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Murray Hall of Tammany
July 25, 2011 3:15 PM   Subscribe

A fixture in NYC's Tammany Hall for 25 years, Murray Hall kept a secret. Murray Hall was buried in women's clothes (PDF), and the masquerade he carried out led to a proposed rule that politicians wear whiskers so that women (who did not yet have the right to vote) could not surreptitiously cast a ballot.
posted by mudpuppie (21 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
the masquerade he carried out led to a proposed rule that politicians wear whiskers

Just pitch this as opening the door to rule by cats and you'll get the internet's support.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:25 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've known many women with whiskers. I hope their ancestors voted illegally in NY.
posted by Mittenz at 4:01 PM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Heh. This is really very best of the net, and a delightfully surprising yarn. It's hard to think of a better demonstration from that time period that women had the intellectual power to effectively take part in the legislature.

Also, I heard that Obama is only pretending to be a Democrat. Oh how we laughed!
posted by jaduncan at 4:03 PM on July 25, 2011


I thought the dialogue in True Grit was a bit rich, but, holy shit, old-timey folks really did talk like that. It's also funny to read how integral drinking hard was to perceptions of masculinity.

This post is super interesting. Forgive the abysmal knowledge of gay history, but were there any women out at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries? Was the word "lesbian" in use at all? These male commentators don't seem to really know how to process two women living together as sexual/life partners.
posted by Roachbeard at 4:08 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


How have I never heard of this?
posted by restless_nomad at 4:16 PM on July 25, 2011


Not to be confused with contemporary drag king Murray Hill.
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:21 PM on July 25, 2011


Was the word "lesbian" in use at all?

The OED has a quotation for 'lesbianism' from 1870, 'lesbian' as an adjective from 1890 (in a medical dictionary) and 'lesbian' as a noun from 1925 (Aldous Huxley). So it was in use. How general that use was, I don't know.

I'm finding the difference in pronouns between the Smithsonian article and the Outhistory article interesting (I don't think it's all quotations). Outhistory is totally discounting the possibility that Hall might have been trans (and we have no way of knowing Hall's preferred pronoun). The Smithsonian, meanwhile, has somehow avoided the mainstream media trap of assigning people a pronoun based on their genitals.
posted by hoyland at 4:22 PM on July 25, 2011


It seems like Hall's preferred pronoun would be "he" for public use. Behind closed doors who knows but I doubt they went back and forth.
posted by bleep at 4:28 PM on July 25, 2011


I think it's sad they decided to bury Hall in women's clothes. People should be in death as they were in life, no?
posted by bleep at 4:29 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Forgive the abysmal knowledge of gay history, but were there any women out at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries?

Probably not "out out" as today but there was the "Boston marriage". I imagine people just didn't discuss such things in polite company.
posted by MikeMc at 4:33 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every private moment, real or perceived, was twisted and turned and held up to the light, but in the end Murray Hall told no stories of his own—not even to his daughter, who refused to call her father a “she.”

I suspect the daughter (and the second wife, if there was one) knew full well the biological sex of Mr. Hall, but the respect for a loved one's self-determination is really powerful in this one sentence.
posted by xingcat at 4:47 PM on July 25, 2011


Other gender-variant, notable figures from around this time in history include:

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, only woman to have received the Medal of Honor and also a proponent of women's dress reform (and frequently arrested for impersonating a man).

Dr. James Barry, first surgeon to have successfully performed a caesarean section. (Though some speculate he was intersex, not female.) Also pissed off Florence Nightingale.

Dr. Alan Hart, first documented FTM case in the United States, and a pioneer in tuberculosis screening.
posted by Wossname at 5:41 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Not forgetting Deborah Samson, who fought as "Robert Shirtliffe" in the Revolutionary War, nor the 250 women who fought in the Civil War disguised as men.
posted by likeso at 5:55 PM on July 25, 2011


http://cisnews.tumblr.com/
posted by limnrix at 6:13 PM on July 25, 2011


Poor Mister Hall, trying to operate on his own breast cancer. What a harrowing, sad image. Of course, even had he sought medical aid locally, there was no guarantee of a cure, only a certainty that his secret would be leaked. So it was a dignified death, at least. Wonder if he meant to steal away and die somewhere he'd not be found, but left it too long?

I am reminded of 1980s Santa Cruz eccentrics The Blue Ladies, one of whom is said to have died of the 'flu rather than let a doctor (and her partner) see that she was biologically a he.
posted by Scram at 6:26 PM on July 25, 2011


The genealogist in me couldn't help checking what records are available.

Murray Hamilton Hall and Celia Francis Low married in Manhattan, 24 Dec. 1872. The record confirms that he was born an Alexander, while his wife's maiden name was Wilson. (The OutHistory link, citing Murray's will, gives her name as Cecilia F. L. Hall.) Murray was admitted a citizen 20 Oct. 1875. Celia appears to have died 7 July 1898 in Manhattan, aged 53 years, making her year of birth about 1844-45.

Here's where it gets interesting. In 1870, a Cecilia Wilson, aged 26 years, was incarcerated in a penitentiary in Brooklyn. Three names below Cecilia's is the name of Mary Alexander, aged 40, born in New York (consistent with Murray Hall's date of birth, though not his place of birth). Possibly a coincidence, but it makes me wonder if Murray and his future wife were cellmates.
posted by Knappster at 6:28 PM on July 25, 2011 [15 favorites]


That's a very cool story, and like the Smithsonian, I'm reluctant to retroactively brand gender or sexual identity in historical figures. Who knows if Murray would be a butch lesbian or a straight-identifying transdude, or anything else today, considering our (relative) freedom to live as we like?

All that we know is that he had a lot of -- dare I say it? -- balls to carve out the life he wanted to live way back then. I also love that he crossed the ocean and immigrated to America to find himself and he seems to have largely succeeded, just as many others were fortunate enough to do during the previous turn of the century.

I'm sad that we'll never have that era of complete self-re-invention back. In more ancient times, very few had the mobility to end up somewhere completely new, and nowadays, even though travel is cheap and easy, identity is so fixed and we're all so trackable that it's become impossible to just up and disappear and reappear as a brand new person.
posted by lesli212 at 7:42 PM on July 25, 2011


Never knew about this story. Hoe I love hidden history!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:55 PM on July 25, 2011


I'm so confused, is this about transsexuals or furries or politics? Do we have transsexual furry politicians yet?
posted by Theta States at 6:38 AM on July 26, 2011


I suspect the daughter (and the second wife, if there was one) knew full well the biological sex of Mr. Hall, but the respect for a loved one's self-determination is really powerful in this one sentence.

Why? I don't Billy Tipton's family knew. The wife, sure. But the adopted daughter? I don't see why.
posted by Diablevert at 6:45 AM on July 26, 2011


the masquerade he carried out led to a proposed rule that politicians wear whiskers so that women could not surreptitiously cast a ballot.

That reminded me of the supposed rituals during Papal elections that the candidates had to sit on a chair with a hole in the seat, so that they could be physically verified as having man-bits - in reaction to a Pope Joan sneaking in for a couple years until being outed. However, a bit of digging in wiki seems to reveal that these are all a series of folk myths that have no bearing on reality. Alas...
posted by FatherDagon at 7:59 AM on July 26, 2011


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