March 3, 2011

Lost Milwaukee #5... Milwaukee's "Girl-Man" on Trial

            Less than 24 hours after police picked up Mr. Ralph Kerwineo as he smoked a cigarette on a downtown street corner, Milwaukee’s “Girl-Man” was front page news. Reporters flocked around the prisoner as he calmly laid on a hard wooden bench in the woman’s holding area at the central police station. Still dressed in his sharp suit and coat, the prisoner was hardly refusing to speak. “Why did I quit wearing skirts?” He asked aloud. “It’s a long story.”
The prisoner refused to divulge his given name, but admitted freely to being a physically normal woman who had, for the past ten years, fooled everyone into thinking she was a man. The prisoner’s responses to the gathered newspaper men reflect an unburdened soul. He was glib. A query about his desire to get out of jail caused him to retort, “Do I look like a rummy? Do I look like I want to spend the rest of my life in jail?” He was cocky, bragging that no one ever questioned her as a man. As for Mamie, the spurned mate of ten years that had turned him out? “I got tired of living with her,” he said dismissively.
            The former Mr. Kerwineo had been more accommodating with the cops. He’d told them anything. By Monday, the papers were running Ralph’s real name, Miss Cora Anderson of Indiana. Mamie had been profiled as well. She told the papers there was no ill intent behind her actions. She was just worried about Ralph, she said. Worried that he could no longer tell the difference between their charade and reality. Ralph didn’t buy it. He pointed out that Mamie had gone to his employer with the same news two months prior. Nothing came of it, making Mamie all the more angry. While disagreeing on the end of it all, both women were adamant that they had entered into the situation for “the fun of it.” They wouldn’t dare call it a love affair. The papers used the term “chums” to describe the pair.
On Monday, Ralph was arraigned. Still dressed in his “natty male attire,” hundreds of on-lookers watched Ralph walk from the police station to the court house. As they lined the sidewalks, Ralph walked in small steps, ill at ease with the attention. In the courtroom, however, he loosened, even joking with the officers. District Attorney Edward Yockey allowed for bail, on the condition that the accused resume ‘proper’ dress. The Judge agreed, partially on testimony from a detective who said he was convinced that there was nothing “morally perverted” about the masquerade. “They are writing the last chapter of the life of Ralph Kerwineo,” Ralph told reporters afterwards. “When I leave this courtroom, Kerwineo will be dead.”
            “And who will take his place?” A reporter asked.
            “Cora Anderson.”
            A collection was taken up in city hall and in short time they had raised the funds for a new dress and corset. Cora at first balked at the idea of the corset. “I should say not!” She told the nurse dressing her. “It has been ten years since I had one on.” In the end, she wore the corset. Underneath, however, she was still wearing Ralph’s clothes.

Cora spent three nights in jail before her boss at Cutler Hammer personally posted her bail, and even slipping Cora an extra ten dollars for her troubles. Meanwhile, Edward Yockey was trying to get Cora charged with perjury, claiming she’d violated the law when she signed her marriage certificate with Dorothy. He also demanded that Mamie and Dorothy be arrested on vagrancy charges. The attending detectives, however, refused to sign either of the orders. Cora, now free, was boasting that she had been a “popular fellow.” She seemed to be a popular lady as well.
            Upon securing her release, Cora went back to the downtown flat she had been sharing with Dorothy. Both women had stuck to somewhat dubious claim that Dorothy had no inkling that Ralph was actually Cora. Mamie, not speaking to Cora, but talking freely to the newspapers, insisted Dorothy knew. Dorothy had fallen for Cora in a “spirit of fun,” Mamie said, “Just as I had.”
            Dorothy was mostly staying quiet. “Lay off of that stuff, kid,” she snapped on intrusive reporters. “Nix on the third degree!” She said she would stay with Cora only until the case was settled. “As a man I loved her. But when she donned skirts, that love died.” Dorothy’s mother wanted badly for her to return home. She pleaded with her via the papers, saying that had already lost six children to early death and had another in the hospital. She couldn’t bear now to lose Dorothy as well.

On Thursday, May 7th, Cora’s trial began. The Sentinel described her that day as being dressed in a “gray slipon, a chic black hat partly covering a black wig which greatly improved her appearance as a woman.” Much laughter was reported during the short trial, the packed house giggling when a detective was asked if the suspect had behaved like a lady when arrested. More laughs followed Cora’s own attorney asking her was a man or a woman. “I am a woman,” she replied proudly.

            Ruling that she had meant no ill intent, the judge suspended her sentence and set Cora free. He did, however, make a point of saying that had this been the case of a man acting as a women, the crime would be far graver. Outside the courthouse, with Dorothy gazing on affectionately, Cora announced that she would dress only as a woman from that day forward. She said she would leave Milwaukee and her notoriety behind to pursue a career in nursing. She also took the moment to publicly deny all offers to appear on the vaudeville stage. Several offers had been made to her, some for good money, but Cora did not wish to become a curiosity.
As she walked away, a woman burst forth from the crowd and grabbed her hand. “God Bless you, my girl,” She said. “No one is happier for you than I that you fooled the men for ten years as you did.” Cora shook her hand and walked away.

Check back next week for the final entry in the Cora Anderson series… Whatever Happened to Cora Anderson?

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