A news brief from May 1871 detailing the arrest of George Robinson for cross-dressing on Meeting Street near Calhoun.
Friday, September 28, 2018 Dr. Nic Butler

In the spring of 1868, the City of Charleston passed an ordinance making it illegal for a person to appear in public dressed in a manner “not becoming his or her sex.” Why would they do such a thing? The answer is wrapped in the confusing world of post-Civil War Charleston, a place filled with Union soldiers enforcing federal laws, formerly-enslaved people starting new lives, and members of the old guard trying to make sense of a topsy-turvy new world. Today we’ll explore the context of this 1868 law and its long-lasting impact on the freedom of gender expression in our community.

The ordinance ratified in 1868 by Charleston’s City Council prohibiting what is commonly called “cross dressing” is more than just a curious part of this community’s colorful history. It was, in fact, the local manifestation of a larger wave of similar prohibitions that swept across the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century. In recent years, a number of scholars investigating the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT+) issues have examined the roots and legacies of these early anti-cross-dressing laws in a pretty thorough fashion. That body of scholarship can certainly help us understand the broad cultural context for this local phenomenon, but it does not include any engagement with the specific historical conditions and circumstances that were unique to Charleston at that moment in time. Let’s begin our investigation of this topic by looking at the big picture first and then narrowing the focus to the cross-dressing concerns of post-Civil War Charleston.

Beginning in the late eighteenth century and gaining steam in the ensuing decades, the Industrial Revolution unleashed a wave of innovation and expansion that had significant and lasting effects on the social fabric of the United States and all of Western Europe. The most conspicuous change was the rise of the industrial city, with its factories, machinery, and swarms of laborers. Steam power and railroads fostered a new era of personal mobility, enticing people to flock from tight-knit, homogenous rural communities to the more anonymous and heterogeneous cities. Across the industrialized world, people of diverse backgrounds created new urban communities based on shared values and interests, gathering into new sorts of tribes that had not existed in previous generations. Empowered by the new-found sense of belonging and comradery, these new urbanites took steps to express their personal identities against the backdrop of the increasingly impersonal, mechanized world. Among the diverse city dwellers expressing themselves were men who were attracted to men, women attracted to women, and people whose personal gender identity differed from the gender assigned to them at birth. Homosexuality and transgender identity have existed in the animal kingdom and human civilization since time immemorial, of course, and certainly were not new or unique to the industrialized cities of the mid-nineteenth century. While relatively suppressed in traditional rural communities, where folks generally knew their neighbors’ business, however, these issues of personal identity became increasingly visible as urban populations became more crowded and diverse.

In cities across America in the second half of the nineteenth century, a segment of the population objected to non-mainstream expressions of sexual identity on the grounds that they violated a largely-unwritten code of “correct” public behavior. Citing the need to uphold traditionally conservative standards of morality, decency, and order, dozens of municipal governments passed laws to criminalize and suppress certain public expressions of personal identity that the powers-that-be considered aberrant and “disorderly.” One of the earliest and most popular of these laws was a prohibition against what is commonly known as “cross dressing.” Columbus, Ohio, bears the honor of being the earliest-known city in the United States to pass such a law, in the year 1848. In the ensuing half-century, more than thirty other cities, from Pensacola to Peoria to San Francisco, adopted similar municipal ordinances, and still more cities followed suit in the early years of the twentieth century. Thanks to the widespread digitization of old out-of-copyright books, you can now find the text of most of these ordinances online. Using remarkably similar wording, these nineteenth century ordinances made it illegal for anyone to appear in public in a manner of dress “not belonging to” or “not becoming his or her sex.” To my knowledge, none of the American cities that adopted such laws published narratives explaining why they felt compelled to do so. We can reasonably deduce, however, that some city dwellers felt empowered by the relative anonymity of urban life to express a gender identity that differed from that assigned to them at birth. Whatever the motivations for such actions, municipal councils in dozens of American cities passed ordinances to suppress it.

