Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lesbian Marriage in Columbus, Kansas (1935)

Cherokee County Courthouse - Columbus, Kansas (1930s)
Lesbian Marriage in Columbus, Kansas (1935)

Location: Cherokee County, Kansas--15 miles south of Pittsburg in southeast Kansas

Opened/Closed: July 15 - July 25, 1935

Columbus, Kansas is not an all-woman town--not then, not now. It never included any noteworthy women-only college, school, bar, club, business, or farm that I am aware of. (Although I did find a very fine portrait of the wives of the Farm Labor Union, also from the 1930s. See below.)

However, it does appear that the very first lesbian wedding ever performed in the state of Kansas was performed in Columbus--and that was back in 1935!

And for that, we are honoring Columbus, Kansas as a lost womyn's space. Even though Columbus, Kansas officials (along with their brethren across the border in Picher, Oklahoma) weren't terribly kind to this couple. As a matter of fact, they pretty much treated them like dirt--but what the hell. We're gonna celebrate this marriage and the role that Columbus, Kansas played in it anyway. (Unfortunately, their contemporary counterparts at the Cherokee County Courthouse wouldn't be any better. Same-sex marriages and civil unions were banned in Brownbackistan, er, Kansas, by constitutional amendment back in 2009.)

Alice/George (left) and Margaret (right)
In July of 1935, there were just scads of newspaper articles concerning this ten-day marriage between Alice Delores (George) Hayes and Margaret La Vernia Fowler; I think this story must have run in at least 70 to 80 U.S. newspapers.  [Here's a sampling:  Berkeley Daily Gazette (July 25, 1935), Evening Independent (July 25, 1935), Owosso Argus-Press (July 25, 1935), Gettysburg Times (July 26, 1935),  Evening Independent, (July 26, 1935), Reading Eagle (July 26, 1935), and Lawrence Journal-World (July 27, 1935).] Admittedly, most of these are reproductions of the same story, or reproductions with slight variations. But there are still quite a few articles that report the story quite differently with somewhat contradictory "facts."  

Let's start with the Berkeley Daily Gazette story.

Notice how it is reported that Margaret was just 14 years of age (Alice/George was 21), and how the "bride" was purportedly surprised to find out that the "groom" was "no gentleman." Though Margaret "refused to say" when the "discovery" was made, she insisted that she entered into the marriage in "good faith," which implies--without actually saying so--that she was ignorant of Alice/George's sex before she took her vows.

For her part, Alice/George (allegedly) claimed the marriage was "all a prank." 

Therefore it's no surprise that the anullment was (presumably) a mutual decision, freely chosen, and that there never was--and apparently never had been--any genuine commitment between them. At least that's the implication.

Alice/George and Margaret (1935)

In addition, it is strongly suggested that Alice/George not only "passed" as a man both at work and in her personal life, but was something of a cad. Charming, good looking, a snappy dresser--but a cad. A cad who played the field, toyed with the hearts of many girls, and who had dumped the girlfriend she had been dating for the past year to take up with a girl who was barely into her teens.

It is also stated that Margaret had kept the marriage a secret from her parents, and didn't reveal it to them until she uncovered the truth about Alice/George's sex.

We will be revisiting all these points as we go along.

"Bride" Finds She's Married To a Woman

By United Press

Picher, Okla., July 25.--George Hayes, who was considered a very handsome young man and a very acceptable "date" by numerous Picher girls, today turned out to be a woman, much to the surprise of her "bride" of ten days.

George, real name Alice Delores Hayes, is 21, dark and given to male attire. The "bride" is Margaret Lavernia Fowler, 14, of Galena, Kan. They were married by Walter Largent, probate judge at Columbus, Kans., July 15. Now they want the "marriage" annulled.

Miss Hayes said it was all a prank. Margaret, who kept the "marriage" secret from her parents, revealed it yesterday, telling them she had discovered the bridegroom was no gentleman. She refused to say when the discovery was made, but indicated she entered the marriage contract in good faith.

Baxter Springs, Kansas - where Alice/George and
Margaret met at a dance
Miss Hayes, attired in her best two-piece summer suit of coat and trousers, met Miss Fowler at a dance at Baxter Springs, Kans., six weeks ago. She was with a Picher girl friend she had been dating for a year, and through the girl was introduced to Miss Fowler. A whirlwind courtship and the trip to the judge's office followed.

