The Louise Lawrence Collection
Writer, Karn Publications, Liverpool
Two years ago, however, I was diverted from this in order to explore another line of enquiry. Since then I have also learnt that the aunts of two of my personal correspondents, one using petticoat punishment, the other bringing up her son and nephew as girls, were imaginary. The latter friend, an American, died recently and his brother told me on the telephone, "the aunt is fiction." If friends can lie, how can one believe an anonymous letter? On the other hand my current research at the Kinsey Institute has almost led me to believe the notorious Bessie and to credit some of the letters in Justice Weekly.
Two years ago, Richard Ekins gave me a copy of an article by Joanne Meyerowitz on "Sex Research at the Borders of Gender: Transvestites, Transsexuals, and Alfred C. Kinsey." [Bull. Hist. Med., Vol. 75, No.1 (Spring 2001), pp.72-90]. My eye was immediately caught by this passage:
I had visited the Kinsey Institute ten years before, but the Louise Lawrence Collection was an entirely new source which I had to see. I have been there twice since, and I will begin by explaining how the Louise Lawrence Collection came into being and for this I rely entirely on the Meyerowitz article. I then go on to the lives of Louise and Bessie.
It is well known that Kinsey did not deal with cross-dressing and the desire to change sex in the course of preparing his Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male of 1948. According to Meyerowitz, however, Kinsey had actually "made contacts with transvestites and transsexuals. From at least the early 1940's he had asked his interviewees, both female and male, whether they cross-dressed." Meyerowitz found that Kinsey and his colleagues had in fact interviewed 11 transvestites, 9 male, 2 female, by the end of 1947 (p.75).
In the summer of 1948 Kinsey met Louise Lawrence, "a male to female cross-dresser who lived in San Francisco full-time as a woman" (p.74). Kinsey asked Lawrence "whether she knew others he might meet." Meyerowitz continues: "For around a decade, Lawrence had corresponded with other cross-dressers throughout the United States. She had a wide circle of transvestite friends, and, more important, she had a mission to educate the public about transvestism. She hoped to convince Kinsey that cross-dressing was a significant phenomenon worthy of scientific study ... Over the next several years Lawrence introduced him to an array of cross-dressers, professional female impersonators, and eventually transsexuals. She encouraged her friends to give their life-histories to Kinsey" (p.75).
The result of this and other factors such as the popularity of female impersonation, and the current idea that Kinsey had forgotten transvestites, was that "in the early 1950's, Kinsey began to collect materials on transvestism with the same intensity with which he had amassed materials on homosexuals. He travelled to meet transvestites, and took up correspondence with them." In 1954, "Lawrence sent him lists of all the cross-dressers she knew; 19 in the San Francisco Bay Area, and 152 nationally. She also agreed to send personal materials, and over the next several years she sent a massive collection (now in the Kinsey Institute archives)." (p.77)
Kinsey died in 1956, but Lawrence continued to send material to the Institute until her death in 1976. Meyerowitz explains that although Kinsey had listed cross-dressing as one of the subjects he wanted to write on and his colleagues, Paul Gebhard and Wardell Pomeroy, continued his work and interviewed more transvestites, nothing came of it and, by the end of the sixties, the proposed book had been abandoned, because funding for its continuation was not forthcoming (pp.80-1).
In fact I get the impression that the Louise Lawrence Collection was wholly forgotten until Joanne Meyerowitz began to study it around 2000. Even in 2002, the Collection was still in the process of being catalogued. The Collection consists of about six or seven boxes, containing files of correspondence, three albums of photographs of female impersonators and cross-dressing friends, typed copies of published books of fiction, unpublished manuscripts, some short, others very long, of cross-dressing fiction or autobiography, her own diary for 1944 and her autobiography
Louise Lawrence was born a boy in 1912; he had a brother 3 years older and a younger sister. He was caught trying on his sister's clothes at an age he does not give. He was much attracted to taffeta. When he was twelve he was sent to dancing lessons. He had a horror of putting his arms round "a girl in a taffeta dress. The ambivalent feelings that went through my mind were too much for me to handle. I felt that I didn't like to feel the texture of the material and yet I wished that I could have been wearing the dress myself. Evidently what was actually going on in my mind was the very thing which I felt forced to maintain continually; that if I didn't rebel against the dress it would be indicating that I liked it and this I couldn't let happen."
Nevertheless with his mother's dress he has lost this reluctance.