In recent years, there have been a number of scholarly investigations into the history of American legal restrictions imposed on LGBT+ culture, which include the nineteenth-century prohibitions against cross-dressing. Charleston’s ordinance against cross-dressing is included in these scholarly works, but it’s not accurately represented. In published lists of cities that adopted such laws, Charleston is identified as having passed an anti-cross-dressing ordinance in 1858.[1] In fact, the correct date is 1868—April 9th, 1868, to be precise. In the grand scheme of the socio-political landscape of nineteenth-century America, the difference between 1858 and 1868 does not alter the broad national history of this phenomenon. At the local level, however, I believe that ten year discrepancy makes a big difference. Why? Because Charleston was a very different place in 1868 than it was in 1858, and the likelihood of people feeling empowered to express their preferred gender identity in public was much greater after the Civil War than before that upheaval. In order to understand the difference between antebellum and postbellum Charleston, we need to rewind a bit for a quick tour of the legal landscape.

Antebellum South Carolina was a place where the law was constructed by a very conservative white male population, largely composed of slave owners, with a view to discourage divergence from the normative sphere of behavior and beliefs. Enslaved people of African descent formed the majority of the Lowcountry’s population by the year 1708, and the fear of domestic insurrection inspired white lawmakers to create a system of legal surveillance, intimidation, and punishment that effectively silenced all attempts to challenge the status quo. Between the founding of the Carolina colony in 1670 and the end of the American Civil War in 1865, our local and state governments enacted a number of laws that collectively empowered the white minority to control the movements, speech, and even the appearance of the enslaved majority.[2] As early as 1735, for example, the South Carolina legislature dictated what sort of textiles enslaved people were allowed to wear, and empowered white citizens to confiscate any articles of clothing they deemed too extravagant or refined for a slave to wear.[3] Similarly, in 1795, Charleston’s City Council adopted a “regulation” prohibiting slaves and free person of color from wearing disguises.[4] These laws, and others like them, reveal the anxiety felt by the ruling class about people appearing or pretending to be something other than that which local customs and laws permitted them to be. In short, the laws of early South Carolina in general and Charleston in particular were very much concerned with physical appearances in the public realm and their role in constructing and maintaining a traditional social hierarchy.

The practice of cross-dressing, or expressing a transgender identity, was not unknown in early Charleston, of course, but only a precious few documented cases can now be found. Information related to such acts of self-expression usually survives in the form of biased criminal reports, but the data is still useful nonetheless. In February 1779, for example, Sergeant Joseph Grimes, a young white man enrolled in the Charleston Light Infantry (an urban militia unit) was charged with “dressing himself like a girl and being out of camp” in the town during the night, for which offense he was “reprimanded at the head of the brigade to which he belongs.”[5] A more detailed transgender story survives from the autumn of 1859, when a young white man named Charles Williams was arrested in both Charleston and Savannah for presenting himself in public as Miss Caroline Wilson. While in Charleston, some unknown “circumstances transpired which led to the belief that he [Caroline Wilson] was not what he [she] seemed.” These suspicions were communicated to the Chief of Police, who ordered Caroline’s arrest. In custody, the subject “made a full confession, in which he stated that he had regularly appeared in woman’s apparel since he was ten years old, but refused to give any reason for such strange and unaccountable conduct.” Surviving reports of Charles/Caroline’s arrest do not specify the charge against him/her, but the act of simply deviating from convention was apparently sufficient to warrant an arrest. “It is suspected that this disguise has been assumed for some ulterior purpose,” said the local press, “as he has been seen frequently in close conversation with negros [sic,] a suspicion has been raised in the minds of some that he is an Abolition emissary.” In the paranoid world of the slaveholding South of 1859, cross-dressing was viewed as an act of subversion capable of disrupting the tenuous balance of power between the ruling white minority and the enslaved majority. Charles/Caroline was released from police custody in Charleston, only to be arrested and briefly jailed in Savannah soon after. There, the local newspaper used two maritime phrases to describe the offence, noting that Charles/Caroline was observed “sailing under false colors,” and that their identity was “false packed.” In the end, “Charles Williams, alias Caroline Wilson, the man-woman,” was outfitted with “an entire new suit of gent’s apparel” and put on a steamboat headed to New York.[6]

