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82 Iowa Law Review 1007 (1997)


Among the denizens of the "Gay Nineties" were Elvira Virginia Mugarietta, a Californian adventurer and humanitarian; Ralph Werther, a college student in New York City; and Alice Mitchell, the scion of a prominent Memphis family. All were gender-benders who ran afoul the law. Mugarietta was a biological female who passed as a man from 1892 to 1936. Living as a man, she was able to enjoy experiences as a soldier, journalist, and philanthropist that were typically closed to women, although her enjoyment was occasionally punctuated by official detention and incarceration. Werther's autobiography describes himself as a "fairie" or "androgyne," namely "an individual with male genitals, but whose physical structure otherwise, whose psychical constitution, and vita sexualis approach the female type."2 Attracted only to virile men, Werther suffered from repeated run-ins with law enforcement officers and soldiers. Mitchell's single encounter with the law was the most tragic, however. Her passion was for Freda Ward. Mitchell proposed to marry Ward by passing as a man; after Ward demurred, the nineteen-year-old Mitchell stabbed her to death on the streets of Memphis. The Shelby County Criminal Court adjudged Mitchell insane in 1892; she died six years later in an asylum.

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