A Lady In the Men's Room

Margery Willis Harriss

November 17, 1990|By Margery Willis Harriss

THE CASE of Denise Wells, a 33-year-old legal secretary who was brought to trial in Houston earlier this month for her emergency use of a men's restroom and who, sensibly, was acquitted, reminded me of an incident that happened many years ago on the 12th floor of the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore.

My husband and I were attending a meeting of the Maryland Division, Daughters of the American Revolution, at which our daughter, Clarinda, was serving as a page to one of the chapter regents. After hors d'oeuvres and drinks in the assembly room, we and the other guests crossed the elevator lobby to the ballroom which had been set up auditorium-style with chairs facing a raised dais. On the dais were special chairs for the DAR officers who wore many medals on wide ribbons over their ample bosoms. The pages, as I recall, were seated facing the audience in front on the dais.

The meeting was a black-tie, long-dress occasion, and we had bought a lovely frock for our young daughter who, somewhat unwillingly, had agreed to take part in the program.

Several rows in front of us were Alice Allen and her husband, Wendell, a prominent Baltimore attorney. As the meeting progressed, we noticed Alice behaving quite peculiarly. Her body twitched from side to side and, several times, she leaned over with her head nearly touching her knees and with her arms flailing about. My husband whispered to me: ''Alice Allen is behaving in a very unusual way. Perhaps someone should call a doctor.''

While we were debating what should be done, Alice suddenly rose from her seat and, holding a live mouse by the tail, proceeded to walk at a rapid pace down the middle aisle to the rear of the room.

When we talked with her later, she told us that she was wearing new shoes, colored (as was customary in those days) to match her taffeta gown. Because her feet were hurting, she removed the shoes discreetly, planning of course to put them on again after the program. Suddenly, she felt a movement across her toes, then a little ripple in the folds of her long taffeta gown. For several moments she could not imagine what was happening. Peering toward the floor, she detected a small mouse playing in the bottom of her floor-length dress. What to do? Should she scream? Many of the women who were present would probably have done so -- but not Alice! She reached down as imperceptibly as possible and grabbed the rodent by the tail.

The rest of the story is divulged earlier in this piece. In her stocking-feet, as quickly as she could, Alice hurried from the room, holding the little creature by the tail. What did she do with it? Alice said she hastened to the closest restroom, which happened to be designated ''Men'' and dropped the mouse into toilet.

I feel now, as I did then, that this was a magnificent act of courage on the part of my dear friend and fellow-member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I am glad she was not accused of misdemeanor for entering a restroom designed for members of the opposite sex.

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