Thirteen months after Charles Williams/Caroline Wilson was exiled to New York, South Carolina followed through on its long-standing threat to secede from the United States. The ensuing war had a devastating effect on the physical landscape of Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry, but its biggest casualty was the institution of slavery. Besides emancipating millions of people from a lifetime of servitude, the conclusion of the American Civil War also demolished a legal framework of oppression and intimidation that had existed in South Carolina for nearly two hundred years. Representatives of the U.S. Army took control of urban Charleston in February 1865, at which point commenced a military occupation that continued for more than a decade. This is the era we call Reconstruction, a time when soldiers were garrisoned in Charleston and throughout the Southern states to ensure compliance with new Federal laws. In the early days of Reconstruction, the Federal priority was to establish a new paradigm of social equality, and to protect the civil rights of all citizens.

In October 1865, the U.S. military leaders controlling the city permitted Charleston’s City Council to re-organize and re-assume most of its civic functions. In November, local citizens elected a fresh new City Council and Mayor, and the Federal work of reconstructing South Carolina’s political machinery continued largely beyond the jurisdiction of local municipal government. Nearly six months later, in April 1866, the U.S. Congress ratified the first in a series of “Civil Rights” acts designed to extend the rights of citizenship to the recently-emancipated adult males of the Southern states. This concept of “equal protection under the law” was further strengthened in the text of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which the Congress adopted in June 1866 and sent to each of the thirty-seven states for ratification. South Carolina’s refusal to ratify the 14th Amendment in December 1866 played a role in toppling the state’s provisional legislature and the passage of new Federal laws to “reconstruct” the government of recalcitrant Southern states in the spring of 1867. After fresh elections, state representatives, dominated by formerly-enslaved men, gathered in Charleston in the early months of 1868 to frame a new, socially progressive state constitution (see Episode No. 55). When their work was completed in mid-March, South Carolina’s legal and political traditions had truly been turned upside down.

Meanwhile, at the municipal level of government, in February 1868 the occupying U.S. Army felt the need to replace Charleston’s elected mayor with a military appointee. Mayor Peter Gaillard, a former Confederate officer, was replaced by Brigadier General William Wallace Burns. A few weeks later, on March 9th, General Burns was replaced by Brevet Colonel Milton Cogswell. Although the Army didn’t offer much explanation for these executive changes, the appointment of a military “provisional mayor” of the city probably did not have much of an impact on the functioning of city government. The remaining members of City Council were all local white men—members of the old guard—duly elected by their local white constituents, and so the business of municipal government seems to have continued in a rather normal fashion.

Into this shell-shocked political landscape, on the 24th of March, 1868, an unknown member of City Council introduced “A Bill to prevent and punish Indecent Exposure or Improper Conduct, and for other purposes,” the full text of which was printed in a local newspaper a few days later. The principal text of the law is included in the first paragraph, which reads as follow:

“Be it ordained by the Mayor and Aldermen, That if any person shall appear in a public place in a state of nudity, or in a dress not becoming his or her sex, or shall make any indecent exposure of his or her person, or be guilty of any lewd or indecent act or behavior, or shall print, engrave, make, exhibit, sell, or offer to sell, any indecent or lewd book, picture, or any other thing, shall be subject to a fine of not less than twenty dollars, nor exceeding one hundred dollars, or imprisonment not exceeding one month.”

