Encyclopedia Womannica

Mavericks & Legends: Lucy Hicks Anderson

Episode Summary

Lucy Hicks Anderson (1886-1954) was an American socialite, chef, and thriving prohibition-era Madame and entrepreneur. She was also one of the earliest documented African-American transgender people in the United States.

Episode Notes

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Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, and Maddy Foley. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan and this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

Welcome to a brand new month and therefore a brand new theme! All May we’re talking about Mavericks and Legends -- women who are known or should be known for seriously challenging gender norms and turning societal or class expectations on their heads. The women in this group often overcame major disadvantages. Some of these women wielded great power (for better or for worse).  Others accomplished incredible feats despite limits on their agency or ability. This theme is a bit more complex than some of our previous months, but it will hopefully prove very much worth the journey.   

Today’s legend was an American socialite, chef, and thriving prohibition-era Madame and entrepreneur. She was also one of the earliest documented African-American transgender people in the United States. Please welcome Lucy Hicks Anderson.

Tobias Lawson was born in Waddy, Kentucky in 1886. Though assigned male at birth, from her earliest years she adamantly self-identified as female. By the time she started school, she insisted on wearing dresses and going by the name Lucy. 

Concerned with what was going on with her child in an era before the term “transgender” was even in our lexicon, Lucy’s mother took her to see a physician. Interestingly in light of the times, the doctor told Lucy’s parents that the best course of action was simply to let her live as a woman, so they did. From that point forward, they fully embraced raising Lucy as a girl and were highly supportive of her.

When Lucy was 15, she left school to join the workforce as a domestic. Five years later, Lucy moved from Kentucky down to Pecos, Texas, where she worked at a local hotel for 10 years. In 1920, she moved to Silver City, New Mexico where she met and married a man named Clarence Hicks. Lucy was 34 at the time.

After their wedding, Lucy and Clarence left New Mexico to move to Oxnard, California, where Lucy once again found work as a domestic. In Oxnard, Lucy began making a name for herself by winning a number of baking competitions. She was also celebrated around town as a talented chef. 

In 1929, Lucy and Clarence divorced. Now on her own, Lucy used her life savings to purchase property close to the center of town. This wasn’t just any property though: it was a boardinghouse front for a brothel that also sold liquor, then illegal under prohibition. 

Lucy was a very successful Madame, and her brothel/drinking establishment was a well-known and well-used community establishment. During her free time, Lucy was a celebrated hostess and socialite in town well known for throwing lavish dinner parties and being heavily involved in many of the town’s charitable and civic organizations. She used these friendships and connections with important members of Oxnard society to get her out of trouble with the law. 

Scholar C. Riley Snorton wrote, "When the sheriff arrested her one night, her double-barreled reputation paid off—Charles Donlon, the town’s leading banker, promptly bailed her out [because] he had scheduled a huge dinner party which would have collapsed dismally with Lucy in jail."

In 1944, Lucy married a man named Reuben Anderson, an American soldier who was stationed at Mitchel Field in Long Island, New York. 

A year later in 1945, a sailor visiting Oxnard claimed that he had caught a venereal disease from one of the women working in Lucy’s brothel. As a result, all of the women working at the brothel were required to undergo medical examinations by the local doctor. This order included Lucy herself. 

When the local district attorney learned from the examination that Lucy was assigned male at birth, he decided to charge her with perjury for lying about her sex on her recent marriage certificate and for impersonating a woman. During her trial, Lucy stated, “I defy any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman… I have lived, dressed, acted just what I am, a woman.” 

Still she was convicted of perjury relating to her marriage license and received a sentence of 10 years probation. Because only marriages between men and women were legally recognized at the time, Lucy’s marriage was also deemed invalid as a result of the conviction, as she was now legally considered a man.

 In a final gut punch, in 1946 the federal government decided to charge both Lucy and Reuben with fraud for receiving money allotted to wives of soldiers under the GI bill. Lucy was also initially charged with failing to register for the military draft, but that was eventually dropped.

Both Lucy and Reuben were found guilty of the fraud charge and were sentenced to prison. By order of the court, Lucy was also forbidden from wearing women’s clothing while incarcerated. 

After serving her time, Lucy and Reuben tried to move back to Oxnard but were barred by order of the police chief, who threatened further prosecution if she returned. Instead, the couple moved to Los Angeles where they resided together until Lucy’s death in 1954. She was 68 year old.

All month, we’re talking about mavericks and legends. For more on why we’re doing what we’re doing, check out our newsletter, Womannica Weekly.  

You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @EncyclopediaWomannica and you can follow me directly on twitter @jennymkaplan.

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator.

Talk to you soon!