Cora Anderson aka Ralph Kerwineo 1876-1932
United States

gouache on paper, 11 x 7 inches
2017

On a spring day in 1914, Milwaukee police arrested Ralph Kerwineo. Described as “well-dressed” and “the perfect gentleman” Ralph calmly lit a cigarette as he was ushered into the police car. His former wife, Mamie White, had reported him for abandonment and outed him as female.

Cora Anderson was born April 6, 1876 in Kendallville, Indiana. Her father was an African American barber and her mother was Potawatomie-Cherokee. At age twenty-four, Cora moved to Chicago. She was working as a nurse and living in a boarding house on the south side when she met Mamie White. Soon the two of them were living together. In 1906 they left Chicago as husband and wife, first moving to Cleveland and then to Milwaukee where Ralph got a job as a clerk at the Cutler-Hammer Company.

Ralph and Mamie lived together as a married couple for thirteen years before Ralph met Dorothy Kleinowski at a dance hall. The two fell in love, and Ralph soon proposed. Ralph and Mamie’s relationship had not been going well, Ralph had even left Mamie a couple times, only to return. Mamie was always worried about Ralph’s “wondering eye” but she did not know that Ralph had married Dorothy in front of the Justice of the Peace. Consumed by jealousy and anger, she reported Ralph, first to his employer, and then to the police.

Ralph was charged with disorderly conduct for wearing male attire. During the trial Mamie stated, “We wanted to be together, so we rented a room and the people with whom we lived never doubted that we were man and wife.” Ralph professed that they wanted, “to live honest lives and become respected citizens of the community.” He said, “My heart and soul are more those of a man than a woman.” In addition, Ralph could find work easier passing as a man of Bolivian or Spanish decent than as a mixed race woman. The Milwaukee public was sympathetic. They saw him as someone who was just trying to support himself and the women in his life. The charges were dropped on the condition that Ralph would go back to wearing female attire.

After the trial Cora Anderson wrote about their life as Ralph Kerwineo and their observations of men’s behavior. They worked at Cutler-Hammer for a few more months, but between 1915 and 1919 newspapers were reporting their arrest again, mostly on charges of vagrancy. In one instance, they were found in bed with their female accomplice, after the two of them had gotten a man drunk and stole sixty dollars from him. After 1919 there is no more mention of Ralph or Cora in the newspapers.


Sources:
 

“Lost Milwaukee #4…The Curious Case of Mr. Kerwineo.” Web blog post. Historic Milwaukee Incorporated. Blogger, 23 Feb. 2011 Web. 23 Jun. 2017

“Lost Milwaukee #6…Where Have You Gone, Miss Anderson?” Web blog post. Historic Milwaukee Incorporated. Blogger, 18 Mar. 2011 Web. 23 Jun. 2017

Cromwell, Jason. Transmen and FTMs: Identities, Bodies, Genders, and Sexualities. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Skidmore, Emily. "Ralph Kerwineo's Queer Body: Narrating the Scales of Social Membership in the Early Twentieth Century." GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 20.1-2 (2014): 141-166. Web. 21 May 2017.

Somerville, Siobhan B. Queering the Color Line: Race and the Invention of Homosexuality in American Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.