Lawrence meets Virginia when he is eighteen and he marries her soon after. A girl, Anne, is born when he is 22, but Virginia dies in December 1935 (pp.38-53). He meets someone he calls Montez, who at first accepts his cross dressing, and he marries her on January 11th 1941. But this does not last and she divorces him in 1944, when Lawrence begins to live full time as a woman (pp.63-88). A letter in the Collection written in 1958 states that Louise recently attended her daughter's wedding but did not reveal herself. [Series I B, folder 4: Grace and Nancy correspondence, Nancy to Grace 2.2.1958, p.3]
Now for Bessie. On my first visit I searched the manuscripts: on the second the correspondence. Among the manuscripts was an extraordinary item called "Happenings," over 400 pages of typescript corrected in black ink in a distinctive hand [Series II B, folders 1-6]. The writer states that he is the "Bessie" whose story was told in Haldeman-Julius's Little Blue Book No.1856. At the suggestion of Liane Zhou of the Kinsey Institute I obtained a photocopy of Little Blue Book 1856 from the Library of the University of Pittsburg, Kansas and I discovered that Little Blue Book 1856 was a response to a book by David O.Cauldwell
David Cauldwell was born in 1897 and trained as a doctor. He had always been interested in sexual problems and he wrote widely on sexual behaviour and on transvestism and transsexualism in particular. In 1946 he became associated with Sexology: Sex Science Magazine of New York, and edited the magazine's "Questions and Answers Department." [See "Pioneers of Transgendering: The Popular Sexology of David O, Cauldwell" by Richard Ekins and Dave King in the "Special Issue on David O.Cauldwell (1897-1959) Classic Reprints Series" edited by Richard Ekins and Dave King in the International Journal of Transgenderism, Volume5, Number 2, April-June 2001]
In 1947 Cauldwell wrote Why Males Wear Female Attire published by Haldeman-Julius Publications of Girard, Kansas (quite near to Pittsburg). Many people immediately wrote to the publishers about their own experiences of cross-dressing. One of them was Bessie, whose letter was dealt with in two ways.
First, it was printed as the first 29 and a third pages of Little Blue Book 1856. The Little Blue Books were very small, only 3½ by 5 inches. No. 1856 has 63 pages and pages 1 to 30 contain The Story of Bessie. A Transvestist Tells of His Passion for Wearing Women's Clothes. Bessie, who is a real person, read Dr. D. O. Cauldwell's book, 'Why Males Wear Female Attire,' published by Haldeman-Julius, and after corresponding with the author was prevailed on to tell the story of 'her' life, which follows in the form of a letter to Dr. Cauldwell.
In the story Bessie explains that he is now 34. He was raised by an "old maid aunt" in a small town in the East. Next door lived a girl of his own age who was looked after by two older sisters, aged 23 and 24.
At the beginning of the summer vacation when he is just 15, he gets into an argument with the youngest girl over a game they are playing. He hits her, making her nose bleed, and pushes her over revealing her underwear about which he makes rude remarks. Unfortunately his aunt and the girl's sisters have seen it all. His aunt hands him over to the sisters to be punished by them, and to live with them.
He is soundly beaten and next day he is dressed as a girl. He is then taken out into the back yard and in front of about 20 girls he is sentenced to be dressed as a girl for a year and to be called Bessie. He is to be beaten every day and severely once a month.
During the year there are two developments. After a month he suddenly realises that he likes wearing the female clothes. Then, when he goes to work for a girl of 19 who lives next door, he begins to like the beatings she gives him. She also introduces him to sex, which is their secret.
When the punishment year is over, he moves to the city where he now lives. His aunt has died and he knows nothing of the whereabouts of the girls. Four years ago, when he was 30, he could resist the urge to wear women's clothes no longer and bought himself a complete wardrobe of feminine garments. About two years ago he felt like talking to someone about his case, so he makes up a story to someone he meets at a railway station whom he describes as "a religious girl."
Rather to his surprise the girl says that she knows just the woman he should go to, and she writes to the woman, who agrees to take "Bessie" on. So he spends every weekend with this woman, dressed as a woman, and doing housework for her and her neighbours. He thus re-enacts the "Bessie" experience.
He ends with: "Can you help me? There you have the story of Bessie."
That was, I believe, the first publication of "The Story of Bessie." If written in 1947, it is odd that no mention is made of the war. Almost immediately it was included by Cauldwell as the first item in Transvestites Tell their Stories, also published in 1947. What is surprising is how this text differs from that in the Little Blue Book. The latter text has been very carefully revised to improve style and clarity.