Miss Hayes was absent from Picher today. When the chief of police heard the story he ordered her to don female attire or leave town. She was employed as a clerk in a shoe store, but she gave up the job, kept her trousers and left town with Miss Fowler, who had come here to consult her.

Her only explanation of the masquerade was that as a child she played with boys, wore boys' attire and developed masculine ideas of dress and manners.

Now let's turn to the first of the two articles from the Evening Independent.

The ages of the two women are now reported in this account as 14 and 20.

But notice that Alice/George is treated in a far more sympathetic fashion. Why did she wear men's clothes? Because she had been a "sickly child." Doesn't make a lot of sense as an explanation to me, but it's hard to believe a Depression-era audience wouldn't have felt some pity for Alice/George as a result.

In addition, the vague references to the Picher chief of police's actions? The ones we saw above? (See the Berkeley article.) Now we find out more, and the police chief comes across as a full-fledged petty tyrant who's bullying a poor, formerly "sick child." Not only that, he's engaged in what's basically a personal vendetta (i.e. threatening to jail Alice/George if she shows up in Picher wearing trousers or "men's apparel")--with no existent law or ordinance to back him up in any way, shape, or form. Given that Alice/George's job was in Picher--"Miss Hayes is employed as a shoe store clerk at $6 a week"--it's comparatively easy to frame her as very brave and heroic for giving up a job out of principle (during the Depression no less).

Demonstration of the Unemployed
Columbus, Kansas (May 1936)

Back in the 1930s, the economy of the Cherokee County, Kansas and Ottawa County, Oklahoma region was based on mining and agriculture, and there was a strong working-class, pro-union tradition. These were the dust bowl years, and basic survival for most people was an intense struggle. Working people already tended to be suspicious of the local political authorities, who typically worked in cohoots with the economic elites. By giving up the job and refusing to kowtow to the local chief of police, Alice/George certainly could have provided the local citizenry with a genuine working-class hero--should they have they have decided to embrace her (whether they did so or not, whether they could have overlooked the "gender transgression," is hard to say). It is noteworthy, though, that both women had fathers who worked in the mines.

Farm Labor Union wives - Galena, Kansas (1936)

Another issue: was this marriage really "all a prank"? Here we see it emphasized that Alice/George "paid ardent court" to Margaret before their marriage. That certainly sounds more like serious devotion than than a prank.

Not only that, it doesn't appear in this account that Margaret was all that "surprised" or alarmed by any sudden "discovery" of Alice/George's sex.

Most surprising of all, it is implied that Margaret's parents weren't all that alarmed either! If they had been, why would they have allowed Alice/George to spend the night in their home with their daughter after Alice/George had been unmasked and essentially exiled from Picher, Oklahoma by the local chief of police?

In addition, Margaret was hardly playing the role of the outraged maiden in a very convincing fashion. If she had been all that shocked, why would she have continued their relationship and presumably allowed Alice/George to sleep with her as her "husband"? (Frankly, I suspect that she knew perfectly well that Alice/George was a woman all along.)

As for the annulment. There is no sense here that these parties were annuling the marriage because it had been a sham or a "prank" that they were glad to put behind them. On the contrary, it's the county attorney who had "counseled" them to get the anullment for "their own protection." That's an entirely different reason for doing so.

Bridegroom at Wedding Is Woman and Kansas Authorities Wonder What They Are to Do About It

Columbus, Kan., July 25.--AP--Complications of Columbus' manless marriage grew more bizarre today as the girl who wore the male attire in the wedding ceremony faced an edict to abandon her trousers or go to jail.

Galena, Kansas - Margaret Fowler's hometown
She, Alice Delores (George) Hayes spent the night in the Galena, Kan., home of her "bride," 14-year-old Margaret La Vernia Fowler, and pondered the problems of the masquerade.

The order to resume girl's clothing--abandoned 17 years ago when she was a sickly child came from Police Chief Al Manes of Picher, Okla., where Miss Hayes is employed as a shoe store clerk at $6 a week.

County authorities there said Manes probably could not make the order "stick" for lack of laws governing the wearing of men's apparel by women.

County Attorney C. E. Shouse counseled an annulment "for their protection," and said the Fowler girl "wouldn't want the marriage in the record," although he pointed out a woman may not wed another woman legally in Kansas and the two in fact were not married.

