March 18, 2011

Lost Milwaukee #6... Where have you gone, Miss Anderson?

So whatever became of Cora Anderson? After her proud walk out of the courthouse she wrote about her experiences. She penned a lengthy article that was published nation-wide. “This world is made by man – for man alone,” was her opening line. What followed was something between a feminist screed and defeatist endorsement of a male-dominated society. The only way for a woman to get along in the world, according to Cora, is to play the role that man has given her. To be young and beautiful is the best way to go about this. Cora makes her case for actions in a largely financial manner. She cites the high cost of women’s clothing and low pay for women’s work as a reason so many young girls are driven in to marriage (or vice, failing that). “Do you blame me to wanting to be a man in a man-made world? Do you blame me for hating to again resume wearing women’s clothes and just belong?”

Furthermore, Cora had discovered the secrets of what men say only in the company of other men. She dispels the myth that they kiss, but do not tell. “A man always tells. He is so proud of himself. A man always wears the favors women grant him like an Indian wears his scalps,” she wrote. Perhaps in an ironic nod to her own likely, yet unconfirmed, intimate relationship with Mamie, she added, “most men do not consider sexual sins of any consequence.” In the end, it seemed that her time as a man had soured her. She felt that one day, perhaps in a few hundred years in the future, a woman might be “the owner of her own body and custodian of her own soul.” But as for the present day, she only hopes for a women’s minimum wage law. She dare not even mention equality.

As for her own future, Cora never did go back home. She kept her job at Cutler Hammer for at least a few more months. In April of 1915, she was arrested at Broadway and Johnson (now Highland), near the heart of the Vice District (and just a few blocks from the current location of the HMI office). A beat cop stopped her at 3 am, staggering home. When he found out who she was, Cora claimed to reporters, he called her a “vile name” and tore open her dress to see how she was dressed underneath. She was facing 15 days in jail when she was unable to pay her $5 fine. At the last moment, friends stepped forward with enough cash to save her from jail. Later that year, Cora was picked up again, charged with vagrancy. She was found “in company with another woman and neither had worked.”

In the summer of 1919, Cora was arrested again. This time on the complaint that her and another woman had “rolled” a man for $60. He claimed the two had met him downtown, gotten him drunk, and when he awoke the next morning, he was missing cash. When the cops busted into her State Street flat, they found her in bed with her accomplice, 22 year old Emma June Williams. She told reporters that she had been married the previous year to a man named Blackman, but had left her husband months earlier after certain “disagreements.” Her lady friend had the charges dismissed, but Cora got 90 days probation.

Two months later, Cora got picked up on another charge of rolling a drunk. This time accused of making out $40. Given that she was still on probation, she likely would have been given jail time, but after this September 1919 newspaper notice, she disappears.

Of course, she does not really disappear, but my trail on her runs cold. The sad demise of Cora Anderson seems to have led her into a transient lifestyle that flies under the radar of surviving source material. Perhaps she finally did go back home to get parents and returned to nursing. Perhaps she emerged in another city, dressed nattily in a handsome suit with another pretty girl on her arm. Perhaps she stayed in town, pulling petty con jobs and thinking back on fonder times. Whatever happened, it seems that the person, who was for one stunning week the most famous Milwaukeean alive, left town anonymously and unnoticed, trying to find a place in a “man-made” world.

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