On this day, January 19: Murray H. Hall


murray h. hall january 19
Sketch of Murray H. Hall: The Evening World

On January 19 1901, the New York Times reported the death of businessman and political operative Murray H Hall. Hundreds of Hall’s acquaintances reacted with shock to the revelation that Hall would have been designated female at birth.

Papers around the world reported how Murray H. Hall ‘fooled’ the canny politicians of New York’s infamous Tammany Hall. The Australasian reported he “was married twice. ‘He’ was badly henpecked by ‘his’ first ‘wife’ and the second died two years ago. ‘His’ sole heir is an adopted daughter, aged twenty-two. ‘Mr’ Hall was athletic. ‘His’ voice was deep, and ‘his’ actions masculine, although ‘his’ face was devoid of whiskers. ‘His’ appearance was that of a benevolent old gentleman.”

(Yes – the repetitive quotation marks are indeed annoying. The editor apparently presumed his readers were goldfish and would forget the gist of the story by the time they swam to the end of a sentence.)

Murray H. Hall

Murray H. Hall was born in Scotland. Around 16, he began identifying as male and married soon after. However, the young bridegroom apparently liked to have his cake and eat it too, constantly flirting with other women. That, of course, displeased the wife he relied on to keep his secret. When she reported him to the cops, he fled to the US.

Arriving in San Francisco around 1849, he first tried his luck on the California goldfields. Later, he moved to New York and remarried. However, Murray H. Hall still had an eye for the ladies and his second wife often complained to neighbours about his flirting with other women. She eventually left him.

In 1872, at about the age of 40, he married Cecilia, his third wife. Cecilia was much more physically imposing than her husband, almost six feet tall and full-figured. Murray was only four feet seven, and thin. He wore loose-fitting clothing, presumably to hide his breasts. Everyone who knew Cecilia recalled a good looking and extremely pleasant woman.

A former schoolteacher, Cecilia Hall worked with her husband in his business. By the 1890s, they operated out of a rented second-floor apartment in Greenwich Village. Cecilia ran an employment agency while Murray worked as a bail bondsman. They lived in an apartment above their office with their adopted daughter and a yappy little dog that attracted frequent complaints. The dog didn’t only bark. It also nipped, making Murray’s daily walk with it perilous for fellow pedestrians.

Neighbours recalled a devoted couple, despite Cecilia’s annoyance in later years over Murray’s late-night drinking with political buddies and incessant flirting with other women.

Breast cancer

Cecilia died in 1898. Murray too suffered bad health after being knocked over by a bike on Fifth Avenue. After over twenty years of involvement in the political affairs of the city, he began to withdraw from public life. Then, he developed breast cancer.

Unwilling to betray his lifelong secret by undergoing a medical examination, Murray H. Hall purchased medical texts and attempted to treat himself. When he finally consulted a doctor, the cancer was too far advanced and he died within days.

Shocked by what he found when he examined the body, the doctor consulted local politicians who initially attempted to keep Murray H. Hall’s secret. They didn’t want the Democratic Party to look foolish. However, word leaked and the newspapers went to town over the ‘man-woman’, the ‘imposter’ who fooled New York’s leading citizens. But, despite their best efforts, the papers struggled to elicit any criticism of Murray H. Hall from those who knew him.

Ought to have been born a man

“Mr Hall was always polite and gentlemanly,” said Lena Reicher whose brothers operated a pub in the neighbourhood.

Mrs Meyers who owned a nearby newsstand wouldn’t hear a word against him. “He used to come in here and buy papers and books… He thought a great deal of me and would sit and read for hours.”

Joseph Young, a political operative who worked closely with Murray said, “I knew him well… If he was a woman, he ought to have been born a man, for he lived and looked like one.”

Even New York Senator Martin had nothing but good to say of Murray H. Hall.

“Well, truly, it’s most wonderful. Why – I knew him well.  He was a modest little fellow, but had a peppery temper and could say some cutting things when anyone displeased him. Suspect he was a woman? Never. He dressed like a man and talked like a very sensible one.”

On January 19 1901, the same day as the New York Times story, Murray H. Hall was buried in an unmarked grave in New York’s Mt Olivet Cemetary. Sadly, despite Murray secretly arranging a burial befitting his lived experience, the undertaker ignored his final wishes and buried him in women’s clothing.

Click on the clipping to read the article free at Newspapers.com.

19 Jan 1901, Sat The New York Times (New York, New York) Newspapers.com

Read more: January 18 <— On this day —> January 20

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