The ceremony was performed July 15 by Probate Judge Walter Largent. "George" had been dating girls in this vicinity for many months, and had paid ardent court to Miss Fowler, a high school freshman, for several weeks. 

The Awosso Argus-Press version of this story, which was entitled "Manless Wedding May Put 'Groom" in a Kansas Jail," is pretty tightly patterned after the Evening Independent one above. For the most part, only the last three paragraphs differ in any substantial way, so that is all we will quote here.

But these are some pretty provocative differences. Now we are told that Margaret's parents were reportedly "amazed" at the "disclosure." But they still allowed Alice/George to spend the night under their roof after the "disclosure." So how "amazed" were they really?

Also notice that Alice/George also seems to deny (at least in this account) that she ever tried to pass as a man; on the contrary, she insists that "everyone" knew she was a girl. Was Alice/George telling the truth here? If so, her employers really couldn't have been all that "amazed" either.

Parents of the "bride" and the employers of the "groom" were amazed at the disclosure. "George" had been dating girls in this vicinity for many months, and had paid ardent court to Miss Fowler, a high school freshman, for several weeks.

"Why make such a fuss about all this?" queried Miss Hayes as she left with Miss Fowler after Manes' ultimatum. "Everyone knows I'm a girl."

"My lawyer will talk for me," was the "bride's" only comment.

Now we move up a day to the Gettysburg Times story.  

Suddenly Margaret has aged three years (she is now 17?) while Alice/George is still 21.

Sadly, we now hear that Alice/George has capitulated to the demands of the Picher, Oklahoma Chief of Police. She has "shed her trousers in favor of women's attire"--partly on the "advice" of her employer. (So she didn't quit her job as previously reported? Or she got the job back? Or is the former employer "advising" her out of personal concern? ) However, notice that Alice/George "refused" to say that the change was permanent. Good for you, sister. Rock on.

We also see more evidence here that this was a real commitment, not a sham. Otherwise, why would these women leave court "hand in hand" and head back to Margaret's hometown together?

Also observe how Margaret is waffling in a very legalistic way. She "wasn't absolutely sure" that Alice/George was a woman at the time of the wedding? Sounds like your basic bull to me, since she apparently slept with Alice/George at her parents' house after the "disclosure," went to "a dance" with her, and (as noted above) left court after the annulment holding hands with her before heading back to her hometown with her. No doubt her attorney had advised her to phrase it in that convoluted way.

Girl "Husband" Sheds Trousers for Dress as Marriage is Voided

Columbus, Kansas., July 26 (AP). Pretty red-haired Margaret Fowler, 17, legally shed her feminine "husband" Thursday and the one-time "groom," Alice Delores Hayes, 21, shed her trousers in favor of women's attire.

An annulment by Judge V. J. Bowersock sniped [sic] the matrimonial bonds tied ten days ago.

The police chief's ultimatum, her employer's advice and a shopping trip took Miss Hayes out of trousers and put her in skirts. Whether she would stay put was another matter.

Picher, Oklahoma - Home of Alice/George Hayes...and
a very nasty chief of police
At Picher, Okla., where she worked in a men's clothing store as George Hayes and dated several girls, Miss Hayes refused to say whether she would continue wearing skirts--or go back to male attire.

"Been too much said now," she murmured, in a low-pitched voice.

She wore a dress in Picher last night when she accompanied the "bride" to a dance. Thursday she made her first purchase of a dress in years.

Chatting in friendly fashion, the girls left court after the annulment hand in hand. They did not divulge their plans as they left for Miss Fowler's home in Galena, Kan.

Miss Fowler testified she "wasn't absolutely sure" Miss Hayes was a girl at the time of the wedding. A few days later they decided to seek the annulment.

It was an edict of Al Manes, Picher police chief, that caused "George" Hayes to don skirts. He threatened to arrest the girl--who said she grew to like boys' clothes and habits in playing outdoors for her health--if she appeared in trousers again.

Said Chief Manes:

"I have a right to say whether girls wear men's attire on the streets here."

Finally, we have this second article from the Evening Independent. In this version, it is reported that whether Margaret "knew in advance" that Alice/George was a woman was dodged entirely during the annulment process.

Manless Marriage is Annuled

Columbus, Kas., July 25.--AP--An annulment granted in district court today ended the "manless marriage" between Alice Delores (George) Hayes, 20, of Picher, Okla., and 14-year-old Margaret La Vernia Fowler, Galena, Kas., high school girl.

