Murray Hall: Tammany Hall’s Tough Guy (Or Was He?)

On January 19, 1901, New Yorkers woke to shocking news in the New York Times: Well-known political figure Murray Hall was dead. But the real bombshell was to follow!

Murray Hall was known as one of the toughest guys working for Tammany Hall, the corrupt political machine that “organized” New York City’s government for over 150 years. He was a “ward heeler,” ensuring constituents got to the polls (sometimes with threats or violence) to keep Tammany’s men in power. Hall was known as a heavy-drinking, stogy-smoking, womanizing brawler who’d recently lost his second wife.

So imagine learning that he…was a she!

Murray Hall Hall’s gender was uncovered after he/she died of breast cancer. To conceal his secret, Hall avoided doctors and instead purchased medical books, including The Art and Science of Surgery, to self-treat. At the time of death, the cancer had eaten almost to his heart.

Over the following two days, the Times printed testimonials by Hall’s shocked acquaintances.  They described him as a “good fellow,” and “man about town,” who’d “play poker or pinochle and was sweet on women.” One admired how “he’d line up to the bar and take his whisky like any veteran.”

Havelock Ellis later claimed Hall was born in Scotland as Mary Anderson. She was orphaned very young and, “on the death of her only brother, put on his clothes and began working as a man.” When her gender was discovered, she fled to the U.S.  In the 1870’s, Hall opened an employment agency with a woman known as his wife. The pair eventually parted because of his attentions to other women. Years later there was a second Mrs. Hall, who also quarreled with her husband over women. Together they adopted a daughter.

Senator Bernard Martin, a close associate, remembered Hall had, “a peppery temper and could say cutting things…” When drunk, Hall often became confrontational and was once jailed for slugging two policemen. Martin later said, “Suspect he was a woman? Never. He dressed like a man and talked like a very sensible one.”

Murray Hall voting

Murray Hall, casting his vote… years before the 19th Amendment allowed women to vote!

Though Hall had a small frame and high voice, few questioned that his coats were a couple sizes too large. However in hindsight, some noted he never suffered from five o-clock shadow. Minnie, his twenty-two year old daughter, couldn’t believe the news and only spoke of her father as “he.” Even Hall’s buddies kept referring to “him” after the revelation.

One of Hall’s cronies summized, “So, he’s a woman, eh? If it’s true, Hall’s case beats anything in fact or fiction I can recall.”

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