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Girl Gangsters Of 19th Century Manhattan

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The criminal gangs of New York in the 1800s were predominantly made up of young men, but they also had female members, some of whom were notorious fighters.

I came across this fascinating snippet at Ephemeral New York, and given all the hoop-la around Gangs Of New York when it came out, I can’t believe that no-one has taken this and run with it as the gender-bending equivalent.

It really starts to come to life when you read the names these women had, like Hell-Cat Maggie, whose base was the notorious Five Points slum and whose teeth were supposedly filed into sharp points while she clawed rivals with brass fingernails. Then there’s Sadie the Goat, who reportedly robbed East Siders by head-butting them in the stomach and Ida the Goose, a prostitute and Lady Gopher, part of the Gophers of Hell’s Kitchen.

Girl Gangsters

Now I know nothing of Ida The Goose or the Gophers but apparently, in the 1910s, she was lured away to the Lower East Side’s Eastman Gang, led by Monk Eastman, but following a bloody shoot-out, rejoined the Gophers. Now that, to me, is your story, right there. Lets’ talk through some of the simple the questions:

  • How did she come to join the Gophers
  • What was her ‘rank’ in the gang?
  • Why did she leave and join The Eastman’s?
  • What caused the bloody shoot-out?
  • How did she survive?
  • Why did the Gopher’s take her back?

The first idea that comes to mind for me is a love story, somewhere between West Side Story and Romeo & Juliet where the star-crossed lovers are members of two rival gangs. Ida decides eventually to follow her heart and join the rival gang to be with her love until tragedy strikes and, bereft and consumed with grief, she is forced to return to the Gophers as they are the only ones that will still have her.

Now I recently watched a BBC drama called The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister which have been described as the Rosetta Stone of queer literature which, while really rather good and worth the watch, actually tells me we could easily put a twist on the usual love story and make it about two women. If you think about it, it’s not that hard to believe that in a time when society frowned upon homosexuality, these two women fell into a life that not only held a total disregard for authority, allowed them to live the lifestyle that they chose without having to explain themselves to anyone – provided they could hold their own in a brawl.

This means we could time-shift the story to show a ‘respectable’ woman’s fall from grace as she realises she cannot live an unhappy lie in luxury when she’d rather be true to herself and happy in relative poverty. We could then witness her descent into the gangs along with her lover and slow rise through the ranks using wit and guile and cunning rather than just brute force – but back it up with a fist or two when it counts.

So that’s me out, have a think about it and let me know if you decide to pursue any of these suggestions, I’m curious to know if anyone’s reading this and if they think it’s at all useful.


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