After the customary three readings at successive meetings, Charleston’s City Council ratified the bill as an ordinance on April 9th, 1868.[7]

So what was going on in Charleston in 1868 to merit a legal prohibition against cross-dressing? The population of urban Charleston at that moment was just under 49,000 residents, but it might have been even higher. The conclusion of the war and the abolition of slavery in 1865 created a sort of labor crisis, in which tens of thousands of formerly enslaved people living on rural plantations weighed their new-found freedom against the prospects of future employment. During the late 1860s, thousands of ex-slaves in the South Carolina Lowcountry abandoned their plantation past and migrated to urban Charleston to sample life in the state’s biggest city. Whether they were drawn by family connections, the prospect of more lucrative employment, or the protection of Federal troops is unknown, but it is certain that the city was ill equipped to handle the influx. In the years immediately after the war, the inhabitants of Charleston endured shortages of food, housing, and clothing—all the necessities of life. The daily newspapers of post-war Charleston depict a city teeming with undernourished and underemployed people—predominantly formerly-enslaved people—who were often seen sleeping on benches and sidewalks and bathing openly in the Cooper River. While formerly-affluent white Charlestonians complained about being deprived of their customary luxuries and having live under a more modest domestic economy, the rest of the city witnessed an unprecedented spike in vagrancy, homelessness, and indecent exposure.[8]

In early March 1868, just a month before the ratification of the city’s anti-cross-dressing law, Charleston’s provisional military mayor ordered the re-opening of a defunct antebellum institution called the House of Correction. Intended as a sort of middle ground between the innocent inmates of the city’s Alms House and the felons incarcerated in the Charleston District Jail, the House of Correction opened in 1856 to receive persons convicted of petty crimes and misdemeanors as well as transient vagrants. Closed since the arrival of Union troops in February 1865, Charleston’s House of Charleston was reopened in March 1868 as a means of addressing the rising tide of vagrancy, trespassing, shoplifting, and simple assault. Persons arrested for such offences were presented at a daily police court, where the mayor sentenced them to a fine or a brief incarceration of three to thirty days in the House of Correction. The surviving records of the House of Correction from this era identify the inmates by name, age, occupation, and place of origin, but they do not record the offenses that led to their respective arrests. The daily newspapers of post-war Charleston frequently included a brief summary of the proceedings of the mayor’s police court, however, so in many cases it is possible to match an inmate in the House of Correction to a crime reported in the contemporary newspaper.[9]

The daily newspaper coverage of petty crime in urban Charleston in the late 1860s and early 1870s provides a wealth of information about the condition of the city and the struggles of its most vulnerable inhabitants. Men and women, boys and girls, black and white, young and old, were all thrown together in the west wing of the city’s formerly-notorious Work House. The tone of this post-war crime reporting is generally paternalistic and judgmental, of course, but it is also frequently tinged with a sense of levity that occasionally clouds the intended meaning. In March 1868, for example, the Charleston Courier noted that “two ebony lads were mulcted [fined] in the sums of $15 and $10” at the previous day’s police court for stealing chickens, “and another $30 for making unlawful love to sundry pieces of under male attire.” The precise nature of the “crime” in question is here left to our twenty-first-century imaginations. Also in that same month, Jesse Nash and Ben Palmer, both men “of sable hue,” were convicted of “vagrancy, gambling, and practicing the strap game, and were sent to the Western hotel [that is, the House of Correction] for the improvement of their morals.”[10] Again, the exact nature of this “strap game” is unclear to this modern reader, and I’ll resist the temptation to hazard a guess.