Accompanied by her mother and her attorney, John W. Hamilton, the "bride" appeared in court.

Her petition alleged that as both parties were women there was no legal marriage. It said nothing as to whether the bride knew in advance that "George" Hayes was a woman and not a man.

Miss Hayes, in feminine attire, accompanied Margaret to Columbus but was not in court. She went shopping today to purchase her first dress in many years, in view of the police chief's edict she must dress as a woman or leave town.

The action today ended the farce ceremony of July 15 when the two girls appeared before Probate Judge Walter Largent and were "married."

A story about Margaret and Alice/George in the Lawrence Journal-World reports that after the annulment, the two women "remained the best of friends."

And contrary to everything we were initially told about Alice regarding the marriage as "all a prank," the Reading Eagle reports that Alice had actually been trying to find a legal action that would make the "marriage stick." Of course she was unsuccessful in this endeavor, but it's awe inspiring that she even tried. Her efforts also show that while she may have played around in the past, she was entirely sincere in her love for Margaret and wanted to make a life with her. That revelation makes this story a true tragedy. These women were just too far ahead of their times.

So far, I have been unable to uncover much evidence as to what happened to Alice/George and Margaret afterwards.

Complicating all this is the fact that neither woman used a consistent name throughout her lifetime.

As a child, Margaret was listed in the 1925 state and 1930 federal censuses as Lavenia M. Fowler. It seems she was an only child, born around 1921. Her parents were Harry C. and Florence Fowler. Margaret appears in the Galena High School yearbook for 1936--she was in the Girls' Pep Club--so she apparently completed her sophomore year. Her father, who worked as a lead smelter, died in December of 1938 at the age of 45. He is buried in Galena. Margaret seems to utterly disappear from the public record after that, either as Margaret, Lavenia, Lavernia, La Vernia, or some combination thereof. However, something is sure to show up with more digging.

The happy couple on the left, two pictures
of Alice/George on the right (1935)
With Alice/George, the name complications are even worse as she was apparently in the habit of using many different names or aliases over the course of her lifetime. In addition to the name Alice Delores Hayes, I have found her listed in various places as Alice Deloris Hayes, Alice Lou Hayes, Alice L. Hayes, Tiny Hayes, and Tiney Hayes. Nevertheless, there is far more information on Alice/George than Margaret. Alice was born in Miami, Oklahoma on May 10, 1914--just two years after fellow Oklahoman Woody Guthrie. She was the daughter of Frank "Pink" Hayes and Georgia Ann Wyrick Hayes (perhaps Alice borrowed the name "George" from her mother or her maternal grandfather, George Wyrick). There were also two sisters, a brother, and a half brother in the family. In 1920, her father was working as a teamster, by 1930 he was working in the zinc mines (he died at the age of 57). By that time (1930), the family had moved to Quapaw, Oklahoma. Alice, who would have been around 15, was apparently calling herself Tiny or Tiney by then (she was listed as such in the 1930 Census). When her brother Lonnie was murdered in Picher in 1936, his obituary lists one of his surviving sisters as "Alice Delores Hayes" who was living in Hockerville, Oklahoma. But when Alice's father died in 1942, she was identified in the funeral notice as "Tiny Hayes of Picher." Her social security death entry is recorded under "Tiny Hayes." She died on March 21, 1991, either in Picher or Miami, Oklahoma (reports differ).

But here's one thing that's rather revealing. Picher, Oklahoma is now a ghost town, officially closed down and evacuated by the Environmental Protection Agency because of cave-in risks and severe toxic metal contamination from the long years of lead and zinc mining.

Karma can be a bitch.... 

Update 11/14: In the pages section, I have posted a more detailed and up-to-date research piece on the lives of Tiny and Margaret. This post from 2012 is really just a rough draft. So check it out in the upper left hand corner under "Tiny and Margaret: Same-Sex Marriage in the American Dustbowl."

1 comment:

  1. I'm well off my usual pace for posting here at Lost Womyn's Space. But since I posted some preliminary information on Margaret Fowler and Alice Delores "Tiny" Hayes, I've become totally capivated by these two and the lives they led. Readers seem to be intrigued as well, as the initial piece is now one of the most popular posts at Lost Womyn's Space, even though it's just a month old.
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