On a spring day in 1914 Milwaukee police arrested Ralph Kerwineo just as he was lighting a cigarette outside his place of employment. Described as “well-dressed” and “the perfect gentleman” he was ushered into the police car and charged with disorderly conduct for wearing male attire. His former wife, Mamie White, had reported him for abandonment and outed him as female.
Ralph was born Cora Anderson on April 6, 1876 in Kendallville, Indiana. Her father was an African American barber and her mother was Potawatomi-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 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 over ten years before Ralph met and fell in love with another woman, Dorothy Kleinowski. Ralph and Mamie’s relationship had not been going well and the two were separated. Mamie had become increasingly annoyed by Ralph’s night life and masculine habits but she did not know that Ralph had married Dorothy in front of the Justice of the Peace. Consumed by jealousy, she reported Ralph, first to his employer, and then to the police.
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 provide support for his wife and make a living. The charges were dropped on the condition that Ralph would go back to wearing female attire.
The trial attracted national attention. Afterwards, Cora Anderson wrote about living as Ralph Kerwineo and shared observations about how men act when women aren't around. The fame also resulted in a traveling vaudeville act, but soon money and employment dried up. In 1915 Anderson/Kerwineo was arrested in Racine, WI after “masquerading as a man” and failing to pay for a hotel room. In 1919 they were accused of stealing, and when the cops arrived at the apartment they found Anderson/Kerwineo in bed with a female companion. In defense, Anderson/Kerwineo said they were married for a year, but left their husband due to disagreements. In both cases they were released on probation. After 1919 there is no more mention of the name Ralph Kerwineo or Cora Anderson in the papers.
"Clothed as Man, Woman Is Locked Up." Racine Journal-News 24 Mar. 1915.
Cromwell, Jason. Transmen and FTMs: Identities, Bodies, Genders, and Sexualities. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
"Former Girl Man Again Arrested." Milwaukee Sentinel 9 June 1919.
Gibson, Idah McGlone . “Amazing Double Life of Cora Anderson; Lived Thirteen Years as a Man; Dressed as a Man, Worked and Loved as Man.” Wilkes-Barre Times Leader 12 May 1914: 16.
“Girl Gets Eugenics License as Man.” Kalamazoo Gazette 10 May 1914: 4.
“Posed as a Man Ten Years and No One Ever Suspected That Cora Anderson Was a Girl.” Kansas City Star 8 May 1914: 12.
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.
“Thirteen Years a Girl-Husband.” The Ogden Standard 13 Jun. 1914: Magazine Section 13.