn’t mean anyone is expecting you to convert. If that isn’t expected of you, why should a homosexual person be expected to conform to heterosexuality?

  30. CJ: Sexual orientation is not a choice. I am straight, and I couldn’t choose to be attracted to girls (I’m female) even if I wanted to. I am innately attracted to the opposite sex. Likewise, someone who IS homosexual can’t just change his/her mind about it. It’s only when someone is bisexual that some measure of choice enters into it. You can choose to suppress or hide how you truly are, but there’s no actually changing it.

    Religion does make the issue knottier (although not in terms of law or policy, given separation of church and state), but even if you consider homosexuality to be a sin, everyone sins in some way. It’s part of what makes us human. Why is this one thing so much worse than any of the others? Speaking as an observant Jew, it bothers me that some “religious” people ignore the laws about how to treat your fellow human like they don’t even matter, and then fixate on the “evils” homosexuality. Which sin is worse, the one where you hurt people or the one that hurts no one (and, in fact, pretty much only causes happiness)?

  31. I just want to say, there /are/ schools where this is not the case. As someone above mentioned about 1997 and it wasn’t a big deal… at the school where I taught this semester, one of my female students came in a tux with her girlfriend to the prom. Just like any other student.

    On the note of sexuality, how much is taught and how much is “programmed” or “natural” is very much debatable. Why do we associate pink with breast cancer awareness? Why not green, or orange, or grey, or black, or baby blue? It’s part of our culture. Sexuality may or may not be a social construct. I personally do not think it is a social construct, BUT it can be argued as such. I’m just saying. Just a side comment that is totally unrelated to Scott’s blog (sorry!), but thought it cold be food for thought.

    Huzzah for liberties! :3

  32. wow that’s amazing! both things. i will now celebrate this day! wearing pants rocks

  33. @HBG christian homos are getting up in arms about not being allowed to get married in the catholic church. by all rights, they should not be allowed to participate in the church at all, according to catholic teachings. i personally am atheist, but i think that people give the church a fair bit of hell. how many muslim gays do you see raising hell because they cant get married?? i havent seen too many. homosexuals can be together, i really dont care, but they shouldnt make other people change how they live and what they believe to accomodate THEM

  34. My dad was born in Oswego, KS. He grew up there. I spent many days with Grandma doing meals on wheels there when I was a little girl. Funny you found this article.

  35. HAVE GOOD SPECIAL EFFECTS IN THE MOVIE!!!! (sorry, thought you’d get this faster if I’m number 47 on this and not 4000 and something on the other ones.) :]

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