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25 September 2023

Trans Minnesota Part I: before 1960

Both the Dakota and Ojibwe first nations had what we now call two-spirit traditions.  

The male-born Dakota who took on women’s roles were called wiŋkte or wiŋkta, an abbreviation of wiŋyanktehca (ones who act like women). Their ability to blend masculinity and femininity made them wakan—sacred—in the eyes of their relatives. Wiŋkte performed special spiritual and ceremonial work, for which they received respect. Many served their communities as warriors and through prayer, prophecy, and naming children.

The Ojibwe also called Chippewa, self-name Anishinaabe, had the term Niizh manidoowag from which the English translation 'two spirit' has been widely applied to other cultures.  Male-born Ojibwe two-spirit were called ikwekaazo or agokwa and female-born were called ininiikaazookitcitakwe* or ogitchidaakwe. 


In the 1790s the Ojibwe agokwe, Ozaw-wen-dib, one of the sons of chief, Wesh-ko-bug, had established the reputation of being the best runner in the tribe. When a group of Lakota attacked in 1801, in the future Manitoba, she ordered the others to escape without her. She then distracted the Lakota war party by firing arrows at them until the others were safe, and then ran to catch up with the rest of the band.


John Tanner, who had been raised among the Ojibwe, encountered Ozaw-wen-dib in the 1820s while encamped on the Red River


Ozaw-wen- dib (Cass Lake Ojibwe) led Henry Schoolcraft’s expedition to the source of the Mississippi River.

Ozaw-wen-dib killed by a Dakota while hunting at the mouth of the Hay River.


Joseph Lobdell arrived in St Paul from Pennsylvania, and found work guarding a homestead claim. Lobdell had been presenting as male since 1854. 


The year that Minnesota became a US State.

Joseph Lobdell was arrested, charged with the crime of "impersonating a man," and put in jail. A judge in Meeker County found him innocent of the charge. The judge referred to ancient laws (including the 6th-century Code of Justinian) had granted women the right to dress as men. Meeker County paid the expenses necessary for him to return to his family in New York.


The US Civil War. Some Minnesota women passed as men to enlist in the Union Army:

  • Frances Clayton as Jack Williams enlisted at St. Paul in 1862 and reportedly fought in eighteen battles with her husband, including the Battle of Shiloh. (Although her story does not fact-check)
  • Mary McDonald signed up as Abraham Mcdonald and became a sergeant in a regiment of mounted rangers who were mustering at Fort Snelling to fight in the Civil war and against the Dakota/Santee Sioux uprising in 1862. Mary/Abraham’s father showed up and took her home.
  • Mary W. Dennis, 6’2” (1.88m) 1st Lieutenant of the Stillwater company.


Minneapolis passed a city ordinance against cross dressing.

The first mention of a “female impersonator” appears in a Minnesota newspaper on April 3 with the write-up in the Minneapolis Tribune of Burt Shepard more (also known as G. Burt Sheppard or Grove Sheppard) who played the wench role in blackface minstrel shows.


Drag performer Charles Haywood appeared alongside other acts at the Academy of Music in Minneapolis in March.


Leon Belmont, new in Minneapolis, courted two women, borrowed $50 from one who denounced him as a ‘woman’ when he did not repay. Examined and found to be “entirely feminine”. Fined and confined. Later that month declared to be a man by a different doctor. Found a new sweetheart, married her by Justice of the Peace in a small village.


Edgar Burnham from Iowa, the manager of the Burnham Novelty Company, that featured his wife’s singing, was in Minneapolis-St Paul with the troupe when someone remembered the press stories from 1868 about his early life as a girl, and they were retold in the St Paul Pioneer-Press in March 1882, and repeated in other papers. The company folded later that year.


Cecelia Regina Gonzaga, an African American from St Louis, who had worked as a Catholic missionary in Jamaica, visited St Paul for four weeks that summer. She was arrested 20 August for appearing in public in women’s clothes, questioned but released a few hours later. The police declared her to be, in the words of one of the reporters present, “a hermaphrodite of the most pronounced character” which would permit her to choose a gender, but not to switch genders. She then quickly left by train the next day to return to St Louis.


A relief agent discovered a Polish immigrant family in a farm abusing a nine-year-old child “of neither sex.” The agent intervened and, according to the St. Paul Globe, took the child to a hospital for “an operation…in hopes of bettering its condition.”


St. Paul passed an ordinance prohibiting people from wearing “clothes not belonging to their sex” in public.


Male impersonator Mary Marble performed at the Grand Opera House in St. Paul. Wearing a jacket and bowler hat, Marble was noted for singing a comedic number, accompanied by dancers.


Actress and male impersonator Edith Yerrington from Winona, Minnesota was on tour, performing in Chicago and New Orleans.


Male impersonator Margaret Grace performed in Minneapolis. 


At a logging camp in Koochiching County in the early1920s, a man in charge of cooking meals routinely wore a dress, an apron, and make-up.

A cook working for the Virginia-Rainy Lake Company in St. Louis County dressed sometimes as a man and sometimes as a woman, without incident.


Drag celebrity Julian Eltinge performed at the Orpheum in Minneapolis.

Hennepin Baths in Minneapolis began attracting gay men.


Curly’s Theater Cafe opened at 20 South Fifth Street in Minneapolis.


Drag performers at the Stables nightclub in St. Paul were arrested by police and extradited to Chicago for mingling with male customers after their act.


Carroll Lee performs at the Clef Club in Minneapolis.


Arnold Lowman/Virginia Prince in Los Angeles married his first wife, Dorothy Shepherd (1909 – 1985) a secretary from Anoka, Minnesota, whom he had met at church.


The future Charlotte McLeod consulted doctors and in the early 1940s went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

The Casablanca Victory Bar and Cafe opened on Hennepin Avenue.


The Casablanca Victory Bar changed its name to the Gay 90’s. 


Edna Larrabee, a prisoner at Shakopee Prison for Women surveilled for her masculine gender presentation and relationships with women, escaped from the facility for the fourth time with Beulah Brunelle (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe). They then lived as a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Farrell.

By 1949, Twin Cities police widely suppressed drag, closing shows and pressuring clubs to end contracts with performers. Despite this, the Jewel Box Revue, the first integrated and longest-touring drag company in the United States, had a six-month contract with Curly’s Theater Cafe in Minneapolis during 1949. Although the show was wildly popular, Minneapolis police requested the termination of this contract also.


After being raised by alcoholic farmers in Minnesota, Vicki Marlane started as a dancer in a Minnesota gay bar in 1950. Vicki was then employed by Hedy Jo Star and toured the carnival circuit as a female impersonator. She also worked for a while as an alligator woman.


Walter Alverez (1884-1978) was a prominent physician at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. After retiring in 1951 he began writing a medical column which soon became syndicated across North America. He was noted for his enlightened attitude to homosexuality and transgender. EN.Wikipedia.


After her divorce from Arnold Lowman/Virginia Prince, Dorothy Shepherd moved back to Minnesota with their son, Brent. Arnold called on her some years later. They had a cordial evening, but then never saw each other again.

The future Charlotte McLeod went to the Mayo Clinic a second time. They still could not offer anything, because it would be illegal.


  • Walter C Alvarez. "Person Who Has Changed Sex Requires Plenty of Understanding". Syndicated, July 2, 1957. Online. Based on Tamara Rees’ 1955 autobiography. "As I often say to these persons who have the body largely of a man, and the personality of a woman, it is very hard for a normally-sexed person to conceive of a man's hoping desperately that he can find a surgeon who can help him. I could not understand it until I had talked to a number of these people and had come to see that psychically they were very feminine."

The Following were consulted:

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