History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Wisconsin - People - Bios

Helen L. Joslin, aka "Dirty Helen"


October 9, 1915
March 22, 1996
Primary Involvements:






Helen L. Joslin was working for the George Webb Restaurant on 1st and Mitchell in Milwaukee when she had a spat with her boss. At the time, the Ski Glow Cafe needed a waitress for the night shift, and hired her. The restaurant was at the time becoming "gay friendly" and Helen had quite a following: she called all the customers her "boys", and picked up the name "Dirty Helen" because of her tough talk. Her story is best told through recollections; see some of them below.

(According to one contributor, there was a much publicized 'Dirty Helen' from the Prohibition Era who ran a gin joint on St. Paul Ave. around where Sobelman's bar now is. Helen Joslin may have borrowed the nickname from an already famous personality from her youth, or perhaps the name was given to her. In any case, the name stuck.)

Helen died on March 22, 1996 due to complications suffered after a triple bypass operation.

Recollections: The following are recollections of others who have been kind enough to submit their personal memories to the webmaster. You are welcome to do the same! (Recollections collected by Jamie Taylor.)

    ---> "It was my first time in there and I ordered a cheeseburger and fries. When I got the plate the cheese was missing from my burger. I told Helen she forgot the cheese. She went to the kitchen, got an unwrapped slice of cheese, flung it across the restaurant and said “There’s your cheese you cheap fuc*er.” I was kind of offended at first but she later came over and said “I’m just teasing you.””
                                    - Bob Sobie

    ---> "I went to see her one day in the back cottage and she opened the door only wearing a towel between her boobs”
                                    - James, Triangle

    ---> "Someone ordered steak & eggs for breakfast. Helen brought the plate over set it in front of the customer and walked away. The customer said “this steak tastes rancid.” Helen retorted “The only thing rancid was the dick you had in your mouth last night.” She picked up his plate, started walking away when she turned around and tossed the contents of the plate at the customer. That customer was rumored to be Jamie Gays.”
                                    - Bobby Mansen

    ---> "By the way, this was not the famous 'Dirty Helen' of Milwaukee. The much publicized 'Dirty Helen' was from the Prohibition Era and ran a gin joint on St. Paul Ave. around where Sobelman's bar now is. The (other) 'DH' on south 1st street was clearly borrowing from an already famous personality from her youth. Yes, she was lots of fun, playing the irascible, throw-a-mop at you if you spilled your milk waitress, but then would always come over and sit and joke around.”
                                    - Rick Stabler

    ---> "I remember many a late after bar night at the famous Ski Glo cafe. The place would be packed! It was almost like the bar just moved over there, and they we're all there to see one person - Dirty Helen. The first time I saw her I thought this bitch is really nuts, but came to learn what a truly sweet person she really was. You always made sure to order enough so she wouldn't yell out "cheap fucker" across the restaurant and point at you. Even if she did call you out, she always made a point to then say something nice to you. She loved her "boys" and we loved her. She was definitely a Milwaukee gay icon.”
                                    - Jonn Michael Nuter

    ---> "I’ve never met the famous “Dirty Helen” but I have heard stories about her. I don’t know how she got that name but can make some assumptions based on some of the stories. Here are a few things I heard about her:

    "If you ordered scrambled eggs and the kitchen sent you over-easy and you complained, Dirty Helen would come over to your table, pick up your fork and scramble them right on your plate… “There, now they’re scrambled”

    "If someone came in and ordered just coffee, she would look at that person and say loudly “CHEAP FUC*ER!”

    "That being said, all the “boys” loved her. They never knew what to expect out of her but knew it would be funny… even if they themselves were on the receiving end.

    "Helen has since retired and moved to Oklahoma, in the early 1990’s (There seemed to be some confusion about where she moved. I have 2 sources who tell me it was indeed, Oklahoma.)”
                                    - Jamie Taylor

    ---> "As far as Dirty Helen, well, I came out right after all of that, but my older friends and mentors at that time told me many stories of how the restaurant was run, and how fun and 'camp' it was back then. I can share some blippets if you want.

    One time a customer complained: "These are sunny side up, I ordered scrambled eggs..." Dirty Helen then took a fork, and thoroughly mangled up the guys breakfast plate in front of him and said: “There, now they are scrambled. Enjoy." and walked away. This left the customers laughing in stitches, and is probably one of her most memorable moments in history."
                                    - Tony Aiello


Triangle holds a party for Dirty Helen
some time after the restaurant is gone, Oct. 1988.
This is the only known photo of 'Dirty Helen'.
(In Step vol 5-18, Oct. 1988)

(In Step vol 13-06, April 1996)

Credits: website design by Don Schwamb;
Last updated: March-2024.

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