By all accounts, Murray Hall (at left) was a typical Gilded Age politico affiliated with Tammany Hall, the city’s corrupt Democratic political machine.
Hall, who worked as a bail bondsman for Jefferson Market Police Court and lived at 453 Sixth Avenue (below) with his second wife and daughter, was captain of his election district.
He voted the party line, worked the polls on election nights, and wasn’t above securing political gigs for friends who had proven their Tammany loyalty.
Hall was was considered a “man about town,” a bon vivant who drank whiskey, smoked cigars, and played poker with the city’s bigwigs.
And during his entire 25-year Tammany career, no one had any idea that Murray Hall was actually female.
“Murray Hall Fooled Many Shrewd Men,” blared the New York Times on January 19, 1901. This was shortly after Hall’s death, when his secret had finally gotten out.
“The discovery of ‘Murray Hall’s’ true sex was not made until she was cold in death and beyond the chance of suffering humiliation from exposure,” wrote the Times.
“She had been suffering a cancer in the left breast for several years, as Dr. William C. Gallagher of 302 West 12th Street, who attended her in her final illness, discovered; but she abjured medical advice for fear of disclosing her sex, and treated herself.”
Hall passed well, according to a friend, State Senator Bernard F. Martin. “Suspect he was a woman? Never,” stated Martin. “He dressed like a man and talked like a very sensible one.”
“The only thing I ever thought eccentric about him was his clothing . . . he [wore] a coat a size or two too large, but of good material. That was to conceal his form.”
Other friends told reporters that Hall had a falsetto voice, was always smooth-shaven, and was very small in stature.
Still, his clothing, his short black bushy hair, plus his fondness for drinking in neighborhood saloons and fighting must have come off as convincingly masculine.
Most surprised of all was Hall’s 22-year-old adopted daughter, Minnie, who said she had no idea and that her mother never mentioned anything about her “foster father” being female.
So who was Hall? “Murray Hall was Mary Anderson, born circa 1840 in Govan, Scotland, an orphan who fled to Edinburgh and eventually to America, wearing her dead brother’s clothes,” wrote Smithsonianmag.com.
[First image: smithsonianmag.com; second image: Google; third image: smithsonianmag.com; fourth image: New York Times; fifth image: Brooklyn Daily Eagle]