Monday, August 18, 2008

1927 news story

Two years ago my daughter worked as a summer intern at the local newspaper. While there she was permitted to look at files of old articles that had been clipped and saved in the days before computers and the internet. Here’s a story so quirky and entertaining, I wanted to share it with you.

(Title unknown), The Oakland Tribune, April 25, 1927

A girl, who dressed like a man and worked as a truck driver and concrete laborer because it was an “easier” life than being a mother is in the Oakand city jail today, charged with masquerading in man’s clothing.

Since she was nine years old, Grace Boehm, now 23, has hoboed, labored, sailed in the forecastle of a rum ship and otherwise lived a life of the most adventurous male.

Twice she has succumbed to the gentle influence of love, but not for long. Her first marriage to Emil Helwig, rich owner of a truck fleet in Marin and Sonoma counties, was annulled in Oklahoma, she says. Her second husband, Jack Kenney, wartime aviator, is in a government tuberculosis hospital at San Fernando, she says.


The girl “vagabond” has a four-year-old daughter, in care of the father, and her own mother Mrs. Frederick Ruhser, lives at 418 Texas street, San Francisco.

“Grace went through a very terrible operation several years ago,” said Mrs. Ruhser when she learned of her daughter’s arrest. “Since then she has thrown off all restraints of her girlhood and has never been normal.”

Grace, or Jerry, was arrested in an Oakland noodle parlor yesterday by Police Officer James Dolan who had followed her from a poolroom. She was dressed in a pair of blue dungarees, rough shoes and workingmens’ socks, a blue work shirt, with the “makin’s” dangling from a breast pocket, and topped her garb with an old brown coat and a felt hat cocked jauntily on one side of her closely-shorn head.


For the past three days Grace has been working for the Perry Cnostruction [sic] company, as a truck helper on cemment [sic] construction. She earned $6 a day.

“Isn’t labor hard for a girl?” asked Judge Tyrrell.

“No. And there’s lots of it for anybody willing to really work,” said the girl.

“I have begged her to go back to her husband and baby but it is useless,” said the mother.

Grace know [sic] how to talk in terms of the road and hobo camps. She can also speak the language of the sea and has a southern dialect, although she said she was born in San Francisco.

The girl told police she has a completet [sic] wardrobe of women’s wear and changes at random. It takes an industrious worker to keep up both a man’s and a woman’s wardrobe, she said.

No other law-breaking besides masquerading in violation of a city ordinance is charged against the girl.

(The very next day...)

“Girl in Man’s Attire Ordered To Leave City, Court’s Sentence Is That Woman Must Never Come Back to Oakland,” The Oakland Tribune, April 26, 1927

Because she wore men’s clothes and worked as a laborer to escape the responsibilities of motherhood, Grace Boehm, arrested Sunday in an Eighth Street poolroom, must never come to Oakland again. This, today, was the sentence imposed on the 23-year-old girl in the custody of her husband, Jack Kenney, a World War aviator in a government hospital at San Fernando. The girl’s mother, Mrs. Frederick Rhuser, said Grace underwent an operation several days ago that gave her a wanderlust in which she forsook girl dress and assumed the characteristics of a man.

The girl earned $6 a day as a cement mixer, which work she told the judge was easier than housekeeping.

Despite the two articles’ inconsistency in the reported timing of the “terrible operation,” don’t we still wonder what kind of operation it was, and what ever happened to Mrs. Boehm?


caroline said...

When I was in high school (graduated 1971) I was vaguely aware that some of my classmates might be gay. But I was intrigued that my son, a rising high school senior, told me about a couple of HIS classmates who are transgendered -- I think one is out and there are a couple he's pretty sure of. That certainly wasn't on my radar in my day!

jhawkins said...

I believe that Emil is my Grandpa and Grace is my Grandma if indeed they are the same Emil Helwig and Grace Boehm. The timing seems to be right.
Emil is buried in Clearlake, CA. Grace Leonard (maiden, Boehm) died in San Diego. My mother's maiden name was Muriel Helwig, unfortunately she passed in 2006 in Grants Pass, OR.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Thank you so much, JHawkins. It's special to that you have made that connection for me.

Anonymous said...

Grace Boehm was my grandma and she was very loving grandma.Gloria Hardin Medford, Oregon

Gloria Hardin said...

Grace Boehm is my grandmother or was as she has passed away. This story has really tied up some loose ends we were searching for. My sister Nancy and i have been trying to build a family tree. In the above comment from JHawkins, he is our half-brother, same mother that links to this grandmother Grace. Thanks so much for the article, Gloria Hardin

The Perimeter Primate said...

To the descendants of Grace Boehm:

If you would like a copy of the Tribune articles, I will make one and send it to you.

If you write to me at and give me your address, I will do so.