Masquerade of Sex

The Spring 2013 issue of Wisconsin Magazine of History has an article on the “Girl-Man of Milwaukee” written by Matthew Prigge. The article goes into great detail how Cora Anderson lived for several years as a man and even took a wife before being exposed by her friend to the authorities.

Surprisingly this was not unique or even rare in the turn of the century Milwaukee. One of the earliest known examples was that of Frank Blunt. He was arrested in July 1893 on suspicion of theft of money in Fond du Lac. When he was taken to the station and about to be searched he suddenly demanded to be searched by a police matron where it was found that he was actually a she. Frank turned out to be Annie Morris from Nova Scotia who had run away from home at age 15. She decided to take on the disguise of a boy and through some misadventures was adopted by an itinerant horse trader by the name of Jesse Blunt. Jesse convinced her to take on the guise of a boy to pass as his son and that is the way it remained for the next 13 years. Jesse settled in Milwaukee and opened a saloon on the South side. Frank enjoyed the company of women and hung around gambling halls as many young men did in those days. After being caught, Annie was sentenced to a year in prison at Waupun for the theft. An interesting and final note to the story was the appearance at the trial of Miss Gertrude Field who claimed to have married Frank in Eau Claire and who helped to fund the defense for Annie.

The most interesting story was that of Harry Hynes who was discovered in 1899. Police had noticed a young woman who looked strange walking downtown streets with a shabby dress, glasses, and wearing rouge. When the police finally had a chance to stop and question “Harriet Brown” in front of the Alhambra Theater they found out she was actually a 17-year old young man. The tell tale giveaway that the police noticed was the five-o-clock shadow on Harriet’s face. Otherwise, he had the practiced air of a woman’s mannerisms, wore a wig, and was found to have several dresses at his rooming house. Harry worked vaudeville theaters as a female impersonator and even managed to find part time work as a servant girl at a home on 8th & St. Paul a few weeks prior to being arrested. During questioning he explained that after his mother died two years ago he had been unable to find work as a man and had donned the attire to find other work as a woman. He ended up serving 60 days for disorderly conduct in the House of Correction and disappeared after his release, possibly to Chicago where he supposedly had relatives.

Another story very similar to that of Cora Anderson and happening virtually at the same time was that of Jessie McNeil. The 24-year old woman was discovered by police in July 1915 in men’s clothing, and with a short hair cut at 4th and Juneau. She was with Emma Jacobs, 33, an african-american woman who was living as her wife at a colored rooming house at 7th & Winnebago. Jessie told police that she dressed as a man to earn higher wages and that her parents in West Allis knew of her lifestyle. As a woman she could only work at jobs that paid $4 a week but as a man she was working at jobs paying $10 and $14 a week. Jessie was living and working in Chicago as a man but was caught by the police there and told to leave the city in early 1915. Afterwards she came to Milwaukee, met Emma and lived with her as a roommate for three months.

-Yance Marti

Milwaukee Journal, August 30, 1899
Milwaukee Journal, July 1, 1915
Milwaukee Journal, February 5, 1933

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