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Thirteen Years a Girl-Husband (1914)
From Cora to Ralph: How She Fooled the World by Posing as a Man
Ralph Kerwineo was an American trans man who was born on April 6, 1876, in Kendallville, Indiana. His father was an African American barber and his mother was Potawatomi-Cherokee.
Kerwineo was notable for an incident in 1914 when Mamie White, the woman who had lived as Kerwineo's wife for thirteen years, revealed to the local police Kerwineo's "true sex" (female). He was arrested by the police for allegedly passing as a man and marrying two women. He was known as the 'Girl-Man of Milwaukee.’
Born in Kendallville, Indiana, and raised as Cora Anderson, Kerwineo hoped for a career in one of the few fields available to women. In 1900, while in nursing school in Chicago, Kerwineo met Mamie White, and the two started out life together.
However, both struggled to find work at a time when immoral doctors could take advantage, demanding sexual favors before hiring. With few opportunities, the two young nurses calculated a man's wage would make their life together much better.
They decided to move to Milwaukee, and Cora Anderson started to live as the person known as Ralph Kerwineo. Kerwineo found work as a bellboy at the Plankinton Hotel. Then, as a factory hand.
White kept care of their home. They appeared to all as a traditional husband and wife. Then, as happens in many relationships, troubles began. Ralph, in Mamie's eyes, started to get too... comfortable with his expression as a man. Coarse in his habits, going out with other men after work. Eventually, they split.
And a little while later, Mamie discovered that Ralph was seeing Dorothy Kleinowski and that they were, in fact, getting married. Hurt and angry at Kerwineo, White showed up at his workplace under the guise of applying for a job.
Told they had no work suited for women, White revealed they already had a female employee and uncovered Kerwineo's secret. This blew up all over the papers. Kerwineo was arrested. (In 1914, it was against the law to wear the clothes of another gender.)
Below: The Tacoma Times published Kerwineo’s own account of their experiences.
Kerwineo was incarcerated and then paraded through newspapers, as Cora Anderson, the identity Kerwineo had long left behind.
It's a story that tells us a lot about the way gender-variant people have been criminalized in the past. Kerwineo was forced into a dress as part of a sensational public trial.
The overflowed crowd laughed when, under oath, he had no choice but to say he was a woman. Kerwineo was released as long as he promised that he "would return to wearing skirts," as they put it.
Milwaukee police captain Sullivan told the Milwaukee Journal: “No woman ever came into my office who could use better English, or was apparently more refined than ‘Mrs. Kerwineo,’ and from my investigation, I believe that they are stating the truth when they say the only reason they set out upon this adventure was an economical one. They are not morally perverted in any way. I am convinced.”
Having satisfied dominant expectations for leading a “good life,” Judge G. E. Page suspended the sentence and allowed Kerwineo to leave free of charge.
At the end of the trial, Kerwineo was quoted: "When we leave this court, Kerwineo will be dead. My name when I leave here will be Cora Anderson."
When the charges were ultimately dropped, the Evening Wisconsin stated that Judge Page was convinced that Kerwineo “adopted the disguise for moral and financial reasons and led an exemplary life while posing as a man, had never made overtures to others to do wrong and had innocently induced Miss Klienowski into a mock marriage.”
In the national lens however, Kerwineo was not portrayed as a productive citizen, but rather as a social outcast.
But Ralph Kerwineo would not die. After his release, he went around with some vaudeville circuits. He would start off the show dressed as a woman, then show up as a man.
Showing resilience, he kept presenting as male for long after the infamous trial. He said his woman's soul had died, and a man's soul had taken its place. ~ Wisconsin Pride | Ralph Kerwineo (includes a video)