Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Lucy Hicks Anderson, Marriage Equality Advocate

Lucy Hicks in Ventura, courtesy of Museum of Ventura County. People knew
Lucy as an Oxnard businesswoman who ran a bordello. When it was discovered
she was biologically a man, she went to trial and served time in prison.
Lucky Hicks Anderson was a popular socialite during Prohibition who was taken to court for marrying a man and dressing as a woman. She remains one of the earliest fighters for marriage equity in the United States.

Lucy Hicks was born Tobias Lawson in 1886 in Waddy, Kentucky. She identified as a girl at an early age, telling her mother she was not a boy, that her name was Lucy, and that she needed to wear a dress to school.

Lucy's mother was conflicted, as this was not something she had ever heard of. She took Lucy to the local doctor, and in what seems remarkable (and sage) advice for the time, the doctor advised Lucy's mother to accept her as she was, and raise her as a girl.

Lucy left school at the age of 15 to move to Pecos, Texas, and begin to work for herself. She worked at a hotel for over a decade, managing some of the housecleaning and other domestic chores. In 1920 she married Clarence Hicks in Silver City, New Mexico, and the couple moved to Oxnard, California.

Oxnard was a farm community about 60 miles north of Los Angeles, newly rich due to the sugar beets grown in the area. The town had a steady stream of laborers from all parts, and at night they liked to spend their money on gambling, whiskey, opium, and the company of women.

Lucy took to the community and became well known for both her legal operations and her illicit ones, for while she was serving as a cook of renown for one of Oxnard's leading families, hosting some of the town's most lavish parties and winning prizes for her cooking, she was saving her money so she could purchase a property downtown in Oxnard's China Alley, and start her own bordello.

The town accepted Lucy in each of these roles, and she became well known for her skills in the kitchen. She was ushered into the big houses where she would not only prepare the food, but tend to the children and help dress the girls for dinner parties. When there were visitors in town, Lucy would furnish the barbecue with which the town's church would welcome them. Rich white women would drive to Lucy's house to borrow one of her recipes, or ask for her help with an upcoming function.

Her success in one area helped maintain the other, and perhaps for Lucy, it was also vice-versa. When she was arrested for selling liquor and being a madam in the years of Prohibition (1920-1923), she was bailed out by Charles Donlon, the town's leading banker, because he has a huge dinner party that night and he needed Lucy to be there to make it successful.

As Oxnard grew in the 1940s, Lucy's lone brothel expanded into a half-block of buildings, well furnished and painted and with window-boxes of geraniums. The centerpiece of it all was Lucy herself,  dressed in bright, low-cut silk garments that showed off her collarbones, and wearing dramatic high-heeled shoes. If she were outside she would also don a hat, but her wigs were her pride, and she had them in all varieties; long, black, and wavy, short and bobbed, even shoulder-length and red.

Besides being accepted for her professional enterprises, Lucy was involved with the town personally and intimately. When the Unites States went to war, Lucy hosted expensive going-away parties for the sons of the town's elites, serving the best champagne. When they got news from the front lines that a local boy has been killed in action, Lucy would drive to the family's house and be with them as they mourned.

Lucy also gave generously to the Red Cross and Boy Scout Charities, laughing as she did so, saying "Jist don't ask where the money came from."To support the U.S. effort during WWII, Lucy bought nearly $50,000 in war bonds. She was as much a leader of the community as the churchmen and members of government.

Lucy's first marriage to Charles Hicks had ended in 1929, and in 1944 she married Reuben Anderson, a soldier. They lived and worked quite happily in Oxnard for about a year, by which point the Navy had traced a case of venereal disease to Lucy's bordello, and at the age of 59 Lucy found herself under investigation.

Despite her objections, local doctor Hilary R. Morgan insisted on examining all the women at Lucy's establishment including Lucy, though she had never worked there as anything other than the proprietor. During his examination the doctor discovered Lucy's biological history, and once the news emerged it shocked the community.

Content to look the other way for over a decade while Lucy ran a brothel or served liquor during Prohibition, the town could not abide with letting her wear a dress if she was biologically born a male.

As Lucy had been claiming her husband's GI benefits she was charged with defrauding the government and falsifying marriage documents, as when she signed the marriage license she agreed that there were "no legal objections" to the marriage - and how could this be, the town reasoned, when marriage is between a man and a woman, and Lucy was not a woman?

Having already been examined by Dr. Morgan prior to the trial, the court ordered that Lucy undergo a series of examination by additional doctors, all of whom declared that she was indeed a man. During her trial, Lucy's lawyer even but forth the argument that perhaps Lucy was actually a female, and might have those organs inside her body somewhere - but, he reasoned, they would never know until after she died, and performed an autopsy.

Somehow in the middle of all this harassment, Lucy held her ground. When challenged by the doctors' statements in court, she asserted that the identity she had lived for her entire life was more valid than what was printed on her birth certificate:"I defy any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman. I have lived, dressed, and acted just what I am - a woman."

Despite this declaration, Lucy was found guilty by the court of impersonation and fraud. Her marriage certificate was declared null and void. As punishment, Lucy and her husband were sentenced to jail, and Lucy had 10 years of probation following that, and was forbidden from wearing women's clothing.

After serving their time, the couple tried to return to Oxnard but were warned by the town's Chief of Police that Lucy would be arrested if they tried to settle there again. The couple retired to a quiet home in Los Angeles for the remainder of their years. Lucy died in 1954.

Sources:

The Inspiring True Story of Black Trans Pioneer Lucy Hicks Anderson, Essence.com
Before there was Caitlyn Jenner, There was Lucy Hicks, Ventura County Star
California: Sin and Souffle,Time Magazine
Transgender Revolutionaries Profiled in a New Documentary Series, The Daily Scene

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