Blanche Vassar was born in Oregon on July 20, 1882 and grew up in a large farm family in Topeka, Kansas. She was born intersexed and was taught by her parents to dress, act, walk and talk like a girl. By 1905 she lived in a Topeka rooming house and worked for the railroad, probably as a cook. She was part of the local social scene and seemed to fit well into society. By 1915 she was living in Alva, Oklahoma and employed as a cook. Alva was a growing city, a stop on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and home to the Northwestern Territorial Normal School. Around this time Blanche developed an escape act that included escaping from handcuffs, ropes and packing boxes. She was offered a job with a sideshow wintering in East St. Louis, Illinois. This may have been the Jones Brothers Circus.
However, she had some male characteristics, and these caused problems as she traveled. When she stopped in Wichita, Kansas on her way to St. Louis, she was arrested for wearing the clothes of the opposite sex. An interview with her appeared in the Wichita Beacon discussing her life and why she dressed like a woman. The reporter described Blanche as a man: “His black hair was dressed in the latest style. He wore a veil, several diamond rings were on his fingers, his nails were manicured and he presented a well-groomed appearance. “
On the recommendation of the police surgeon, Blanche was released the morning after her arrest, and she took a train to St. Louis. Once arriving there, a porter reported to a policeman that he had seen her shaving. Blanche was promptly arrested again, hauled to the police station and taken before a judge to determine the propriety of her clothing. Blanche was soon released on the understanding that she would travel directly to East St. Louis.
There is no further record of Blanche’s performances or travels with the circus. However, the article from the Wichita Beacon was reprinted in newspapers around the country. For the next few years, some newspapers even used it to fill space. This may have been one reason that Blanche decided to start using a male name, Wesley J Vassar, and act and dress accordingly.
In 1918 Wesley married Agnes Andersen. By 1920 they were living in Denver, Colorado, and Wesley was employed as a chef or baker. Except for a few years in South Dakota, they lived in Denver for the rest of their lives. Agnes died on March 7, 1940 and Wesley on August 20, 1943. Both are buried in Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery.
|St. Louis Star and Times, Apr. 9, 1915|
1900 US Census
WW II Registration Card, Wesley J Vassar, 1942
Wichita Beacon, April 8, 1915, Wichita, Kansas
1905 Kansas Census
Topeka State Journal, July 17, 1906 Topeka, Kansas
Donovan Reichenberger, “Alva” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, www.okhistory.com
St. Louis Star and Times, April 9, 1915, St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis Post Dispatch, April 9, 1915, St. Louis, Missouri
Oregonian, April 18, 1915, Portland, Oregon
Perrysburg, Journal, April 11, 1918, Perrysburg, Ohio
South Dakota Census, 1918
1920 Denver Directory
Evangelical Lutheran Church in American Church Records, First Bethany, Denver Colorado
Find a Grave
(references are in order they were first used)
Gary Hunt Copyright 2018