Editor’s Note: An early civil suit in San Diego courts affirmed the rights of the transgendered. Sarah McLean, who openly admitted to wearing men’s clothes, sued Martha McKenzie, her former employer, for slander. While the press was too polite to print details of the slander, it appears from the reported testimony that Ms. McLean’s gender and sexuality were challenged and/or derided. Surprisingly, Miss McLean won vindication in the 1897 court, but she apparently never obtained any of the awarded money.
— as reported in the Los Angeles Times —
October 27, 1897
An interesting case is on trial in Department One of the Superior court, entitled Sarah McLean vs. Mrs. M.G. McKenzie, to recover $25,000 for alleged slander. The principals in the case have heretofore been prominent leaders in the Presbyterian Church, and the beginning of the present unpleasantness dates back several months ago, when Miss McLean was awarded a certain sum of money by the court for services while attending Mrs. McKenzie during an illness. Since that time Mrs. McKenzie is alleged to have been saying some very harsh things about Miss McLean, and the complaint therefore now seeks reparation in the courts.
October 28, 1897
Department One of the Superior Court, Judge Torrance presiding, has been a most interesting place for a curious public during the past few days, as a result of the evidence brought out in a slander case of Sarah McLean vs. Martha G. McKenzie. The complaining witness, Miss McLean, was put on the stand yesterday and she admitted that she had put on gentlemen’s “trousers” and, together with Miss Bow, went out in the neighborhood for a little time, but she averred that it was only done in a spirit of fun, and that the defendant, Mrs. McKenzie, had asked her if she could borrow a pair of trousers for her; that she thought it would be awfully funny to go out for a lark some night. When it came Mrs. McKenzie’s turn to tell the court what she knew pertaining to the allegations of the complaint, she denied all the allegations of slander. She testified that the two young woman, Miss McLean and Miss Bow, came to her house one evening last May, dressed in men’s clothes; that they were admitted by her son, and were so well disguised that at first, they were not recognized but a moment later she recognized them, and then she discovered that Miss McLean’s attire was so disarranged as to be outrageous, and that she had to step between her and her own son in order that he might not see Miss McLean’s condition. Miss McKenzie also insinuated that Miss McLean had been drinking. Evidence was also introduced to the effect that the young son of Mrs. McKenzie, who had been out with the misses McLean and Bow of evenings when they were on a lark, had expressed himself as to what his mother would say if she knew where he was and what he was doing, and that the girls told him to tell her that if she didn’t like the way he did, he would take rooms at a lodging house. Evidence was also introduced to the effect that upon one occasion Miss McLean wore a false mustache while out for a little time in men’s clothing, and that she made a very good looking man. The case came to an end this evening, when Judge Torrance, before whom the case has been tried without a jury, found for the plaintiff and awarded her $1,500 damages.
October 29, 1897
Miss Sarah McLean has been awarded judgment for $1,500 in her slander suit against Mrs. Martha G. McKenzie and her character, therefore has been vindicated by the court. The case was concluded late Wednesday evening. As both parties have waived a trial by jury, Judge Torrance reviewed the case, talking for almost and hour before judgment was finally rendered. When it was given, and the court adjourned, Miss McLean swooned and was soon in a state of utter collapse, as a result of the reaction from the terrible physical and mental strain under which she has been laboring for the past few days. Friends carried her to a window, and she soon rallied sufficiently to be taken to her home.
November 5, 1897
Miss Sarah McLean has caused a citation to be issued on Mrs. McKenzie, against whom the court has given her a verdict for $1,500 for slander, for her to appear in court next Monday and show what property she has to satisfy the judgment the court has given her.
November 26, 1897
Notice has been filed by the plaintiff in the slander case of Miss Sarah McLean vs. Mrs. McKenzie, that a motion will be made Friday of this week to have a receiver appointed to take charge of the estate of Mrs. McKenzie and have the judgment satisfied that has been obtained by Miss McLean.
December 4, 1897
L.A. Wright, referee in the slander case of McLean vs. McKenzie, has filed a supplemental report with the County Clerk, in which he finds that Mrs. McKenzie did not part with the title to certain Egyptian bonds and a lot of jewelry, which she claimed to have disposed of recently, apparently to avoid the payment of the judgment of $1,500 standing against her. The referee recommends in the report that Mrs. McKenzie be ordered to deliver the bonds and jewelry to the Sheriff or be held in contempt of court and punished accordingly.
February 27, 1898
Superior Judge Torrance of Department One issued an order yesterday citing Mrs. M.D. McKenzie, defendant in the case of McLean vs. McKenzie, to appear in court March 7, at 10 o’clock and show cause why she has not satisfied the judgment of $1,500 rendered against her some time ago in the above-named case.
March 12, 1898
A motion for confirmation of the referee’s report and for an order directing Mrs. McKenzie to turn over certain Egyptian bonds and a lot of jewelry, to Miss Sarah McLean, in satisfaction of the judgment of $1,500 obtained by Miss McLean against Mrs. McKenzie, for alleged slander and defamation of character, was overruled yesterday by Superior Judge Torrance, on ground that the defendant could not be compelled to send for her property in order to turn it over to the sheriff. If the property were in this state, steps would be taken to secure possession of it, but as it is believed to be in Europe, there seems to be a way in which it can be reached. It thus seems that Mrs. McKenzie will be able, at last, to defy not only Miss McLean, but the court as well.