More specific to the matter at hand is the case of one George Robinson, “a colored youth of about 18 summers,” who was arrested on a Monday night in late May 1871. According to a newspaper report published two days later, young Robinson was charged with violating the city ordinance of April 1868, prohibiting persons to appear in public “in a dress not becoming his or her sex.” Like the 1859 report of Charles Williams’s arrest, the local newspaper printed Robinson’s story with a nautical headline, “Under False Colors.” At the time of their arrest, said the newspaper, the subject was “arrayed in all the habiliments of a colored belle.” George explained to Mayor Gilbert Pillsbury, at the police court the next morning, “that his mother had made him assume this garb to keep him at home.” “This excuse did not prove satisfactory” to the mayor, however, “and the prisoner was sent to the House of Correction for thirty days.”[11] According to the surviving records of that institution, George Robinson was a fifteen-year old native of nearby James Island, whose occupation was given simply as “vagrant.”[12]


Without additional information about the case of George Robinson, it may be impossible to determine the circumstances behind his appearance on the streets of Charleston “under false colors.” The excuse given at court—that George’s mother sought “to keep him at home” on James Island by forcing him to dress as a girl—was undermined by the teenager’s presence in the heart of the city late on a Monday night. It is possible, of course, that the youth was dressed in a manner consistent with her personal gender identity, and her nocturnal perambulation was simply an exercise of her constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the context of that traumatic era, it’s also possible that George Robinson was working the streets of Charleston in a desperate bid to survive. The 1871 newspaper report noted that George was arrested “in Meeting Street, near Calhoun Street,” an intersection bounded by churches, several modest shops, and the parade ground of the military barracks occupied by U.S. Army soldiers (the Citadel and what is now called Marion Square). Even if this youth had dressed as a female for the purpose of attracting a male customer, we cannot know whether that choice represented an act of desperation, an earnest expression of her gender preference, or both. In the end, the difference is moot. The police did not arrest George Robinson for loitering, trespassing, or even solicitation. She was arrested for sailing “under false colors.”

The phrase “under false colors” is borrowed from the lexicon of maritime law. A vessel sailing “under false colors” is a vessel flying a flag that does not represent its true country of origin. In times of war, an armed vessel might display “false colors” to sneak up on an enemy, then show its “true colors” just before attacking its prey. Similarly, in times of peace, a cargo vessel might fly “false colors” in order to smuggle goods or to avoid paying import-export duties. In either case, the phrase “under false colors” has historically carried a negative connotation. It implies subterfuge, a purposeful misrepresentation of one’s identity. The application of this phrase to persons dressed in a manner “not becoming his or her sex” marks an implicit disapproval and reduces the phenomenon to an act of deceit. It dismisses the existence of any underlying purpose, motivation, or agency that might have inspired the subject to dress a certain way. It rejects the notion that dressing in a manner contrary to the dominant paradigm might in fact be an earnest expression of one’s internal gender identity—one’s true colors.

Not every case of cross-dressing in post-Civil War Charleston led to an arrest, of course, and not every arrest for this crime was noted in the local newspaper. On April 21st, 1873, for example, a twenty-one-year-old “col[ored] male” was admitted to the House of Correction under the name “Sarah Jane.” Described only a native of Charleston who was employed as a “waiting man,” Sarah Jane’s male identity was not recorded in the surviving records of that institution, and the cause of her arrest was not mentioned in the contemporary local newspapers.[13] For the time being, the rest of Sarah Jane’s story remains a mystery.

In the decades after the ratification of Charleston’s 1868 anti-cross-dressing ordinance, I’ve personally found only sporadic evidence of its enforcement. In April 1901, for example, two African-American women, Florence Tension (or Tensin) and Ida Richardson, were arrested for “masquerading in male clothes” in Rodger’s Alley. Their appearance at the usual morning police court “dressed in trousers, shirt, vest, coat, and hat” aroused so much laughter among the “negro spectators” that the orderly sergeant “was forced to cry out ‘Order in Court.’” When charged with “appearing in public in dress unbecoming their sex,” Florence and Ida told the judge “that they were funning and promised not to do so again if he would dismiss them,” but their case ended with a choice between a fine of $5 or twenty days in jail.[14]

Fewer details are known about the case of William Taylor, an African-American male arrested in August 1904 for “being in a dress unbecoming his sex.” The specifics of Taylor’s case were not described in the newspaper coverage of his appearance at the morning police court, but the report noted that the judge dismissed the charge against him.[15]

