Day Book: Cora Anderson/Ralph Kerwinieo, May 15-16, 1914

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"I determined to become a member of this privileged sex"

by Jonathan Ned Katz. Copyright (c) by Jonathan Ned Katz. All rights protected.

CoraAnderson.jpg


In 1914, the Day Book of Chicago, an "Adless Daily Newspaper" given to tabloid-style, splashy headlines, rather lurid features, short news items, advice columns, cartoons, and jokes, carried signed stories, datelined Milwoukee, Wisconsin, about Cora Anderson who had reportedly lived for thirteen years as Ralph Kerwinieo.


How much credence can be given to these reports' veracity will depend on evidence discovered in other sources. But even as they stand the Day Book articles document attitudes toward female cross-dressing and close female-female relations.


According to the Day Book, Cora Anderson had been brought before Judge Page in Milwaukee and charged with "disorderly conduct" after Marie White, her longtime companion, had revealed her secret. Six months earlier, Anderson had left the home she shared with White, and on March 24, 1914, had actually married (before Justice of the Peace Edward J. Burke) the young Dorothy Klenowski. The two had met at a dance hall.


In the Day Book story Anderson is said to have "a dark skin" and claimed to be an American Indian. South America is the birthplace listed on her marriage certificate. Dorothy Klenowski is described as blond, and the marriage may have been interracial, as well as unisexual.

Marriage Certificate


After a hearing, Anderson was reportedly set free and commanded to wear women's clothes.


According to the Day Book, in 1901 Anderson and Marie White, who are said to have studied to be nurses at the Provident Hospital in Chicago, "found out how hard it was for a woman (especially a woman with a dark skin) to make an honest living, and decided to double up and form a home."


They began their masquerade as Mr. and Mrs. Kirwinieo in Cleveland, Ohio, where "Ralph" worked as a bellboy at the Hollenden Hotel, then at the same job in Milwaukee, at the Plankington. Later "Ralph" obtained work with a manufacturer named Cutler.


The stories emphasize that Anderson was guilty of no "immoral" conduct, and that her marriage to Klenowski was never consummated.65 The need to specify and deny erotic possibility indicates that by 1914 female transvestism was associated in the public mind with lesbianism. Despite the denial of sexual relations, readers may wonder if Cora Anderson's associations with women were actually as nonerotic as claimed. Interestingly throughout all the stories occur comments on the oppressed position of women in America of 1914.


The last two Day Book stories allegedly present Cora Anderson's own written "impressions of the world and its male population." Anderson begins:


This world is made by man-for man alone. I, who have lived as a man among men, realize it. I, who have talked with men as a man, know it.


And whatever man may say about "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world," they know that nothing rules men but their desires and there is no ruler in this world but sex. . . .


When I started out as a nurse I did so with the highest ideals. . . . But I found that steady work in my profession-like every woman's work in the world depended upon the giving of myself. . . .


Two-thirds of the physicians I met made a nurse's virtue the price of their influence in getting her steady work.


Is it any wonder that I determined to become a member of this privileged sex, if possible?


This disguise also helped me to protect my chum as well as myself. She could stay in the home, and, believe me, as long as society, with its double code and double standards of morals, is as it is now, the only place for a woman is in the home.[1]


In her last "confession" Anderson adds:


Down deep in their hearts men interpret that old prophesy about inheriting the earth and the fullness thereof as for themselves alone. . . .


Women don't tell the things I am writing even to each other, but every young woman who is brought in contact with many men . . . knows that I speak the truth.


And, at that, man is not so much to blame as our wrong conditions, which I am glad to say are slowly getting better. In the future centuries it is probable that woman will be the owner of her own body and the custodian of her own soul. But until that time you can expect that the statutes of the [concerning] women will be all wrong. The well-eared-for woman is a parasite, and the woman who must work is a slave.


The woman's minimum wage will help, but it will not-cannot-effect a complete cure.


A girl or woman needs more money to live decently than a man.... Respectability is always costly. Her clothes cost MUCH more. I had a good illustration of this when I was compelled to buy a woman's hat when I was told by the court I must dress in woman's clothes.


The hat, a very modest black one trimmed with jet, cost $5, and it can only be worn for about six months, and then I'll probably have to hand out another five for something new.


The derby I was wearing when the police were told I was a woman cost me $3 and I had worn it two years.


With the present wage conditions there are thousands of young women who are living in a state of semi-starvation and they are always surrounded by the most terrible temptation.


Oh, I know that some of [the] greatest reformers insist that a girl's virtue is not affected by under-nourishment, disease and nervous collapse; but if these well housed, well fed, well dressed people were put in a dirty, ugly room, if their clothes did not protect them from the cold, if their stomachs were never filled, would not even the staunchest lose some of her self-respect when looking forward to an old age? It is only a matter of wonder to me that so many girls keep clean and decent through it all.


There should be a woman's minimum [wage] law in every state, but that is not all that is necessary to protect a woman and keep her fit for her highest office motherhood....


Some people in reading these articles may think I am very bitter against the men. This is not so. I am only bitter against conditions-conditions that have grown up in this man-made world. You cannot blame anyone who makes anything for making it to suit the maker. Power is always ruthless.


Every man, whether he is on a desert island or on the great white way, in his secret heart, echoes Robinson Crusoe's boast when he looks upon the world: "I am lord of all I survey,…"


Up to date, notwithstanding all our "reforms," our "votes for women," our "women in the industrial field," our "growing class of women with big brains and great hearts," it is still a man-made world-made by men for men....


Do you blame me for wanting to be a man-free to live life as a man in a manmade world?


Do you blame me for hating to again resume a woman's clothes and just belong?"[2]


References

  1. Cora Anderson, "Man-Woman Says Man Out In the World is a Hunter of Women," Day Book, vol. 3, no. 194 (May 15, 1914), no pagination.
  2. Cora Anderson, "Will A Man Kiss and Not Tell?-No, Says Cora Anderson, The Man-Woman," Day Book, vol. 3, no. 195 (May 16, 1914), no pagination. The photos are from issues 192, 193, 194.


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