Nell Pickerell was raised in Seattle. At age 16 Pickerell gave birth to a child by a father who was not recorded. Pickerell had already inclined to masculine interests and dress, and now adopted them full time. The child was raised by its grandparents.
Two years later Pickerell, who had taken the name Harry Livingstone, was being featured in the press as far away as Philadelphia, “A Woman By Nature – A Man By Choice”. Livingstone had been arrested several times by the Seattle police. The reason given was creating a disturbance, but really for wearing the wrong clothes.
Livingstone left town and got a job as a bartender in Washington’s Tunnel City, a railway camp at Stevens Pass in the Cascade Mountains, where a tunnel was approaching completion. Edward ‘Black Jack’ Morse, a felon from Alaska, was shot dead during an attempted robbery in Seattle in 1900. In his pocket was said to be found a photograph of himself and Livingstone taken in Tunnel City. Also in Tunnel City, it was reported, a waitress named Dolly Quappe, killed herself on Christmas Day, 1901, by drinking carbolic acid. This was said to be because she discovered that her Harry was not really a man, and anyway he loved another. In August 1902, Harry, drunk, punched a cop, which led him to the jailhouse. In November 1903, Pearl Waldren in Seattle attempted suicide by gunshot, declaring her love for Harry. In 1906, Harry was arrested again on a trumped-up charge – it was said that the police wanted to tie him in to train robberies by the infamous Bill Miner.
Harry was said to have worked at all kinds of male jobs: bronco busting, bartending, barbering, long-shoring. He sang well in a deep voice, and played piano, violin, guitar and slide trombone.
By 1911 Harry was mainly using the name Harry Allen. He was arrested and charged with selling alcohol to Native Americans.
In June 1912 Harry and a prostitute friend, Isabelle Maxwell, travelled to Portland Oregon and took a room. As Maxwell was a prostitute, Allen was charged under the 1910 Mann Act for transportation across state lines for immoral purposes. The arrival of a cop who knew Allen and his gender history resulted in the dropping of the Mann Act charges, although – Oregon having no law against cross-dressing, he was convicted of vagrancy and sentenced to 90 days in the city jail.
It just so happened that while Allen was in jail, Miriam Van Waters, a Portland native, an anthropology student at Clark University, Massachusetts and a future prison reformer, was in town doing research on female inmates at the city jail. Waters perceived Pickerell as an energetic and independent woman for whom modern society (unlike many aboriginal tribes) had no place.
By 1917 Harry was working as a police informer after Washington State introduced alcohol prohibition.
In 1919 Harry got into a quarrel with his 79-year-old father and was stabbed in the lungs from the back. The city hospital managed to save him. In 1920 he was busted for opium. Harry did die two years later at age 40 of syphilitic meningitis.
- “A Woman By Nature – A Man By Choice”. Philadelphia Times, May 6, 1900: 18. Online.
- “Dolly Quappe’s Suicide. Loved a Masquerading Girl”. Los Angeles Times, Dec 26, 1901. Online.
- The Notorious Nell Pickerell in Town”. The Ellensburgh Capital, Feb 13, 1907. Online.
- “How Catherine Madden Fell a Victim to Strong Drink; Why Nell Pickerell Will Not Wear Women’s Clothing”. The Spokesman Review, Oct 22, 1911: 24. Online.
- “Nell Pickerell Returning to Jail”. The Spokesman Review, Nov 15, 1911: 5. Online.
- “Nell Pickerell Denies Her Sex; Woman Who Dresses in Male Attire Starts Story She Is a ‘Real Man’; Rumor Causes Sensation”. The Spokesman Review, Nov 22, 1911: 6. Online.
- “Fighter, Bootlegger and ‘Bad Man’ is Miss Pickerell For Love of Whom Three Women Have Killed Themselves”. Tacoma Times, April 12, 1912. Online.
- Miriam Van Waters. The Adolescent Girl Among Primitive Peoples. PhD Thesis Clarke University, 1913: 107-110.
- “Nell Pickerell May Die of Wounds”. Seattle Star, Sept 27, 1916. Online.
- Nell Pickerell Dead:. Seattle Star, Dec 28, 1922. Online.
- Peter Boag. Re-Dressing America's Frontier Past. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011: 23-31, 35, 45, 46, 48, 50, 52, 53-4, 57, 117, 202n2, 203-4n14.
- Knute Berger. “Meet Nell Pickerell, transgender at-risk youth of yesteryear”. Crosscut, June 29, 2014. Online.
- John Mackie. “This Week in History: 1906 The notorious Nell Pickerell returns to Seattle”. Vancouver Sun, February 24, 2017. Online.
Boag is, probably rightly, skeptical of the tales of young women who killed themselves. Sometimes it is two, sometimes three. The waitress who drank the carbolic acid is sometimes named Dolly Quappe and sometimes Hazel Walters.
Miriam Van Waters' dissertation, published 1913 was The Adolescent Girl Among Primitive Peoples. Far from seeing Allen as an invert, she heterosexualized Pickerell and even claimed that Pickerell had been married to the father of the child, and cross-dressed only to earn a better wage. She referred to Pickerell as Case I and as HA.