Wisconsin Genealogy Trails
Milwaukee County, Wisconsin
Cora Anderson

Cora Anderson - Ralph Kerwinieo

Cora Anderson
picture: Cora Anderson as Ralph Kerwinieo - Cora Anderson in Real Life


Milwaukee, Wis., May 13. - "Did this woman, as far as you know, wear male attire for immoral purposes? Did you ever see her do anything vulgar?" asked the judge in the case of "disorderly conduct" brought against Cora Anderson, who, until last week, as Ralph Kerwinieo, had worn men's clothes and posed as a man for thirteen years.
"While in male attire how did she act?" the judge continued.
"Like a PERFECT GENTLEMAN," was the policeman's answer, much to the amusement of the spectators who filled the police courtroom in Milwaukee.
And this is the verdict of almost every third man in the city who knew Ralph Kerwinieo well and never for a moment suspected that "he" was a woman.

After hearing many more witnesses Judge Page could not find the charge sustained and this "girl-man" who sat so composedly through the trial was allowed to go free with the command that she should resume her woman's dress in the future. This is the end of one of the strangest cases of double life that has ever been written.  

Thirteen years ago two girls who had studied to be nurses at the Provident HOspital, 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. Cora Anderson, looking the Indian she says she is, thin, straight, was to pose as the husband and Marie White, plump, pretty and feminine, was to be the wife.

"We did this" says Cora Anderson, the husband, "for financial as well as moral reasons. As girls working outside the home we had been subjected to all sorts of overtures from all kinds and conditions of men. If I assumed men's clothes I would be better able to obtain work and as a 'man' I could protect my 'wife' from insult. The compact was entered into as unthinkingly as most marriages are. We wanted to live honest lives and become respected citizens of the community. We started this masquerade in Cleveland. O., and for a while I was bellboy at the Hollenden Hotel. Then we came to Milwaukee and I entered the Plankington as bellboy. We furnished a little flat, and to the world we were Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Kerwinieo. No one at the hotels ever suspected me. "In a short time I thought of myself as a man, and it never entered my mind that I was any different than the men about me with whom I laughed, joked, worked and played my part. I have always done a man's work, and I think in most cases I have done it better than the men about me."

This statement was confirmed by all "Ralph's" different employers.  Manufacturer Cutler said:  "Ralph was the best MAN I ever had at work for me. And the men with whom 'he' worked at this store made up a purse of $65 for 'him' and one of them went on 'his' bail when 'he' got into trouble."

How did the secret leak out after all these years?

The "marriage" began to grow a little irksome to both the young women.  Marie White thought she saw her "husband" growing coarse.
"I felt it was time she had again the refining influence of skirts," she said. Cora Anderson (Ralph Kerfinieo), on the contrary, become more and more mannish. She frequented the poolrooms and barber shops and other places where men congregate. It was whispered that "Ralph" had a flirtation now and then. About six months ago things came to a climax, and after a bitter quarrel "Ralph" left home and started boarding at another place.

Afterward in one of "his" visits to a dance hall "he" met Dorothy Klenowski, very pretty and very blonde. "It was love at first sight on my part," says Dorothy, "and we became engaged. I grew tired of the life at home and told 'Ralph' he must marry me at once or it was all off. He went out and procured the certificate required by the eugenic law and we were married by Edward J. Burke, justice Of the peace.

"It was love at first sight on my part and we became engaged. I grew tired of life at home and told 'Ralph' he must marry me at once or it was all off. 'He' told me he had a secret he would tell me after marriage and he went out and procured the certificate required by the eugenic law, and on the 24th of March we were married. I did not know until just before 'Ralph' was arrested that he was not a man and it almost broke my heart, but I determined to stand by 'him' and be 'his' chum if I couldn't be his wife." Statement of Dorothy Klenowsky, child bride, wooed and won by the man-woman.  [Source: The Day Book. (Chicago, Ill.), 13 May 1914]


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