In 1912, railroad agents on a train from Manning, South Carolina, to Charleston detained and questioned a young white man they suspected of being something else. After removing his hat and discovering an attractive female face framed by a profusion of blond hair, the detectives were swooned by an elaborate story about using the disguise to pursue a runaway husband. The railway agents set her free in Charleston, but the local press implied the men had been duped by a pretty face.[16] Twenty years later, however, when the city of Minneapolis decided to invoke its cross-dressing prohibition to crack down on females wearing trousers in 1933, the Charleston Police Department opted not to follow suit. Asked if he would arrest a lady for wearing trousers, acting Charleston Police Chief Joseph F. Wise said, “Why no, I’d sort of like to see some of them in trousers.”[17]

The failure and ignominious end of Federal Reconstruction in the late 1870s allowed South Carolina and other Southern states to jettison many of the civil rights advancements made in the years immediately after the Civil War. Charleston, like other Southern cities, became an increasingly segregated and conservative community in the late nineteenth century, as the legal fiction of “separate but equal” became the law of the land. The primary focus of the civil-rights protests of the 1950s and 1960s was to challenge the long-standing traditions of racial segregation, but that activity also had an impact on the issues of other historically-oppressed minority groups. Activists in places like San Francisco and New York argued passionately for the rights of gay and transgender citizens, and the century-old municipal laws against cross-dressing began disappearing in the early 1970s.

Here in Charleston, our 1868 law prohibiting a person from appearing in public dressed in a manner “not becoming his or her sex” was still being (selectively) enforced during the era of Dawn Langley Simmons, South Carolina’s first openly transsexual woman, who was legally married (to an African-American man) in Charleston in January 1969.[18] Just a few months earlier, in September 1968, two “female impersonators” were arrested in downtown Charleston for “disorderly conduct.” More precisely, they were simply applying for work as waitresses, dressed in a manner police officers viewed as “unbecoming their sex.” Judge Louis E. Condon sentenced the transgender youths to ten days in jail, but suspended the sentence on the condition they leave the city immediately. That case, combined with contemporary protests in places like San Francisco and New York, and the attention garnered by Charleston’s own Dawn Langley Simmons, must have ruffled some feathers in our community, because Charleston’s ordinance against cross-dressing disappeared soon afterwards. I haven’t yet had the time to comb through every page of City Council proceedings of the early 1970s, but the 1868 ordinance in question was definitely repealed before the city printed an updated code of municipal laws in 1975.[19]

In today’s episode I’ve outlined a brief narrative of a very narrow slice of Charleston’s colorful history, and there’s certainly room for further investigation. My goal was simply to provide a bit of context for an obscure but interesting city ordinance and to provide a few examples of its enforcement over the years. More than just a curious story, however, the history of Charleston’s anti-cross-dressing law is part of a much larger and extremely important narrative about the history of civil rights in our community. The practice of discriminating against people on account of their gender identity is illegal now, but vestiges of intolerance remain. As a historian, I believe learning about our shared past helps us to understand our present circumstances and to plan for a more harmonious future. Diversity isn’t a new issue, it’s a bona fide Charleston tradition.



[1] The 1858 date of Charleston’s anti-cross-dressing ordinance was first published in William N. Eskridge, Gaylaw: Challenging the Apartheid of the Closet (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), 340. This information was repeated and cited in Susan Stryker, Transgender History (Berkeley, Ca: Seal Press, 2008), 32; and Clare Sears, Arresting Dress: Cross-Dressing, Law, and Fascination in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2014), 3. The prohibition of cross-dressing is, however, definitely not among the twenty-four ordinances passed by Charleston’s City Council in the year 1858. For the full text of those ordinances, see John Horsey, comp. Ordinances of the City of Charleston from the 14th September, 1854, to the 1st December, 1859 (Charleston, S.C.: Walker, Evans & Co., 1859).

