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America's History in the Making

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The Great Hair Debate

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Editor, El Paso Times:

In reading and viewing the news as presented these days one cannot help but give a lot of thought to such problems as the school dress code and particularly that section which deals with long hair on males. In the past 300 years there have been many hair styles for both male and female of the species; but never in my opinion have the young males exhibited such dislike, such apparent hatred and shame for having been born a male as now. So naturally they try to look as much like the females as possible, even to growing long hair and wearing [sic] as much like the females do as possible.

Where is that virile young male of yesteryear--so strong, so outstanding?

Where is that pride of manhood so nobly fought for by the males in the past?

Even among the dumb animals the male has so much pride in his being a male and protector of his female and offspring that he would die of shame if his looks were altered to make him look like a female.

Perhaps this apparent feeling of shame for being a male is one reason why we have so many "yellow bellies" who balk at doing their military duty. Also this may account for so many demonstrations and other militant acts.

I am not one to judge harshly, but when I behold my sex being betrayed by so many young teens who have more knowledge than their elders but so inexperienced [sic] that they do not know how to use it I take the position that these thoughts should be made known to the general public.

To say the least, it is a frustrating experience to be walking along the street and behold what looks and to all outward appearance is a good looking young woman approaching you and have that cloud of doubt seize you at the moment the person comes in close proximity to you.

Was it a boy or a girl?

Needless to say I prefer the old-fashioned appearance and a young man who, [sic] is proud to be and look like a male, and by the same token a young lady who looks and acts like a young lady.

Clark J. Matthews

El Paso Times, February 8, 1971, p. A-4.

El Paso Times and El Paso Herald-Post, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT CHESLEY KARR (1970). Courtesy of Chesley Karr.

Creator El Paso Times and El Paso Herald-Post
Context The role of public schools in regulating a dress code
Audience Readers of the El Paso Times and El Paso Herald-Post
Purpose To show how the debate over long hair in public schools polarized a community through its local media

Historical Significance

In 1970, a high-school gym teacher in El Paso, Texas, refused to admit Chesley Karr to class because of his long hair. Karr refused to get a haircut and took the school to court. The El Paso Times and El Paso Herald-Post covered the "great hair debate" and served as a conduit for public opinion. Even though Karr lost his appeal to the Supreme Court, the case illuminated a divide within the community of El Paso. It also reflected the media's role in the national issue on the rights of students within the public school system. Both newspapers published editorials on the case, along with more than fifty letters from readers.

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