For example the Little Blue Book begins:
While the second version reads:
Cauldwell's comment at the end of the narrative is: "It is my sincere belief that Bessie has written her story true to form, and that it is essentially true in detail. At the same time, none of us can imagine that there is any ordinary community in the U.S. today where people may take the law into their own hands and sentence one as Bessie described in the beginning.
What is clear is that there were two phases in the editing, first the removal of costume and punishment repetition. That happened to the Little Blue Book version. Then for Cauldwell's version the whole was revised for style and clarity.
Now for "Happenings." It appears to be (I have only read part of it) a detailed account of the punishment year. It begins on the first day of Bessie's punishment, with Bessie going out dressed as a girl with the eldest sister in charge of him, being aware of the clothes he is wearing and what he imagines are the reactions of the people they meet. It continues to the end of the punishment year and beyond to events not included in the story of Bessie, namely meeting and getting engaged to a girl and her death in a motor accident.
A curious difference is that in "Happenings" Bessie is 16 not 15 when the year starts. Another difference is that the names of the girls and women are different. Perhaps they are the true names.
This is Bessie's own comment on the editing. "In the original 'Little Blue Book' Number 1856 they 'blue pencilled' a great deal as they wanted to concentrate ONLY on straight transvestism and have contained no facets, no angles, no facts other than that. Doctor Cauldwell wrote me personally at the time and explained the publisher's objectives as did the publisher." (p.435)
In "Happenings" there is extreme repetition of the sort Cauldwell disliked. This is Bessie being dressed in his first silk dress.
Towards the end of the year the sister in charge takes Bessie to Chicago for a weekend. They go out one night.
Here was a link with an actual person. When did Bix play at The Martinique Inn? A biography of Bix gives only one date for this, in 1924.
The summer would fit the Bessie story, but not August, which is after the end of term. Subject to that, this suggests that Bessie was 17 in 1924, and therefore born in 1907, so he would be 34 in 1941. But this is inconsistent with the supposed origin of the first letter from Bessie, as a letter written in 1947. I cannot explain this. Perhaps Bessie wrote the letter before 1947, but how did it come to Cauldwell?
Who was Bessie?
The Special Collections at Pittsburg State University have seven letters from Bessie to the publisher Haldeman-Julius, starting April 14, 1956 and ending January 22, 1962. I am most grateful to the Curator, Randy Roberts, for sending me photocopies. There are no copies of any replies. What the letters reveal is Bessie's real name and address and the fact that Bessie did eventually marry a woman of the type suggested by Cauldwell.
With the first letter he sends a self-addressed envelope and states: "Now as I am the author of LITTLE BLUE BOOK NUMBER 1856 ('THE STORY OF BESSIE'), I wish to know if you have any copies on hand." He also asks whether they have any other books on punishment like his. He continues: "And while I am at it; would you as publishers be interested in further facts as regards BESSIE? The married life and life today?"
His address is 211 Santa Ana Avenue, Long Beach 3 California, and the letter is signed "Billy." Of this address he writes on December 23, 1961:
This letter is hand-written, so I was now able to compare this distinctive angular handwriting with the writing on the manuscripts and decide which manuscripts were by Bessie.
Later in the correspondence he gives his name as William Edward Beck, and his wife's as Margaret (Babs) and she joins in the correspondence. In a final letter dated January 22, 1962, Beck sends off a manuscript consisting of 141 pages, but nothing came of it, and I have not been able to find any trace of it.
Meanwhile in January 1960 Mr and Mrs. Beck had both contributed a letter to the first issue of Transvestia, "Babs ... L.A." on page 31 and "Morty ... Long Beach" on pages 50-1 ["Morty" was a pseudonym he used to write to Louise.]
I mentioned Justice Weekly earlier. After their failure to get their manuscript published, the Becks contributed a series of letters to that paper. They run from June 30, 1962 to July 1, 1967.
In conclusion I believe that "Happenings" may well be a true account of Beck's year of punishment, a life-history specially written for the benefit of Louise Lawrence, and that certainly several of the unpublished stories and novels of petticoat discipline mentioned by Meyerowitz are by Beck and are supreme examples of the genre, or even the best ever. As an example, I believe that the story "My Life with Cousin Cora" in the first three issues of Transvestia was by Beck.
The Louise Lawrence Collection is housed in The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Morrison Hall 401, Bloomington, Indiana 4705-2501, U.S.A.
Citation: Farrer, P., (2004), The Louise Lawrence Collection, GENDYS 2004, The Eighth International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. Last amended 01.07.06