[2] For an overview of South Carolina’s antebellum slave laws, see John Belton O’Neall, The Negro Law of South Carolina (Columbia: John G. Bowman, 1848).

[3] See Act No. 586, “An Act for the better ordering and governing Negroes and other Slaves,” ratified on 29 March 1735, in David J. McCord, ed., The Statutes at Large of South Carolina, volume 7 (Columbia: A. S. Johnston, 1840), Section 36, page 396.

[4] See the Vauxhall advertisement in Charleston City Gazette, 23 December 1795. Since City Council minutes from this era do not survive, it is impossible to elaborate on this motivation behind this “resolution.”

[5] See “Order Book of John Faucheraud Grimké, August 1778 to May 1780,” South Carolina Historical Magazine 14 (October 1913): 220 (24 February 1779). Note that Grimes was not charged with desertion or being absent without leave, so his practice of dressing “like a girl” was apparently not part of a ploy to avoid military service. The precise manner of his public “reprimand” is not recorded in the original source.

[6] The arrest of Charles Williams in Savannah is reported in two separate stories in the Charleston Courier, 18 November 1859, page 4, first column. In the first story, written by the Courier’s Savannah correspondent, Charles was identified as “the same gay lothario who was discovered showing the cloven foot in Charleston very recently.” An excerpt taken from the Savannah News identified Mr. Williams as the same man arrested during his “late visit to Charleston.” Despite searching through several months of 1859 issues of both the Charleston Courier and the Charleston Mercury, I have not yet found an account of his arrest in Charleston. Charleston police arrest records from this era do not survive. The departure of Charles Williams, “alias Caroline Wilson,” from Savannah to New York was noted in Charleston Courier, 23 November 1859, page 2, citing an excerpt from the Savannah Republican.

[7] City Council proceedings of 24 March 1868, published in Charleston Daily News, 28 March 1868; City Council meeting proceedings of 9 April, published in Charleston Daily News, 18 April 1868.

[8] For an overview of post-war conditions, see Bernard E. Powers Jr., Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822–1885 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994); and Wilbert L. Jenkins, Seizing the New Day: African Americans in Post-Civil War Charleston (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998). I am not familiar with any studies of Charleston’s post-war homelessness crisis, but the topic warrants scholarly attention. As early as April 1865, the U.S. Army complained that the number of freedmen streaming into Charleston “were threatening famine in the city and desolation to the country field-men” (see Col. William Gurney’s letter to the Charleston Courier, 5 April 1865).

[9] For an overview of this institution’s history and purpose, as well as the names of more than 4,000 inmates, see Nicholas Michael Butler, ed., Records of the Charleston House of Correction, 1868–1885 (Charleston, S.C.: Charleston County Public Library, 2010). 

[10] See “Mayor’s Court” in Charleston Courier, 9 March 1868; Charleston Courier, 23 March 1868.

[11] Charleston Daily News, 23 May 1871.

[12] See Butler, Records of the Charleston House of Correction, 68. George Robinson was admitted on 22 May 1871 and was discharged on 30 June 1871.

[13] See Butler, Records of the Charleston House of Correction, 86. The surviving records do not indicate the date of Sarah Jane’s release or the length of her incarceration. 

[14] Charleston Evening Post, 4 April 1901, page 5: “Women Dressed As Men.”

[15] Charleston News and Courier, 4 August 1904, page 3: “Before the Recorder.”

[16] Charleston News and Courier, 9 August 1912, page 3: “Wife Dons Garments of Man.”

[17] Charleston News and Courier, 4 March 1933, page 16.

[18] For Dawn’s life story, see Edward Ball, Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005).

[19] Charleston Evening Post, 21 September 1968, page 9: “Judge Hands Two ‘Females’ Walking Papers.” The 1868 ordinance appears in every compilation of Charleston’s municipal code published between 1871 and 1964, but is absent from the 1975 compilation. For a bibliography of these publications, see https://www.ccpl.org/published-ordinances-charleston-city-council.


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